Marine Dealer Conference and Expo Draws Huge Attendance


The 34th Marine Dealer Conference and Expo attracted nearly 750 attendees to Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, FL, November 16 to 18.

Organized by the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA) and Boating Industry magazine, the event featured a distinguished lineup of speakers specializing in helping dealers to improve their sales, marketing and service department practices.  Many Canadian dealers  were in attendance, some of whom were recognized as being among North America's Top 100 dealers.

“I think the show organizers have done a great job of identifying the most pertinent and the most important topics that the dealers need to know about,” said Peter Barrett, Vice President Corporate Marketing for Starcraft Marine. “In the last 18 months this is a new economy. There's a new customer out there. There's a new way of handling things that we didn't do 18 months ago.”

Starcraft Marine was one of the sponsors of the conference and had the largest exhibit space with 11 boats on display equipped with Evinrude outboards.

“We choose to join this event because we knew that the best dealers in America were going to be here,” explained Barrett. “Last year we attended the event and the representative from our company saw the opportunity for a huge event in the future. We feel that this has the potential to be the biggest boating event of the year to attract new dealers and to show OEMs what we have to offer. So we decided to allocate marketing dollars towards an event and something that would really make a splash with our dealers and prospects. Most of our efforts right now are going towards prospecting and to solidifying our dealer network and supporting our existing dealers. We would consider doing a dealer meeting here next year to expand our presence.”

Rob Morton, Business Programs Consultant for the Disney Institute made the show's opening presentation, Leading Through Turbulent Times. Morton stressed the importance of repeat business through positive customer experience and provided Disney's example of maximizing interaction between its guests with its staff. “The assumption was we have some really cool rides and the best shows in the world,” pointed out Morton about Disney's basic initial appeal with its customers. “They said to us 'Yeah you do. That brought us here the first time. What brings us back was how we were treated.'”

Noel Osborne of Osborne & Associates discussed The Dealership of Tomorrow as well as Marketing Your Service Department. In the latter presentation, Osborne provided some practical tips for how dealers can better promote their service business. A few of his tips included holding a special free service inspection event for customers, providing service staff with business cards, co-marketing with local related businesses (e.g. tire stores) and marketing your service department on your dealership's website.   

The topics covered by noteworthy speakers resonated with dealers, including presentations by John Spader of Spader Business Management, David Parker, President of Parker Business Planning and Don Cooper of the Sales Heretic to name a few.

The MRAA also presented awards during Tuesday's lunch presented by Bennington Marine.  Phil Keeter, President of the MRAA presented Pack St. Clair, owner of Cobalt Boats the Rosenthal Award. The award is presented annually to one who has been helpful to the MRAA or the dealer body. Randy Wattenbarger, an MRAA director, presented the Bill Ferguson Award to the National Marine Trades Council, which was accepted by Ken Lovell, Executive Director of the Boating Trades Association of Metropolitan Houston.