Expert Advice

Wooing First-Time Buyers

Boat shows are full of would-be boaters who want to get their feet wet. Here’s how to turn those browsers into buyers.

by Matt Alderton

The golden glow of sunlight on water. The smell of sea breezes and sunscreen. But most of all, that buoyant, stress-free sensation that comes with being on the water.

A unique combination of sport and serenity, boating’s best moments take place amid waves, wind and wildlife. But that first flush of love typically starts in the middle of an exhibit hall.

“Letting someone see, feel and touch a new product is the best way to sell it to them—that’s why people go to boat shows,” says Lew Shomer, executive director of SISO, the Society of Independent Show Organizers, in Santa Monica, California. Because they’ve never owned a boat, first-time buyers, in particular, will respond well to tactile browsing at boat shows. “Sure, you get a lot of tire-kickers, but even someone who’s been kicking tires for 10 years eventually decides it’s time to buy.”

Indeed, boat shows are teeming with prospective boaters who dream of one day becoming captain of their own ship. Many boat shows take place in the depths of winter, so it’s important to focus on selling the boater’s lifestyle first and products second.

“You get a lot of people at boat shows who dream about owning a boat but haven’t yet convinced themselves that right now is the time to buy one,” says marketing consultant Steve Miller, author of How to Get the Most out of Trade Shows. In this aspect, trade shows and consumer shows are no different. “As an exhibitor, you’ve got to get into that prospect’s mind and join the conversation. It’s your job to say, ‘I’m going to help you live the dream.’”

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