Feedback from Inaugural Welcome to the Water Show

Exhibitors coming out of the Welcome to the Water In-Water Boat Show offered a mixture of feedback on the event's May/June inauguration at Bay Port Yachting Centre in Midland, Ontario. Parkbridge Marinas partnered with several Ontario dealers to host the free-entry event, which featured just over 100 new and used boats on display in the water and another 30 on land.

Participating dealers contacted their existing clients as well as posted notifications on their social media sites to create event interest prior to opening day. Being a first-time show, organizers say they didn't have a pre-event marketing budget. However, event proceeds are earmarked for marketing next year's show.

"We have a boat for everybody here,' said Bay Port Yachting Centre's General Manager, Scott Cain, on opening day. "We invited competition as well as a variety of dealers. In my mind, we would like this event to get people interested in boating. For the dealers, it's boat sales.'

"We haven't had an event like this on Georgian Bay in the summer, so we thought this event would be a great way to introduce the area as a destination for boaters,' explains Robin Mckeown, Operations Manager of Beacon Bay Marine and an event organizer. "We found our demographic of boaters is changing. Many have been boating for 20 or 30 years and are starting to get out of it. So we're trying to recruit younger boaters. This is our first attempt, but we want it to become an annual event that grows each year.'

Event attractions included an opening VIP night; a kid's zone including face painting, crafts and a reptile display; weekend wakeboard shows; boat demo rides; and a visit from the mayors of Penetang and Midland.

Exhibitors report that Saturday experienced a modest mid-day surge of consumer traffic, as did Sunday.

"It was a good show but it lacked advertising,' says Todd Girvin, Sales for Central Marine. "Attendance on Saturday was good, Sunday was a little lackluster but that's just way things are with boat shows these days. We posted show information on our website as well as social media. We generated several leads at the show that were now following up on. We had 10 different boats, mainly cruisers – catamarans, Rinkers and a few pre-owned models. Organizers need to get the word about the show out sooner. They also really need to have more food vendors. The beer tent was fine but if you're going to drink, people usually want food to go along with it. The show is close to where we are and we plan to be there next year.'

Jack Pady Marine brought several boats to the event including a Back Cove 34, a Tiara 43 and an Ocean Alexander 45. "It was a good show and we would do it again next year,' says Jack Pady, company President.

"It was an excellent first show and there's lots of potential,' says Jared Chartrand, Northstar Marine Insurance President. "I know a lot of hard work went into getting this show off the ground and I think we can capitalize on what's been created. Overall, the event could have been better but it also could have been much worse. We need to take the next step and invest additional time and energy to make the event bigger and better. We need to think outside the box to get people who have never really experienced boating and try it so they can understand what it's all about, get a feel for it and begin the process of how they're going to buy their first boat.

Chartrand believes improving pre-show marketing is key to the event's future success. "The people that came seemed mostly to be marina patrons. I'm sure there were some people from Midland. Demographically speaking, the consumers were all looking to deal with live in the Midland and Penetanguishene areas. I believe the same challenge exists for the upcoming Spring Boat Cottage and Outdoor Show in Orillia as well. You really need the boaters and high-net earners from the Golden Horseshoe that are going to come up and enjoy the activities of boating up in the Muskoka cottage country. Those are the customers were all trying to attract. We need to figure out how to engage those people and convince them to drive an hour to an hour and a half to a boat show. If the mandate of the show is to attract new boaters, where do capture the hearts and minds of these people? On FaceBook or Twitter? Or do we need to create a campaign and exhibit at an RV show with a Discover Boating booth? For a long-term strategy as an industry, we need to bring in quality new prospects that we can introduce to boating and get them excited about it. The question is: Do we have the people that want to do it? Do we have the time to commit to it? And do we have the funds we're prepared to invest in it?'

Bay Port Yachting Centre is one of six Ontario-based Parkbridge marinas and has been in operation for 22 years.