Linda Waddell: Increasing Canadian Working Hours Adds Greater Relevance to Boat Shows

Linda Waddell, Show Director for Canadian Boat Shows (CBS) recently offered exhibitors some helpful tips for improving their odds of success at the upcoming Toronto International Boat Show (TIBS). CBS produces both the Toronto and Vancouver international boat shows, two of Canada's largest consumer boat events.

At Boating Ontario's annual conference held in Huntsville, Ontario, earlier in December, Waddell made a presentation stressing the importance of implementing modern pre-show marketing initiatives and avoiding consumer turn-offs. She also shared interesting statistical data on show attendees, offering insight into their motives for visiting the show.  

"Today's boat show is not our father's boat show,' says Waddell. "I've often heard from the good old days how dealers brought one boat, two chairs and then sat there taking orders. That's not the environment anymore. Whatever you can do to set yourself apart from everybody else at the show will help you increase success.'

Waddell says exhibitors need to evolve in their approach to managing their show presence in order to achieve present-day success.

"We need to embrace the Internet's role in preparing consumers for a show exhibit,' she explains. "The personal relationship we have with consumers as a result of emails and social media have enabled us to break into a new environment, which has proven very beneficial for exhibitors that do it as well. Exhibitors that use social media contests during the show experience better results than passive exhibitors.'

Show Programs
One area where exhibitors can be proactive is ensuring the boats they're bringing to their booth space is listed on the CBS' website – one of several programs offered by the organization.

"In the last four years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of consumers expecting that every boat at the show be listed in our online inventory,' reveals Waddell. "This has been a challenge to get from dealers and manufacturers. Last year we were at 610 on our online inventory and there were 1,200 boats on display at the show. We encourage you to upload your inventory.'

In addition to its online boat inventory, CBS wants more exhibitors to take advantage of its other various programs to improve their results and deliver a better overall experience for the consumer.

The show's Buy a Boat and Win Program has been in place for nine years now and Waddell says there's still room for more participation. The program enables CBS to track the number of boat sales at the event while entering the salesperson and customer into separate draws. "About 900 to 1,000 boat buyers participate in the program each year,' she explains. "However, this is another opportunity occasionally left on the table that's designed to help dealers sell more product.'

Pre-ordering booth materials within incentive periods is another missed opportunity for some exhibitors. Waddell shared one staggering statistic: 40 percent of exhibitors ordered their booth's electrical service after the discount deadline, which would have saved them approximately 25 percent of the expense.

Another selling feature of the show director wants exhibitors to promote is the over 144 seminars offered at the show. "Education is one of the number one reasons that shows continue to be a draw,' she says. "The public is looking for face-to-face interaction and knowledge. Being in the show environment gives them what they need in addition to shopping.'

One of TIBS exciting new speakers for 2014 is Russell Newberry from the show Deadliest Catch. CBS anticipates Newberry's presentation on his experiences aboard fishing vessels on the Bering Sea will be a big draw for attendees and the media.

Conscious of Consumer Feedback
Waddell also took a moment to shed light on a few common complaints being reported at the show office and how exhibitors can address them.

She says the number one complaint from attendees is that they walked into a booth somewhere in the show and were ignored or never approached. "They say they see two or three sales people talking to each other or having a coffee at a table and were ignored. That's a barrier to their show experience, and a desire to do business.'

Meeting salespeople with insufficient product knowledge was another complaint. Consumers are coming to shows better educated than ever and can quickly compare facts and prices with a swipe on their smart phones. "Staff especially experienced with certain brands should be available near that product,' suggests Waddell. "This is an opportunity for you to look at how you set up your display.'

Waddell says there have also been a number of consumers complaining about ‘car salesmen tactics'. "That's the term the public is using,' she explains. "They say they feel very pressured by the salesperson. Rather than finding the boat that's right for them, they come across as trying the move the inventory on the show floor. I encourage you to be mindful of that with your staff, because the public is very sensitive to it.'

Aggressive sales tactics also extend into the frequency of follow-ups consumers feel they're receiving. "In the past year, as electronic devices are more prominent, the public is saying they're been contacted by too many people after the show. We understand your objectives. As you're becoming more sophisticated in your follow-up software, think about how you're doing it so that you're still engaging prospects without offending them,' suggests Waddell.

Show Stats
CBS makes great effort to obtain consumer feedback after each event, which influences its direction for subsequent shows.

"More than one in four Canadians work more than 50 hours a week,' says Waddell. "Both parents work in 70 percent of Canadian families with children under 16 years of age – compared with 58 percent in 1992 and 36 percent in 1976. These types of statistics help to increase the relevance of shows in the future. The Internet is a factor in what people are doing. People are looking to be very efficient with their shopping.'

As she suggests, TIBS offers consumers the opportunity to efficiently shop for just about every type of boat, all under one roof.

Waddell reports that 65 percent of attendees at the show own a boat, while 78 to 84 percent come to the show to look at boats and/or accessories. Of those in attendance, she says approximately 25 percent are first-time attendees.

Other statistics shared by CBS include:
• 87 percent say the show increases their desire to go boating
• 69 percent say the show increases their desire to purchase a boat
• 63 percent say the show played a significant role in their purchasing process
• 70 said they planned to followed up with a dealer they spoke with at the show
• 20 percent attended the show with the intention of buying a boat
• 51 percent who attended with no intention of buying a boat became interested as a result of being at the show.

According to CBS, each year TIBS typically attracts approximately 80,000 to 85,000 visitors.

TIBS' Special Preview Night kicks off the show on January 10 at Toronto's Direct Energy Centre and runs through to January 19. The Vancouver International Boat Show takes place from January 22 to 26 at Vancouver's BC Place, with an in-water portion at Granville Island.