I cringe when I hear people say, “I didn’t sell anything at that show last year, and I am not doing it again.” After all, boat shows are the place where people you do not know today are going to find you, make comparisons and form opinions. Your clients will also find you, catch up on what’s new, and bring you a wealth of marketing data to take back to the home office. Your clients will tell their friends what you had on display and how much they liked it. Those clients are the best salesmen and women you have.
In the process of right sizing our Sabre and Back Cove brands for the new economy, every marketing expense is being carefully scrutinized. At the end of the day, getting our boats in front of as many boaters as possible is the best way we know to drive sales.
But every show brings decisions to reduce the number of slips, on-site expenses, and travel and entertainment expenses. We begin the process of planning our Fall shows right after the rush of Winter shows that typically ends with Miami and Boston. This show season, we are reducing the number of boats we will exhibit at almost every show. With three sailboat models, six powerboats and four Back Coves, show expenses can quickly get out of hand. Of course with dealer inventories low, making decisions on which boats to bring is far easier than it once was.
In the budgeting process for each show, we also consider the expense of non-essential in-water space such as floating docks where our printed information is located. Instead of two docks, we can make do with one; or, in some shows, none at all. Staffing is also carefully analyzed. Consider that getting one extra associate to the site of the show, paying an average of $200 per night per bed and another $50 per day for meals, and before you know it, that extra person has cost the company around $2000 for a four day show. Question to consider: what staff is really needed … and can a smaller contingent cover it?
Entertainment has been constrained. Dealers and clients know the economics of today and nobody is expecting elaborate meals. If we are renting a private home for our housing, then we may entertain our dealers there with a much appreciated home-cooked meal.
But all that aside, once the financial decisions have been made, there is no need to cut back on ENTHUSIASM! In fact, an extra dose is required and the cost is very reasonable. If aging display materials need to be retouched and brightened up, then make it happen. If it takes you getting involved to make an older piece of inventory look fresh, then roll up your sleeves. And when the clients come through the door, there are many things we can all do to make each show as beneficial to your company as is possible.
First of all, your good clients are going to ask, “How’s business?” In a society that loves bad news, what they are fishing for is your confirmation that business conditions are difficult. And bouncing back with an, “It’s never been better” response is madness. Tell your clients the truth; acknowledge the downturn, but perhaps add some detail of what you have done to adjust your business practices going forward. Turn their desire to hear bad news into a positive, honest response.
Secondly, use shows to gather information for your design and after-sales service departments. Listen to your clients as they relate experiences they have had with your products. Shows are the best places to gather data on your clients’ likes and dislikes.
Third, do some research. Although many exhibitors will show up at 9:55 AM for a 10 am opening, I personally like to get down to the show early if my schedule allows. You can find out a lot about everything from your competitors’ displays, to the age of a competitor’s inventory. Tracking serial numbers of boats that compete with yours is something that can be done early in the day. Check out displays to see what you like and dislike, and look for signage indicating special promotions and pricing information. Take that information back and make sure that every person working your display knows what the competition is doing on their stand.
Last but certainly not least, shows offer a great PR opportunity, so make sure the press knows you are there, what is new with your company/product/service, and what is interesting. Try to get your product covered by the local and marine press.
Shows are costly and making every penny count is more important today than it has ever been. Budget and plan well, then execute with all the enthusiasm you can muster. Success will come if you persist!
Bentley Collins is vice president of marketing and sales for Sabre and Back Cove Yachts.