Owners' Guide to maximizing a yacht's presence at boat shows

20 January 2015 • Written by Kelly Sanford
Boat shows such the annual show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida showcase hundreds of vessels, so preparation is required.

Choices an owner who is selling their yacht makes at a boat show can hinder the sale or help close the deal.

‘During a boat show, there is an opportunity to bring more potential buyers aboard in four or five days than there may be in the next 360, so you want to bring as much positive attention to your boat as possible,’ says Cromwell Littlejohn, a yacht broker with Merle Wood & Associates, Florida.

Adding a yacht to the playbill for a boat show can be a major expense. To get maximum benefit, a savvy seller will follow these broker-recommended tips.

Do be prepared

Some of the most important preparations for making your boat really stand out will happen well in advance of the show. The experts agree that it all starts with having your boat looking its best and having all the pieces in place to expedite the process should a buyer wish to move forward with purchase negotiations.

‘Repairs should be finished and everything aboard the boat should be detailed. The boat should be dressed like it is receiving a charter on board with all the yacht’s tenders, toys and amenities on full display,’ says Littlejohn.

As a yacht owner, you already know that your crew is one of your yacht’s best amenities. Planning trips or charters that run too close to the boat show could have negative consequences. Not only do you want your crew to have the boat at its best, the crew themselves remain a powerful reflection and important feature of the yacht.

‘The crew should be rested and well prepared before the show begins,’ says Littlejohn.

Do provide a sneak preview

‘In addition to having the yacht and crew in show-ready condition, I advise clients to hold an open house just prior to the show for brokers,’ says Crispin Baynes, a yacht broker with Burgess Yachts. ‘This way brokers can short-list the yacht when they have clients at the show.

‘Once the yacht is loaded in position and making final touch-ups, the brokers can whistle through without the public for a quick familiarization of where the yacht is in the show, the captain’s name, tour path, engine hours, reason for sale, etc. – a kind of dry run, so they have all the answers. And when they come with a client it can be as smooth as possible.’

A pre-show open house is also a perfect time for the listing broker and captain to get the crew ready.

‘I can’t overstate the importance of having the crew properly briefed and show-ready,’ Baynes elaborates. ‘The broker and captain should hold a crew meeting at the start of the show to explain the dynamics of the show, what is expected of the crew, walk the tour path through the yacht and run through the boat’s selling points and key questions they can expect.

‘The crew may not have done a show before, so they need an opportunity to ask questions so they can get comfortable with what to expect and what is expected.’

Selling a boat at boat show requires clear lines of communication: both between broker and buyer, and broker and seller.

Do be available

Whether or not you will personally attend the boat show, having clear and consistent communication between the seller and the broker is a must.

‘Make sure your broker has a direct line to you [the owner] so that any [purchase] discussions don’t lose momentum if the broker can’t get a hold of you,’ says Baynes. ‘I also advise my clients to have a MYBA/FYBA contract drafted with all the seller’s details pre-loaded. This shows organization and keeps the momentum on a deal.’

Baynes also advises clients to, ‘Make sure copies of all the ship’s documents are in a file and can be looked at by anyone that asks. This tells buyers that you have your house in order and have nothing to hide. The same with the history of the yacht and her previous owners. Have the work list and recent maintenance log ready for review…

‘Investing in a seller’s pre-purchase survey is an effective way to show buyers that there is nothing to hide and that the boat is truly turnkey. It’s about removing all the obstacles in a sale and having answers to all the questions at your fingertips.’

Do offer enticements

Highly motivated sellers will sometimes offer enticements to generate interest in the boat. Crew can be incentivized with the promise of a cash bonus or nice dinner out on the town if the boat sells during the show. Some sellers will offer an additional incentive for the buyer’s broker as well.

To get noticed and stand out in a crowd, Baynes also suggests a price reduction just prior to the show to attract attention.

Do sell the dream

‘When a prospective buyer comes aboard the boat, they need to feel like the boat is theirs for that period of time,’ says Littlejohn.

Jenny Chiles, managing director at Northrop & Johnson, adds, ‘Personal items of the owner and his family should be kept to a minimum. It is hard to imagine yourself owning the boat when the current owner’s photos, clothing, pets, etc. are everywhere.’

