Best Boat Show Strategy
Candlewood East Marina
For Candlewood East Marina, preparing for a boat show is like executing any other marketing strategy: You need to know your audience and how to satisfy their needs.
The dealership exhibits in three boat shows, and for each show the staff identifies the demographic makeup of the attendees. This is determined based on past boat show experience, boat show attendance reports and manufacturer input.
The demographic identification helps Candlewood East Marina determine what boats to display based on what is most likely to sell. For instance, the Norwalk Boat Show brings in a more mature buyer who tends to prefer saltwater boats, so Candlewood focuses on its Cobalt product. But at the Hartford show, there are more families and price-conscious buyers looking for entry-level models and its Nautique boats.
“It definitely helps us target what boats we want to bring and display. When we’re looking at who we think is going to attend the show, it could be different than who we think may walk in our showroom on a given weekend,” says Mitch O’Hara, vice president of Candlewood East Marina. “That’s probably the biggest thing we do to help assist with the sales at the show.”
From there, the dealership identifies its “wow” factor for the boat show. What that factor is will vary from year to year, but Candlewood makes this distinction because the company wants to keep its name top of mind for customers.
“Essentially, we want to find a way to create a memorable experience with the customer that they will remember even after the show is over,” says Chris Perry, sales/marketing at Candlewood East Marina.
In 2015, Candlewood had one of its most successful boat show angles through promoting wakesurfing at the Hartford Boat Show. The dealership displayed a Nautique G23 boat with a custom 15’ long, 6’ high inflatable wave behind it and a Hyperlite wakesurfer inside the wave. In an effort to promote social sharing and give customers a lasting takeaway, Candlewood hired a photographer to photograph customers as they stood on the surfboard. Any customer who shared the photo on social media with the hashtag #WakeSurfToWin were entered for prize giveaways.
Candlewood supported this campaign with direct mail and email blasts prior to the show.
“It’s tough to demo any water product in a boat show that’s inside, so any time that you can do anything to kind of emulate a little bit, to at least be able to evoke a little emotion into the whole thing, helps,” says O’Hara.
“This event drew large crowds to our display, thousands of pictures distributed and set the stage for in-depth conversations about the Nautique Boat brand which helped drive lead acquisition and sales,” adds Perry. “When people are in that mindset of living the dream of wakesurfing being behind one of those boats, they’re going to enjoy it and they’re going to be that much more engaged to either make a move to buy a boat or maybe set up an actual test drive when the time is right.”
Even with targeted booth displays and eye-catching demos, it is difficult to create a sense of urgency or “now” moment at the boat shows these days. So while Candlewood East Marina is certainly in the mindset to sell boats at the show, an equally important goal is getting customers to visit the dealership’s location.
The dealership sets an aggressive schedule of events, timing them so they occur after key boat shows. Events include a Bring Back Summer Open House, test drives, athlete meet and greets and more.
“I feel like if you press too hard at the shows to try to create this sense of urgency now, people today sometimes that can rub them the wrong way,” said O’Hara. “Our focus has shifted a little bit to making sure we’re making a connection and that we have someone in the pipeline, and that [the show] doesn’t become a big sales push – that we’re making a relationship and then getting them in the pipeline to come out to the dealership afterwards.”