Boston dealers rely on “mini” events during downturn

With the indefinite cancellation of the Boston Fall Boat Show, area dealers rely on free-to-attend, comparatively cheap-to-display boat sale events for exposure to prospects.

Following the indefinite cancellation of the Boston Fall Boat Show due to the economic downturn, dealers in the area began looking for a low-cost alternative to promote boat sales.

Enter the South Shore In-Water Boat Show and the Boat Sale & Expo: two, free mini events held respectively in the spring and fall and designed without the frills of their convention hall predecessor.

The inaugural in-water show was held in the spring of 2009, and today, the spring event features 60 boats in the water with several trailerable models in the parking lot. A fall, indoor-only event, the Boat Sale & Expo, is entering its second year and is held in a small convention hall space north of Boston.

The events and parking are free to the public, and dealers also display at relatively low costs, which include a small contribution to the event’s marketing fund. The goal of both events is to attract serious buying prospects, said Larry Russo, president of Russo Marine and a director of the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association.

“It is not about face painting and balloons and it’s not a ‘show.’ These are selling events. It is about having boats aggressively priced to sell and creating bargains for the consumer,” Russo said in a recent National Marine Trades Association conference call.

The cost to display at these two events is low, mainly due to the absence of cost for floor space costs. Russo said the participating dealers have a shared interest with Hingham Shipyard Marinas to display at the show for free in return for the increased opportunity those who buy a boat will also buy a slip at the marina.

Russo stressed that these events are not a permanent replacement for the Boston Fall Boat Show, which was last held in 2010. Instead, they give dealers much-needed exposure and sales opportunities until the market recovers enough for the boat show’s return.

“All we are trying to do is put boats in front of buyers,” Russo said. “We are kind of treading water until we can bring back our own fall event.”

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