According to tradeshowsandevents.com, some 110 million North Americans attend 4000+ trade shows each year. Trade and consumer shows alike have been a viable commodity and marketing platform for a plethora of industries including marine, offering the latest in products and services all conveniently grouped under one umbrella.
Why have such shows been such a mainstay of the traditional corporate marketing budget? Primarily, they provide a viable service to both the consumer and trade, delivering a win-win venue for those who buy and those who sell. The cost per qualified lead and the volume of buyers is generally advantageous as well, delivering a greater opportunity to develop or close sales.
In today’s tumultuous economy where both trade show buyers and consumer show participants have hunkered down and clutched their collective checkbooks, marine companies – like others in virtually every consumer goods category – are forced to take a more controlled approach to their marketing expenditures, with budgets often trimmed, slashed … or worse, trashed. It’s no longer boat shows as usual as marine marketers grope with paltry funds, coupled with mounting internal pressures stemming from the helm. As a result, boat show budgets – right along with all the other marketing costs ranging from advertising media, to promotions to special events, and the like – have undergone rigid scrutiny.
Subsequently, several boat shows have been forced to take a hiatus this year due to insufficient demand and exhibitor commitments, while others without a loyal exhibitor or consumer following have bowed out of the marketplace altogether. Some major show producers have made meaningful concessions in order to maintain viability and visibility, perhaps scoring less profitability in the short run, while taking a longer-term outlook. Other show producers have gotten creative and figured out how to streamline, re-package and reconfigure in order to survive. The Strictly Sail Miami™ show, for example, has temporarily shifted its longstanding sail-only status at the Miamarina at Bayside and carved out new space at the nearby Sea Isle, where its presence will compete for attention with everything from sportfishers to performance boats, trawlers, express cruisers and yachts. According to Strictly Show Manager Kevin Murphy, “It’s a short-term move due to the economy and the projected demand for space. We hope to be back at Bayside in 2011, once the demand for space improves. In the meantime, we’re committed to making Sea Isle a good selling environment for exhibitors and fun for sailors,” he said.
Whatever the ultimate outcome for Miami and the countless boat shows that dot the seascape, the show outlook overall is definitely leaner and meaner in these tough times.
In light of these developments, and on the eve of the Fall boat show season, Waypoints rounded up four highly respected, veteran boat show producers to take their respective temperatures about the upcoming show circuit and to ask their opinions about the future of boat shows, sailboat-only shows, and the strategies required for success moving forward.
Our expert panelists include:
- Dane Graziano, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Show Management, producers of five shows including the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, Yacht & Brokerage Show – Miami Beach; Palm Beach International Boat Show; and the recently merged St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show. Graziano has worked in the marine industry 30 years and has been with Show Management 24 years.
- George Harris, president, Northwest Marine Trades Association, producer of four shows including the Seattle Boat Show. Harris has worked in the marine industry for 18 years, with the past 10.5 with the trade association – 10 as boat show director, and four months as president.
- Ben Wold, executive vice president, National Marine Manufacturers Association, producer of 20 shows annually including the Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail Miami. Wold has worked for NMMA and in the marine industry for 32 years.
- Kevin Murphy, NMMA show manager for Strictly Sail™ including Strictly Sail Chicago and Strictly Sail Miami. Kevin has been with NMMA 15 years, and worked in the marine industry for 20.
THE WAYPOINTS INTERVIEW
WAYPOINTS: Over the past few years, we've seen some of the sailboat-only shows combining with power boat shows. Do you expect this trend to continue? Why or why not?
GRAZIANO: Absolutely – the trend will continue. By combining both markets, it becomes more economical for the aftermarket exhibitors. For example, those in the engines, electronics and accessories sector of the market deal with both power and sail.
MURPHY: I think we’ll see the two remaining “sailboat-only” shows succeed. Both are in strong markets and have strong support from the sailing industry. If at some point they stop receiving the support, then you may see changes.
HARRIS: Yes. Fixed costs and advertising expenses for producing quality boat shows are significant and need to be spread across as many exhibitors and boats as possible. In the end, nearly all boats are “powerboats” until the sails go up. All boats use the same systems – engines, electronics, heating, bottom paint -- and the exhibitors want the best possible return on investment.
WOLD: No, since most of the sail only shows have already combined with power shows. However, I expect that there will still be a few sail only shows going forward – Chicago and Annapolis.
WAYPOINTS: From an exhibitor perspective, what are the key benefits of a combined sail and power show?
WOLD: A larger audience from which to find new prospects. Shared marketing expense which controls cost, hence space rates.
MURPHY: The key benefit for the exhibitors is the quantity and diversity of the new boaters that they are going to see at the show. Every combined show offers opportunities for exhibitors to pull new people in to sailing and buy their products. It’s not going to be an easy sell, but there are a lot of new people that are walking the aisles that would never have gone to an “all-sail” show. They’re now walking by their booth.
