2003 Boat Show Season Not Meeting Expectations

For those who had hoped the 2003 boat show season would meet or exceed last year’s sales and attendance figures, disappointment reigns.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association was one such party. NMMA President Thom Dammrich said this season hasn’t been as strong as was predicted this fall.
“Clearly, it’s because consumer confidence has fallen again in January,” he explained. “Until we get this overhang of whether or not we are going to war with Iraq resolved, it will continue to weigh down on consumer confidence.”
Attendance figures mixed
However, the picture is far from stark. Attendance figures have been mixed for most shows so far this year, which is normal, according to Dammrich, as there are many factors that affect attendance, including the economy, weather and consumer confidence.
Marketing is another factor that affects attendance, and NMMA put more money into advertising in the traditional print and broadcast media this year. Plus the organization has made a number of arrangements with Internet companies such as eBay and AOL, which drove a lot of traffic to NMMA Web sites, said Dammrich.
In Atlanta, where attendance was up 24 percent, the AOL deal appeared to be a success; however, in New York, another city in which NMMA ran an online promo, attendance was down 26 percent.
Home Port Marine Marketing suggested in a recent newsletter that increases in the number of consumers researching purchases online may be affecting boat show attendance. Dammrich does not agree.
“Clearly, people are doing more research on the Internet,” he said. “They are coming to shows with better questions, more informed.”
He pointed out that 60 percent of boat buyers go to a show before they buy their boat, according to a recent J.D. Power and Associates study, and that it’s common for dealers to do 40 to 60 percent of their annual sales volume at boat shows and from leads generated at the shows.
Big boat sales strong, small boats weak
The real measures of a show’s success are the amount of sales and leads generated during the event, not attendance, according to Dammrich.
“We’ve gotten some excellent sales reports from some dealers and manufacturers and others who have found the results a little softer than last year,” he said.
While last year, boats under 28 to 30 feet were selling more strongly, this year NMMA is hearing that big boats are selling better than small boats, he added.
The two shows to take a big hit — Chicago and New York — were disadvantaged because of dates that were during or near the December/January holiday period this year, Dammrich stated. The Chicago show will return to dates in the third week in January next year, while the NMMA continues to negotiate with the Javits Center over new dates for future New York shows.
Rumors that the New York show may move to another venue next year are unfounded, according to Dammrich. Though the NMMA has looked at other venues over the years, he said if there was another venue appropriate for the show, NMMA or a competing show producer would be there.
Genmar to start a boat show trend?
While Genmar Chairman Irwin Jacobs recently said that his company would begin testing Genmar-only boat shows this year to make the events more cost effective for exhibitors and attendees, Dammrich said he is not concerned that other manufacturers will follow suit.
“One of the reasons people go to shows is to experience the variety [of product] and make an informed choice,” he pointed out. Though he admitted that with 18 brands, Genmar can probably put on a boat show, no other companies can offer as many brands.
“If you make four or five brands, what kind of a show is that going to be?” he commented.
Dammrich also defended the cost of NMMA boat shows for exhibitors and attendees, highlighting the fact that with the exception of three shows, all of NMMA’s shows cost a consumer less than the price of a movie, and most consumers spend four to five hours at a boat show vs. two at a movie.
He also said that NMMA doesn’t make money off of the space fees charged exhibitors – it simply charges them what it costs to put on the show. All profits comes from entrance fees.
“We want people to do well at the shows. If companies can’t get a good return on investment at the shows, they should look at other alternatives,” he said. However, he added that if there becomes a better way for boat show exhibitors to generate sales, NMMA will lead the way. — By Liz Walz

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