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Secrets to a Successful Boat Show Season

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It's Boat Show time! The sun is out, the water is glistening and the atmosphere is rocking and there are countless give aways on offer. Boat Shows are great fun and bring visitors together from all over the world looking to purchase a new boat or product or just take the family out for the day.

For those in the industry, it’s a place to market your brand, new products, network with fellow industry professionals and in some cases launch a new business.

In May 2016, Hunter Oceanic launched in Australia and showcased its new yacht maintenance software, Seahub. The decision to launch our business and new product at the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show (SCIBS) was made on the back of overwhelming positive reviews of SCIBS and the businesses and attendees that it attracts.

Matt Hyde BoatShow

As a new business we had lots to prepare in the lead up to the launch; we began by identifying our target market, planning our budget and researching the marketing tools we could use to make the biggest impact we possibly could. We went bananas printing flyers, presentation folders and large posters and formed an extensive collection of marketing material for the launch. Perhaps we went a little bit overboard considering we have yet to use all of our printable material 2 years later? Just a little…but what was important was the crucial lessons we took away.

Setting up a booth for a software company can have its challenges. The first challenge is finding enough material and objects to fill your booth so you catch the eye of visitors and stand out from the crowd... We decided that a large engineering component of some kind could be a focal point inside our booth at SCIBS 2016. We approached P&W Marine on the Gold Coast, we wanted to highlight our engineering focus and they kindly loaned us a beautifully polished 3ft high brass propeller. We showcased the largest propeller at the show for the world to see. It was the focal point of the Superyacht tent!

Even though 75% of people walking by thought we sold propellers, it was a conversation starter and it worked. We were able to bring people in and chat about the propellers they used on their boats. It gave us the chance to understand how they maintained their vessel and understand their own experiences. Next lesson learnt: people enjoy talking about their boats and we enjoyed hearing about them.

Matt Hyde BoatShow2

Our first show, including the lead up, was a great learning curve for us as a business. We've taken some useful lessons from the last two years that are worth sharing:

Know your market: Identify whether your target market will be walking around the show or if they will be industry professionals set up in booths. If you’re a company like us, with the majority of your target market manning stands or on vessels, then purchasing a booth may not bring about the highest return on investment. We suggest you get out there, walk around and approach your target audience directly.

Less is more: When looking at printable material, its easy to fall into the trap of purchasing large quantities of flyers and other material because the per unit cost is lower the more you buy. Be careful with this, you may end up purchasing much more material then you can give out. The second issue with bulk ordering is the dynamic changes that a new business undergoes during the first few months after launch. You will change your marketing angles, your audience, your product and your prices so be careful not to print 10,000 flyers and then have to reprint all over again when you release a new feature or product. Start with a moderate number of printable material and factor in the changes that will happen in your business.

Be literal! Make it very clear what you are selling, who it is for and what purpose it serves This is especially important for those setting up a booth. When your target audience is walking by, you want it to be obvious what you are selling and how it will benefit them. You ideally would like your potential clients to identify with you and establish that you have something they need. Given the sheer volume of vendors, assume you have an attention span of about 5 seconds to work with – no pressure.

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Engage your audience: Be funny and interesting. Come up with ways to bring in a visitor who is walking by and doesn’t quite know whether they should stop for a chat. Lock eyes and engage them. Have a game or a raffle that you can entice them with and don’t try and oversell your product. The key is to make the conversation about them and what their needs are, not what you are selling. Let them ask you what you are selling once you have gained their trust.

Have Fun! Meet your neighbouring businesses and throw some banter around. Be cheerful and network. You may find that heading down to the boat show vendor networking event gives you the hottest leads during the show. Networking events at shows is where we have picked up the majority of interest so make sure you join an association and go to their events.

The marine industry is known for entertaining Boat Shows and is an invaluable tool for any business. There are now dozens of world class boat shows taking place globally and while it may not be viable to exhibit at all of them, we strongly encourage you to attend. Walk the docks, shake some hands and begin to understand the landscape. The industry is full of inspirational and talented individuals. Do yourself a favour, attend a  boat show and let the world know what you do and who you are.


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