Unique mall boat displays generate significant leads

As boat sales continue to see a gradual upward trajectory, it's paramount that dealers continue to get creative with their marketing. Some of the best methods are tactile in nature: It’s difficult to not imagine cruising on the water with the wind in your face when you’re on or near a boat. One Wyoming dealer is providing this visual context in spades and garnering interest with its existing market.

Midway Auto and Marine is temporarily displaying 24 of its new and used boats at the Rimrock Mall in Billings, Mont., in a space formerly occupied by a Scheels Sporting Goods store. Mall officials say they are still seeking a permanent tenant but the Wyoming-based dealership has been granted permission to stay indefinitely until said tenant is found.

photo 1A team of six Midway employees began moving boats into the space on November 10 and spent 10 days hand pushing the vessels through the mall. Midway is currently displaying its new Larson and Supreme brands, as well as 13 used boats of various brand models.

“I thought it would be a great way to get exposure, get the new brand of boats out there, get our name out there,” said Ken Grant, owner of Midway. “We sell a lot of boats into the Billings areas so it’s a good market.”

He contacted the Rimrock Mall, which welcomes 1.5 million visitors during the holiday months of November and December, and made an agreement for two boats to be displayed. The mall reached out to him and alerted him of 40,000 square feet temporarily available for use instead, which Grant accepted. Grant is currently in the process of gaining a Montana dealer’s license so he can keep the boats in the mall.

Two Internet kiosks complement the boats to provide shoppers with accessible details on the over 100 boats Midway currently has in stock. Midway also displays a number of signs outlining the benefits of purchasing from its dealership and each boat comes with an information sheet.

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Grant said that while it was originally intended to be an unmanned display, he hopes to add a staff person at the mall who can answer questions and assist potential customers.

The mall boat display helps Midway plant the seeds of interest during the holiday season and the dealership hopes to push leads into sales as it enters its peak selling season during boat shows.

“Every time I’m up there washing the boats down or dusting them, I strike up conversations. There’s a constant flow of people going through [the mall]. I’ve had conversations that have generated several really good leads,” said Grant. “I’m sure it’s going to generate a lot of sales for us when people get ready to buy [after the holiday season].”

Midway is based in Lovell, Wyo., 90 miles south of Billings, with additional locations in Cody and Worland. The business began as an auto dealership in 1995 and started selling boats in 2007, beginning with the Reinell brand. The dealership sold 25 boats in its first year and now sells 150 per year. Midway's business model is unique because 90 percent of the company's boat sales come from Internet consumers. Midway has no indoor boat showrooms.

“Because 90 percent of our boats are delivered to people, it’s not like we have high traffic flow of people coming into our dealership,” said Grant.

The boats are shown only through studio photos and videos and the dealership offers no-risk delivery, allowing customers to decide not to purchase the boat if it arrives to their home in an unexpected condition. Delivery fees are covered within 300 miles of its locations. Midway offers a buyback program where the customer receives the full purchase price of their old boat towards a new model, and all used boats come with an in-house warranty that covers the engine and outdrive for the first summer.

“We have to have a good custom website in order for people to get enough information to feel comfortable buying the boat sight unseen,” said Grant. “[It’s] a very detailed website – it has condition reports, NADA book sheets, videos, pictures, all the specs on the boats – everything they need to make a decision. Our website really is our showroom.”

Grant is open to other display opportunities in the future. He asserts the importance of getting creative with marketing boats to help sell the idea of having a boat in the family. Once they can envision using the boat together, they are willing to make that big purchase.

“The better you can make your product look,” said Grant, “it just becomes more effective for people to want to become involved in boating.”

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