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    Boot Dusseldorf is now the biggest boat show in the world. On display is a mind-boggling array of ways to get on and in the water, from scuba diving to superyachts, plus every accessory you’ll never need.

    Of all the European boat shows, Boot has become the best place to see and buy new products, do research, draw-up wishlists and place orders. A quarter of a million visitors will walk the halls speaking German, English, Russian, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Chinese – this is a global shop window.

    With 2000 companies displaying their wares, there’s a lot of different approaches to grasping the Boot opportunity. Amongst the welcoming and genuine companies are a surprisingly large number of ‘anti-exhibition-ists’.

    Hiding in plain sight

    These are the curious companies that spend tens of thousands of pounds exhibiting at the show but don’t seem to want to be there. They achieve this with a stand that hides a large portion of their product. 

    Why would a boat buyer want to see the keel, rudder or propellers? Much better to put up a big wall around the majority of the boat, like a mid-1980s America’s Cup campaign. Even better, the wall funnels visitors more quickly past the stand, so they don’t even realise you’re there.

    You’re not good enough

    Of the 250,000 visitors at the show, these companies really, really only want to talk to six or maybe seven. The approach is to channel the Ritzy nightclub on ladies night. Rope off all access to the stand, and guard the entrances with staff clutching iPads. Earpieces optional.

    Exclusivity is appropriate in the superyacht sector, but as a way of selling family boats? How even does the screening happen – I heard that one company is using the old ‘shoes and watch’ technique. Masterful in the era of digital entrepreneurs, top-notch fakes and athleisure. 

    Phubbing, whatevs

    Sadly, a common problem, where the crack-hit of scrolling is more engaging than the customer standing right in front. Yeah, he may want to buy a sail/shackle/boat, but Twitter, breaking news and PornHub wins out.

    My favourite was the lady on the swanky stand who kept her smartphone out of reach but couldn’t resist inspecting her long hair for split ends. Happy in her world for well over 15 minutes. Maybe longer, I don’t know. I gave up.

    Work, work, work

    A more (self) important sub-set of the phubbers. Crouched behind their laptops answering emails, crunching spreadsheets, ordering lunch, who knows. Just. Being. Important.

    You’re at a show, you know, to see and be seen. Delegate the day-to-day, or save it for the very start and end of the exhibition when there’s no-one around.

    Closed for lunch

    Got to admire the companies where everything stops for lunch. Out comes an enticing array of salads and cold cuts, or maybe just a prepacked sandwich, and all the team sit down to chow down. Don’t mind us; we’ll pop back later when it’s convenient for you.

    Tell them the story

    These people have learned all about the product, and they’re jolly well going to tell you everything. Whether you want to know it or not. They won’t make eye contact or pause for breath, and the visitor becomes a hostage. Ask an open question, and you could have saved the spiel for someone else.

    It IS tough

    I know. Doing shows is tough – being nice to random strangers for eight hours a day, ten days straight is a strain for anyone.

    If you feel yourself falling into the anti-exhibition-ist traps, do your customers a favour and think about what it’s like for them. 

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