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Make sure you get the most from your expensive exhibition stand, suggests Phil Draper.

MARCH 2006

We all know the cost of boat shows. And for exhibiting boatbuilders the costs are usually magnified because of the sheer size of their wares. Beyond the stand rates, all-too-often extortionate, there are the considerable costs of getting the boats to and from the event, whether you’re talking by road or by water. Then there is the cost of the stand or booth and the related setting-up charges and ancillary service fees and so on. And all that hits home long before the gates even open on day one. Next there is expense of the staff necessary to man the stand — their transport, accommodation and subsistence, not to mention the time that has to be thrown at the show run by all concerned. And we won’t bother to factor in all the hassle and ‘busting of guts’ that usually takes place in the preceding weeks and months to make sure the new models make the event.
No matter how you slice it, it all adds up to a simply huge investment. So how crazy is it to have invested so much, but not to take full advantage of the opportunities on offer? But that is precisely what happens on too many boatbuilder show stands all over the world. It is a sad fact that only the very biggest and smallest players handle the whole process well. The biggest builders get it right because they didn’t get to be the biggest by doing anything else. And the smallest get it right because they are quite simply used to being ‘jacks of all trades’ — doing everything themselves — being flexible. No. The ones that get it wrong are the middling operations — which by definition in this industry means the majority of boatbuilders that exhibit at boat shows. Way too many go to these things thinking that they are just there to sell boats and that nothing else matters. Of course selling should be at the top of most exhibitors’ lists, but it is not the whole deal by a long way.

“So how crazy is it to have invested so much, but not to take full advantage of the opportunities on offer? But that is precisely what happens on too many boatbuilder show stands all over the world.” 

From time to time as a member of the international yachting press I bump up against the ‘sorry we’re here to sell and not to talk to you' line and the ‘call us after the show’ nonsense — the worst offenders are the Americans, which is probably why such things are on my mind as I pen these thoughts bound for the Miami show in mid-February. I can guarantee the ones that say call us after the show, won’t be any better prepared afterwards. Such attitudes never cease to amaze. The boat show is an ideal opportunity for exhibitors and media to catch up. There is always press attention at shows and, if you aren’t geared to handle it, you can guarantee that the big-player competitors will treat the journalists and photographers properly. PR is important stuff.
Another thing that really bugs me is the lack of attention paid to the average reception desk, particularly those restricting access to boats and staff behind. All too often this frontline position is manned by the least experienced staff, often temps hired just for the run of the show and given inadequate briefs as to how to ‘sift and sort’ the valuable visitor from the timewaster. This is just plain crazy. To my mind it would be better to have the brightest staff directing the traffic at the front desk, than have them hanging around out the back waiting for the lucky few than get past the cord. The front desk at a show is hugely important. To use a mechanical analogy, it is the fuel filter and we all know that it doesn’t matter how good the engine if the fuel is bad. If the front desk isn’t working efficiently, the rest of the stand won’t either. The show experience for the exhibiting boatbuilder all depends on the quality of visitors. It is not so much about stopping the wrong visitors, but not stopping the right ones. Some boatbuilders seem to labour under the misapprehension that the real buyers or serious press attention will come back. All I can say to that is some may, some may not. Asking a serious visitor to ‘come back’ or to ‘make and appointment’, which is just a more involved 'come back later', is the show equivalent of telling someone who calls for a colleague that they are in a ‘meeting’ and to ‘call back’. Daft.
Such things always grate with those who perceive mishandling, which can hardly be the desired reaction to that considerable boat show investment.

© Phil Draper