The smart buyer: Shopping for equipment at a boat show

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Looking for a new windlass? Considering a stabilizer system? The boat show is the best place to do your first round of shopping and research. But if the show is big, you need a strategy.

“Know what categories you want to research and possibly shop for,” says Eric Braitmayer, director of marketing for Imtra. “Do some homework ahead of time and figure out the key companies at play in those markets. And then try to set aside some time before you start walking around. … Find out where they all are and create a plan.”

Braitmayer’s advice is well taken, but where to begin? “At a big, spread-out show like Fort Lauderdale, the customers miss stuff because they just start walking,” he says. “Take shopping for a bow thruster, for example, something we do. Try to figure out what the key brands are in that market. Where are they going to be? And then actually map out a plan on how you’re going to work the show so you don’t have to retrace your steps and you don’t miss something.”

And remember: Real buyers stand out. If you’re serious about making a purchase, say so. “If you’re talking big-ticket stuff, it’s not impossible to make appointments ahead of time,” Braitmayer says. “If you know the companies before you get to the show, reach out to them and say, ‘I’m coming to the show. Is there a time that I could carve out so you could be available for me?’ ”

The boat show is also the electronics shopper’s best friend. “Visit all the manufacturers and get a little taste of the latest and greatest,” says Jim Bakatselos, CFO of Electronics Unlimited, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., dealer and installer. “Then seek out an NMEA-certified dealer who’s going to tell you how to apply the electronics to how you use the boat.”

Many installers deal in multiple brands and have seen what works. “A lot of it has to do with what you plan on doing with your boat,” Bakatselos says. “Certain equipment will work better.”

Some installers add something else: National Marine Electronics Association certification. A certified installer may mean additional warranty protection.

February 2013 issue