January and February may seem like a slow, sleepy time for those of us in the boat business, but in fact it’s one of the busiest parts of our year. It’s boat show season! And that means a chance for customers to see all the newest models and components from the widest range of manufacturers.
As a multi-state network of dealerships, MarineMax is an active participant in boat shows the whole length of the East Coast. Among the biggest are those held starting in January in New York, and then in warmer places such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale in mid-February.
Even inland locations have major shows, too. Chicago, for example, hosts a major show that draws boat dealers and would-be buyers while Lake Michigan is still frozen solid. Dallas, Texas, isn’t on any major waterways but still draws huge crowds to its regional show.
A great advantage of attending winter shows is that customers who are planning for the arrival of their boats in the spring can place their orders with the manufacturers early enough to be assured of timely delivery. It’s also a great opportunity to check out the coming season’s models at leisure, without being so busy with all the tasks that keep us dealers hopping once the water warms up.
An interesting recent example of how weather affects these off-season events: While preparing to exhibit at an early-February regional show in Atlantic City, N.J., the staff at MarineMax locations nearby had to shovel snow just to get to the boats we were going to display! But inside a spacious, comfortable exhibit center, vendors and browsers can imagine it is summer all year round.
For retailers like us, the biggest shows are where we get to see what's being offered by almost every important manufacturer. Smaller, regional shows are more our opportunity to showcase what we offer to our potential customers. Because exhibiting at the regional shows is part of the dealer’s marketing budget, what’s on display may be more limited than at the mega-shows that attract manufacturers from all over the world.
That’s why I encourage customers who are interested in a particular make or model to check a show’s website for the list of exhibitors. That will help a would-be buyer make good decisions about whether it’s worthwhile to travel to a show. Some may have what the customer wants to see, but some won’t.
The big international boat shows, like the one held in Miami every year, are an opportunity to see the widest variety of new boats, many of them in the water. And those attending don’t have to fight bad weather. A show like this with an in-the-water component offers an opportunity for demonstrations and sea trials, which have always been a big part of how we help our customers understand how a particular boat might fit their lifestyle.
But even a land-locked show in a place like Raleigh offers plenty of opportunities to come aboard, sit in the captain’s seat, and get a feel for various models.
One interesting opportunity for buyers on a budget may not be obvious amid all the hype about the newest products. Because manufacturers are focusing on introducing their new models, boat-show season is the time that they typically offer incentives to clear out older inventory and make room for the new. So a buyer who’s interested in a brand-new example of one of last year’s models may find an especially attractive deal at one of the winter shows.
Boat show admission typically ranges from $10 to $35 for adults, depending on the show’s size. Children are usually admitted free or at discounted rates.
For some attendees, a boat show isn’t so much about looking for the latest model or dreaming about the next upgrade as it is an opportunity to learn about innovations in accessories. Innovations in technology are moving fast in the boating world, and a good show is a great way to stay informed.
A few useful tips for getting maximum benefit from a show include doing some homework before attending and coming prepared. The homework part includes what I mentioned earlier, going online to make sure what you’re interested in will be on exhibit, but also seeing making a wish-list of booths or exhibits you don’t want to miss. Preparation includes wearing comfortable shoes – expect to do some walking – that are easy to slip on and off. You’ll normally be asked to remove your shoes before stepping aboard many display models at a show.
A notebook, cell phone with camera, and a supply of business cards are also useful. Don’t expect to remember everything you see; making notes and snapping photos are great ways to jog your memory. The cards will make it easier for you to enter those drawings for prizes and giveaways that most exhibitors offer. And if you’re especially interested in a particular dealer’s products or service, your business card is your invitation for that vendor to stay in touch with you after the show.
Thom Cross is the general manager of MarineMaxWrightsville Beach. Headquartered in Clearwater, Florida, MarineMax is the nation’s largest recreational boat and yacht retailer. Focused on premium brands, MarineMax sells new and used recreational boats and related marine products and services as well as provides yacht brokerage and charter services. For more information, visit www.marinemax.com, find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarineMaxWrightsvilleBeach or call (910) 256-8100.
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