2012 Best in Class: Best boat show strategy

December 1, 2012
Filed under Features

Sail & Ski Center
Austin, Texas

Rod Malone, president of the Sail & Ski Center, stresses to his team that boat shows are not actually “shows” but rather “boat-selling events.”

Yes, they stage attractive displays to show off their boats, but more importantly Sail & Ski goes into each event with a selling strategy and a well-prepared sales staff.

The company’s extensive planning outline has remained consistent over the last 20 years. The nearly 50-point plan covers booth/slip selection, model selection, display planning, scheduling, pricing, sales goals, advertising, follow-up and more.

The Sail & Ski planning process for winter boat shows begins as early as May, when decisions about space selection and show layout are made. In July, they begin to decide on the models and number of boats to be shown. By September, they are working on a specific timeline for the projects to be completed for the shows.

“By following our planning outline and proactively planning for the display, pricing, selling and follow-up of prospects for each show, we are always the most prepared dealership in the show,” Malone says. “Our move-in, move-outs are the most organized and our displays are the most spectacular of each show.”

Sail & Ski develops a pricing strategy for each show, normally in conjunction with its boat manufacturers, to create a clear reason to buy at the show. Prior to each event the sales staff is trained on that strategy and in ways to effectively and efficiently make presentations that lead to closing a sale.

Sail & Ski pulls staff from its multiple sales locations for shows, giving it a well-trained and professional team for each event. The sales staff is attired in navy blazers and Sail & Ski dress shirts, making them readily identifiable in the booth.

The dealership also distinguishes itself at boat shows with a manned service department display. The booth is staffed with service managers and service advisors during the entire show to answer questions and give maintenance advice.

Other creative promotions this year included a special display of models less than $30,000 called the “Affordability Pavilion,” an iPad promotion that offered a free iPad with the purchase of a Nautique or Boston Whaler, and a Spin To Win game with a slot machine-style interface on the show aisles to draw attention and capture customer contact information.

Taking a step back to look at the larger boat show picture, Sail & Ski was instrumental in establishing the Austin and San Antonio boat dealer associations as owners of several local shows, which resulted in competitive but cooperative dealers focusing their efforts on those events. Malone says the approach allows more emphasis on producing quality prospects as opposed to “head count.” The approach also helps dealers contain costs and, Malone says, keeps the plethora of shows that occur in many markets from diluting traffic at the dealerships during the otherwise busy selling season.

“Our vision is that shows should produce ‘plus business’ not create overhead for sales that might otherwise occur,” Malone says. “In pre-show planning meetings, Sail & Ski has worked diligently to keep the focus of our show around boating and attracting consumers that lead a recreational lifestyle. We have consistently rejected ideas like adding hot rods or music concerts that will increase traffic but will not attract the right consumers.”

Though the company’s level of preparation has not varied in more than 20 years, Sail & Ski recognizes that boat shows have changed. Thanks to the Internet, consumers have a new and more convenient source of product information. On top of that, Malone says that as the market has seen a volume slowdown, many shows have evolved into more price-driven sales events, where dealers are there primarily to sell and reduce non-current inventory.

Nevertheless, Sail & Ski approaches each show as it always has.

“Our goal, regardless of the circumstances, as it always has been, will be to ‘out-display and out-sell’ the competition at the shows and to make sure the consumer knows there is a value for doing business with our dealerships,” Malone says. “Then, if we cannot make the sale at the show, we capture the prospect’s contact information, which allows us to implement our regimented follow-up process.”

 

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