The crew should treat all potential buyers like they would any guest, but the protocol for serving them is discretionary. While there is no need to provide refreshments for every person who comes aboard, the crew should be dialled-in, and if a client seems particularly interested, offering a refreshment may help to keep them engaged.

For a well-qualified and very interested client, Baynes says, ‘Be ready to offer a private showing including a cocktail on board after hours, or with a very interested client, consider closing the yacht for an hour to visits and give the interested buyer the freedom of the boat and let them relax to see if it fits.’

Littlejohn elaborates: ‘You want potential buyers to get into a frame of mind where they see themselves as the owner of the boat. Ideally, they are enjoying the experience and don’t want to have to walk away. At that point, they realize that they will have to buy the boat to prolong the experience.’

Owners and guests should keep off their boats during shows, so potential buyers aren't made uncomfortable.

Don’t stay on board

‘If a seller wants to stay aboard or come aboard during the boat show, we don’t want to take anything away from the owner, but you never know what is going to turn off a buyer and it’s an extra burden for the crew,’ says Littlejohn. ‘Something will suffer, so an owner has to be aware of the trade-offs.’

‘I prefer owners not to be aboard,’ Baynes says. ‘If I come to buy your house and you are in it, it’s weird, right? Same thing. I also advise against sleeping aboard and leaving during the day. The added demands on the crew and extra cleaning that will be required could take away from your boat’s presentation.’

If you are going to be aboard your boat, even just for a short period of time, Chiles says, ‘You need to have thick skin. You’re going to hear people making judgments about your boat and your taste. You have to resist the urge to argue with a buyer. If you are going to be aboard, prepare to be offended.’

And though it may be tempting to have your chef prepare your meals, smells wafting out of the galley may remind an otherwise interested buyer that they have missed lunch and cause them to cut their tour short, or on the other side of the spectrum, a dishevelled galley or certain smells may put off would-be buyers.

Don’t cut corners

Now is not the time to economize on the boat’s presentation. Have a proper crew on board and have them looking their best. If uniforms are tired, replace them – your crew are a reflection of your boat.

Even if you do not normally use elaborate floral arrangements or designer-name soaps and sunscreens, don’t scrimp now. High-end labels and presentations seldom go unnoticed by selective buyers and add an element of class to the overall impression.

Simple hospitality events are typical at boat shows. Hosting an after-hours event for brokers to keep your boat fresh in their minds can be an effective selling tool. However, timing these parties can be tricky. Not all boat shows will allow parties after hours and having big parties on board during a show hours might cost you an opportunity.

At the same time, drawing extra attention to your boat could generate additional interest. ‘You should have a conversation with your broker as to whether a hospitality event is something that will hurt or help you,’ says Chiles.

Don’t distract buyers

Having guests aboard during boat show hours can reflect poorly on the boat. It tends to make potential buyers feel like they are intruding.

‘You have to figure you’ve got one shot to make that first impression,’ Littlejohn says. ‘Putting a boat in the show is an expense of time and money, not just for the seller but for the brokers and brokerages as well. The pace is fast, and to get the maximum benefit of being in a boat show, the commitment needs to be focused on selling the boat.’

‘Make the boat available; if the boat gets to feeling cramped with people who are just hanging around, it’s distracting to the buyer,’ Chiles says. Allow crew to rotate out during the day, which will also keep them fresh.

Television and music should not distract either. Littlejohn recalls the 2008 Fort Lauderdale boat show when, ‘The economy was tanking, and everywhere I went there was news on the television harping on the sour economy… If there is a TV on, it should be something soothing.’

Don’t cheat

Boat shows are not an oasis. Local customs, immigration and other various government agencies are also visitors to the boat show. Make sure all crew on board your yacht are legally on board. Don’t think you’ll dodge the taxman or the law, don’t be derelict on your duty and don’t besmirch your boat show bond.

Nothing will do a better job of ruining your boat show experience than finding a neon-orange sticker on your hull informing potential buyers that the boat has been seized.

In the end, it comes down to being realistic. A boat show is not a magical entity, it is simply a place where all the key players come together. Your odds are going to be best by listing your boat with a reputable brokerage that can arrange priority positioning in the show.

Finally, the fundamental rules of economics apply: the price needs to be set at the point where supply meets demand.

Originally published: October 2012.

Forest Johnson

Raphael Montigneaux


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