HARRIS: More advertising, more attendance, more opportunity, lower costs.
GRAZIANO: Top benefit – it is cost effective to market to both industries at one show, in one location. There is a known crossover market between sailboat buyers who may potentially move into a motor yacht or trawler. And the sailboat companies can introduce their product to powerboaters. The accessories and electronics companies get both for one price.
WAYPOINTS: Do you think there is a role for “sailboat-only” shows in the future? Why or why not?
HARRIS: Yes. Sailboat shows can create community; however this may not be enough to offset the economic realities.
GRAZIANO: Yes, I believe there is truly a distinct market for having an annual show for just the sailing industry, due to the number of dedicated sailing enthusiasts.
WOLD: Yes, in certain markets – primarily Annapolis and Chicago.
MURPHY: Yes, there will be a role for sailboat-only shows in the markets that have enough of a sailing base to support an all-sail show. There are still a number of companies that only sell to sailors and a number of sailors that will only attend “sailboat-only” shows.
WAYPOINTS: Why do you believe boat shows are still relevant today?
WOLD: Consumers tell us through surveys (Michigan State and others) that boat shows are still an important factor in their buying process and that they are more likely to buy brands they see at a show. Fifty eight percent attend a boat show within six months of their purchase. Forty seven percent talk to three to five dealers at a show—they come better prepared with information, but still use a show to shop for price, models, dealers, etc. Sixty five percent of attendees tell us that attending a boat show increases their desire to purchase a boat. Seventy three percent attend to purchase accessories.
MURPHY: Research indicates that people still go to boat shows before they buy boats. Consumers are doing more research in advance of the shows, but they still want to come out to the show and see the boat in the water. They want to compare the boat next to other boats and they want that ‘touchy feely’ experience that we all want before a large purchase. Boat shows are changing, but will always be relevant to boat buyers.
GRAZIANO: Boat shows give buyers the opportunity to shop in one place while comparing and educating themselves about the products or services they are interested in. Consumers still need to touch it, kick it and feel it.
HARRIS: Boat shows create new sales that would not normally happen, and motivate buyers considering a purchase to buy now.
WAYPOINTS: How do you address the issue of slipping attendance at shows?
GRAZIANO: When the economy was booming, several shows in the U.S. that existed simply did not represent the boating product in a good form. When people went to some of these different shows around the country, they were disappointed with the products or services and the way they were represented. The lesson here: like any good business, you need to build a clientele. Those shows that offer great products and services will continue to flourish and maintain strong attendance because of the show’s reputation and delivery. Those that don’t will continue to decline.
MURPHY: What you’re seeing is boaters coming to boat shows. When things pick up, you’ll start to see new people wanting to get in to boating and start coming back to boat shows. Exhibitors need quality attendees … and that is what we’ve been delivering.
HARRIS: (We’ve addressed it with) new promotions and advertising targeted at boaters and former boaters. This was our focus in January and August 2009. Our August 2009 show had a 3.4% attendance increase.
WOLD: While the overall attendance is down, the quality buyers continue to come to the shows. As the economy recovers, show attendance should pick up – likely by 2011.
WAYPOINTS: What is your organization doing to entice exhibitors to participate?
HARRIS: In August 2008 and May 2009, the NMTA produced two “parking lot sales” that were free for members. We spent $70,000 at each event on advertising and invited all dealers, manufacturers, accessories and services. Boats, accessories and services were sold at each sale! These sales helped our members participate in our traditional boat shows.
WOLD: By adding value and listening to and responding to what they need to succeed. The new NMMA Advantage program provides tremendous value by marrying the benefits of online with onsite. Show exhibitors can list the inventory they’ll have at the show in detail on the show website. The consumer can get great detailed info on what will be at the show, request pre-show info and make appointments. In the first eight days of the recent Tampa show, we had 1,788 unique visits to this new feature. This program will be a tremendous lead generator for exhibitors.
MURPHY: Besides the NMMA Advantage program that Ben already addressed, we also work very hard to respond to our exhibitor surveys and add benefits that will help exhibitors succeed. For 2010, we’re holding space rates; we’re strategically marketing the shows to get buyers to attend; and we’re adding features to attract new boaters to the shows.
GRAZIANO: Our track record is great on producing special displays that allow boat manufacturers to create a temporary showroom where they can, for example, entertain their clientele with cappuccino bars, lounges, etc. We create a venue that is unique. We work with our exhibitors to help them create an amazing brand image for their product or service that meets a very high standard.
WAYPOINTS: What is your organization doing specifically to entice consumers to attend?
HARRIS: In January 2009, we created the “VIP Preview Night” for the Seattle Boat Show. Exhibitors invited prospects and former customers for a three-hour show preview the night before the show opened. Guests received free parking and admission, one drink and appetizers. Over 3000 people attended. It was a huge success! In August 2009, we did an outdoor version of the VIP Preview Night at the Seattle Boat Show at Shilshole Bay Marina. It was a huge success also.
