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For boat dealer, it's all aboard — virtually

Clearwater-based MarineMax reacts nimbly to a new era of online boat shows.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. April 8, 2020
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Bill McGill, founding CEO of MarineMax, is now executive chairman of the Clearwater-based boat dealer. Courtesy photo.
Bill McGill, founding CEO of MarineMax, is now executive chairman of the Clearwater-based boat dealer. Courtesy photo.
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Boat shows, by their nature, are tactile experiences. Shoppers clamber aboard the vessels for sale, poking and prodding at all the latest bells and whistles.

So for a company like Clearwater-based MarineMax (NYSE: HZO) that relies on boat shows to boost sales, the COVID-19 pandemic has, understandably, been a huge setback. 

To keep interest in its boats and yachts steaming along at a time when people are encouraged to stay at home as much as possible, MarineMax has created what it calls a Virtual Yacht Expo that allows it to hold online walkthroughs and chats with industry experts via Facebook and YouTube. The content also includes webinars about boat financing and how to find the ideal vessel. 

The company’s upgraded online experience launched March 26. According to a press release, it builds and improves on virtual boat sales that were held in March and August last year. 

"The very first online event was a learning experience,” states Abbey Heimensen, MarineMax’s marketing director, in the release. “We didn't know what we didn't know, so we approached the project from a different perspective. After listening to our customers' feedback and remarks from our team, we knew the idea was concrete, but we had room for improvement." 

The latest Virtual Yacht Expo isn’t MarineMax’s first attempt at such an experience. In February, before the coronavirus outbreak brought about many social-distancing policies, the firm held an online boat show that coincided with the Miami International Boat Show and Miami Yachts Show. And thanks to the acquisition of Boatyard, a mobile app platform, it’s also rolled out a new online service that makes it easier for boat owners to find and connect with service providers. 

"The MarineMax app and the online boat show experience are two separate projects that have come together at the same time,” Heimensen states in the release. “The focus of both projects was to make boaters' lives easier and help new boaters better navigate first-time ownership." 

MarineMax reported $1.24 billion in revenue in 2019, up from $1.18 billion in 2018. 


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