Since I attend a number of events each year, I thought maybe I could offer a few tips and ideas that work when you are preparing to attend a boat show.
First you have to ask yourself why you are attending the boat show. Are you attending as new buyer, as an owner looking to upgrade what you already have or just looking to add to your equipment?
My situation is even different from that. I am looking for new products, new models and new companies. I am interested in anything that might be of interest to my customers and readers. I like to keep up with the industry and review new products or designs. I am also looking for things I want for myself. Oh, I also look for shows that will allow me to give seminars and promote my books.
Of course, I am also looking for a show location that I like to visit. I like the local shows but that is not the same as taking a trip to a distant location and using it like a working vacation. (Just don’t tell my wife how much fun these shows are!)
Shows early in the season give me an opportunity to do a few seminars and look over new products that will be available. Many of the products have already been introduced via ads or commercials. Consumer shows are the opportunity for dealers and manufacturers to actually put new products in front of buyers.
It is probably best to decide why you are at the show and establish an agenda for the time you will be attending. Reviewing or looking at a boat/car/plane can take a significant amount of time. Plan your time accordingly. In most cases you will want to look at the model, listen to the sales pitch and, if possible, try it out.
Because it is a time consuming experience, do a little research early. Review models and manufacturers that you have an interest in. Go to the website for the show or event you will be attending and get a copy of the exhibitors list. Review the exhibitor list and rank the manufacturers or dealers by your interest. It sounds like a lot of work but if you prioritize the models you want to see, you can spend less time wandering the exhibit hall and more time shopping. You will also find that you will probably have more time to leisurely enjoy the show once you have achieved your “requirements”.
If you are looking at products or upgrades, it is a variation of the same agenda. Look through the exhibitor lists and develop a plan and route through the exhibit hall. It is also important to keep track of other things that might be of interested as you are looking at the exhibitor list or walking around. You can always come back to a booth or visit the company’s website later (or back in your hotel room!).
If you are attending a show that is or has an outdoor portion, check the weather reports. I hate attending a show with the intent of getting an in-water demo and have the weather be cool, windy or raining.
It is also important to go to shows that have what you want. Why waste precious shopping time at a sailboat show if you are looking for a new powerboat? Or at an experimental aircraft fly in if you are really after a certified aircraft. Completed your visits to the required list of vendors first and then visit the other areas if you have time.
If you are interested in education (seminars, forums, certification classes) make sure that you get the newest schedule of events right when you get to the show. I have attended a number of shows that have had last minute changes due to weather, speaker schedules and room availability. Last minute adjustments are not unusual.
Different shows try different things to keep the attendance up and growing. For example, the Miami International Boat Show offered the "Sunset Celebrations" on the weekends. Festivities included street performers, contests and prize giveaways.
Don’t know which show to attend? Start by checking out national organizations like the National Marine Manufacturers Association (www.nmma.org). The NMMA list shows that they participate in and they have links to other sites like www.boatshows.com. Use these and other links to see where the and when shows are.
One thing to remember about any show, you only have a limited amount of time. You might not be able to see everything in detail, even if you go every day the event is open. However, if you follow a schedule to see the things you want, you should have extra time to see the rest of the show. Once you have covered your list you can wander through the rest of the exhibits. Prioritize, write up an agenda, follow it and enjoy the show. Hope to see you there!