When this mailing goes out we will be exhibiting at the Miami Strictly Sail, which is part of the mega Miami International Boat Show. Now don’t go thinking that we do this just to buff up on the tan during a bleak Maryland winter, oh no. No, this is purgatory. This is some form of evil punishment hoisted on us, probably for being so slack and slovenly during the slow winter sales season.
Our German suppliers refer to boat shows as “fairs”, which to me conjures up images of riding prettily painted uppy-downy horses on a glittering merry-go-round while eating cotton candy, but sadly that is mere fantasy.
OK, so it is nice to get away from the office, pull on a pair of shorts and give the old pins an airing, but “doing” these shows is expensive, takes a lot of organizing and planning, and they are physically and mentally exhausting.
So why on earth do we bother?
Unlike some other vendors, we don't do shows just to sell stuff. The glue guy and the screeching drill-bit salesman can tell you day-by-day whether they are making or losing money on the show because they rely totally on sales. Of course, sales are always very welcome, but for our kind of business it is more a case of using the opportunity to showcase our products and give prospective customers a touchy-feely experience (with the products that is ...). Name recognition and association are also important factors, as is distributing brochures and handouts, and of course we are also there to support local dealers and help them finalize sales.
Boat shows are also a chance for us to get direct feed-back on products we offer. A lot of myths and "alternative facts" born in the far corners of the internet come to light during casual chats with folk at boat shows. So also do new ideas and suggestions for improvements; some interesting, and some so whacky that you seriously wonder what these people's boats look like.
But the times they are a-changin' and the shows are a-gettin' smaller, both in exhibitor and attendee numbers. The big marine discount chain stores have opted out in recent years, and our competitors are now more noticeable for their absence than their presence.
Maybe the internet is making boat shows obsolete, as you can do a virtual tour of new offerings from major boat builders from the comfort of your armchair, and then pop along to your local dealer to see, smell and touch the real thing. After that you can check out all the latest gear on the web and follow up with e-mails before buying on-line, all without having to talk to an actual human being.
So who goes to boat shows these days? Well for a start there are parties and that attracts lots of party-goers. There are also seminars that attract seminar-goers. And of course there is always beer, and that attracts beer-goers and yellow jackets. At the Miami shows there always seems to be a large contingent of Canadians, but that's not so surprising given the weather up there in February, eh? And finally there is the steady dwindling contingent of genuinely interested boaters that are checking out new boats and equipment.
But are the numbers still substantial enough to persuade exhibitors, like ourselves, that the considerable expense and huge effort involved is still worth it?
We'll just have to see how the Miami show turns out and if the sunscreen did its job.