The Music City kicks off site the industry’s loaded January show schedule with the opening of the Nashville Boat Show this Thursday, and expectations will be running high that sales will be playing a sweet tune.
Nashville is the first of eight major-market shows opening around the country in the next 17 days, which in total should give us a solid basis for projecting retail sales in the new year. These shows include:
• Nashville, Jan. 5-8
• Chicago, Jan. 11-15
• Atlanta, Jan. 12-15
• Cleveland, Jan. 12-15
• Detroit, Jan. 14-22
• Minneapolis, Jan. 19-22
• St. Petersburg, Jan. 19-23
• Hartford (Mohegan Sun), Jan. 20-23
I’ve seen lots of boat shows in my career — produced 136 in four states and manned the Discover Boating centers in Miami, Tampa, Cleveland and Orlando. I’ve visited many shows from New York to L.A., Seattle to Houston. Every show was energizing, and I attended one I didn’t like.
It’s all allowed me to see many good, and some not so good, things that exhibitors do to succeed. With our critical show season firing up, here are some observations that might help dealers get ready for what is their biggest winter sales promotions.
There was a time when exhibiting simply meant packing the display with a selection of models and ushering customers into a closing booth. Oh, to return to those easy days! Today, that transactional marketing style is gone. The mindset for dealers now must be experiential marketing. Successful dealers must sell the experience of boating by creating exhibits that highlight boating’s desirable moments. Only after creating such an atmosphere can serious product conversations begin.
So it’s important to deck out the boats, something too few dealers do well. Whether it’s fishing or skiing or cruising, the exhibit should beam such images through pictures, graphics, videos and signage. Equally important, lots of trappings — such as poles in rod holders, wine and glasses on a table, a kid’s toys on a seat — are essential to helping visitors envision themselves having a great experience. Even a small area with a video from a manufacturer or Discover Boating can help visitors see themselves enjoying life afloat.
In other words, successful exhibits draw in prospects by the “dream” they project long before any examination or conversation turns to product. In the restaurant business, it’s all about the food presentations. With boat shows, it should be all about lifestyle staging.
Of course, it means visitors must have good access and feel at ease entering your space. If they don’t come in, your sales team loses. Many exhibits have one entrance. Either the boats have been jammed in to the space, leaving little access, or there’s a belief that registering visitors before giving access is smart business. Both are questionable. Tight access shuts out many visitors, and registering potential customers can make people uneasy, so they just walk on by.
And keep in mind that the people who are best-suited to talk about the boating lifestyle may not be your sales team. The most qualified people to talk about the boating experience are often the boat owners who live it. So consider inviting some of your best, most enthusiastic customers to be part of your exhibit. These ambassadors can share first-hand experiences, talk about how their family goes boating, places they like to go or things they enjoy doing. And of course they can answer typical questions as one boater to another, which can be helpful to potential first-time buyers.
There’s no question that storytelling is a great way to connect with people. Witness the video craze. At shows, and every day in the showroom, the way to help prospective buyers understand the benefits of the boating lifestyle is by sharing stories of how boating has improved life for so many of your customers, which will hopefully lead to a discussion about the boats that have been an integral part of that story and an order on the books.