WOLD: We listen to and act upon their comments about what makes for a great show experience. The NMMA Advantage program (described in previous response) is a great new tool for consumers.
GRAZIANO: Online ticket discounts, two-day ticket discount (Ft. Lauderdale), free kid’s fishing clinics, free adult seminars, negotiated room rates, complete transportation systems from remote parking lots by bus or water to get to show and different show sites (Ft. Lauderdale).
MURPHY: We’re adding value to every ticket. If an attendee feels they are getting a great value for the cost of the ticket, they will feel good about coming out to the shows. You have to include in the price of admission a full schedule of seminars, daily prize giveaways, celebrities to meet, activities for kids, parties and fun for the whole family. We strive to have every attendee leave the show with the “WOW factor,” and looking forward to coming back next year.
WAYPOINTS: What do you believe exhibitors should/must do to maximize the return on their boat show investment?
MURPHY: The key is for exhibitors to plan and be prepared. Every exhibitor should plan their show activities like it was the only sales event of the year. It’s not like the old days when exhibitors would show up and instantly sell product. Exhibitors have to have a game plan; they have to market themselves before the show, and be prepared to aggressively attract business. If they sit in the back of the booth and wait for it, someone else is going to take that business.
WOLD: Think like the consumer, not like an exhibitor.
GRAZIANO: They must continue to be customer service oriented.
HARRIS: The exhibitors that have the most success – boat or accessory – are the companies that have the best staff. We have an award for Best Show Staff. Direct contact with former customers and prospects before the show is essential. This is what the most successful exhibitors do. Direct contact plus the messages from our television, radio and print, is really powerful.
WAYPOINTS: What case studies might you share about recent shows where exhibitors pro-actively initiated a strategy that resulted in sales success or increased market share.
MURPHY: The best example I can give is the benefit of e-mail marketing done by exhibitors. E-mail is an efficient way to invite prospects to the show with very little cost. Add a discount link or half price ticket, and the odds are even greater that you’ll see more activity at the show.
HARRIS: At the Seattle Boat Show - VIP Preview Night - exhibitors mailed 20,000 high quality invitations (four-color with envelope) to their best customers, and more than 3,000 people attended. Another case study - we have a dealer located almost three hours away from Seattle that participates in all of our events. Every time they come to Seattle, they make appointments in advance and have sea-trials pre-scheduled with their Seattle customers. They are a survivor and selling boats right now.
WAYPOINTS: We all know that marketing budgets in the marine industry have shrunk substantially. Companies are weighing their marketing investment like never before. What argument do you make for boat show marketing vs. other marketing opportunities ... and why do you believe that show marketing should remain a top priority?
WOLD: We’re not the auto industry where you can be somewhat comfortable buying a car online. Boat shows remain a unique opportunity to meet with a qualified buyer who is there to shop. While on-site sales have declined due to a lack of urgency (too many shows and not enough show-only deals) no other marketing opportunity can provide the face to face contact with tens of thousands of potential buyers in such a short period of time. As mentioned earlier, the consumer has told us that boat shows remain a crucial part of their buying process. If you look at the “action” over the last year, much of it was related to boat shows and leads generated by the show.
HARRIS: The Seattle Boat Show has a proven history of creating sales for boats and accessories. Yes, attendance may be down for many shows, but I think boat shows are still the best way to sell new boats and create future sales opportunities. Boat show attendance in the winter and spring will always be better than the traffic a dealer sees at his store. The Seattle Boat Show rates are low compared to other major shows, and exhibitors are allowed to do nearly all their own work, which keeps costs down.
MURPHY: Attending a boat show is an opportunity for an exhibitor to see thousands of qualified buyers who are looking to buy products. The environment has changed and the sale may not be as easy, but no exhibitor would argue that they could see as many qualified buyers in their store. Boat shows are a big part of the buying process. If you’re not there, you’re going to miss the single best opportunity to make sales.
WAYPOINTS: Based on your experience what is required to sell marine products and services in today's challenging economic environment?
MURPHY: Exhibitors have to be innovative with their product development and with how they sell. Attendees are coming to the boat show more prepared than ever before. We can no long sit back and write contracts and cash the checks. We have to be prepared for a customer that has more knowledge, more technical questions and one that is going to demand service after the sale.
WOLD: Be proactive! Participate in shows, host dealership events, demo days, etc. Work your leads as hard as you can – don’t let one slip away!
WAYPOINTS: Any other comments to add?
MURPHY: Everyone in the marine industry should accept that changing their business model to survive is not a bad thing. It’s the smart thing to do. Boat shows will always be important. How we approach them is what we need to work on and continue improving to be successful in changing economic times.
Wanda Kenton Smith is editor of Waypoints, president of Marine Marketers of America, national marketing columnist for Soundings Trade Only since 1997, and owner/president of Kenton Smith Marketing, www.kentonsmithmarketing.com For more information or to comment on this story, e-mail email@example.com