New approach uses indoor displays


January 09, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Shoppers in White Marsh Mall are doing a lot of double-takes these days.

Just outside Sears, right across from the Sam Goody record store, they come face to face with a 22-foot Bayliner Classic power boat -- and behind it seven other large pleasure boats in a store that gives new meaning to the term "anchor."

"If you had a video camera and shot the reaction of people's faces, it would have been better than 'America's Funniest Home Videos,' " said Don Evans, a Bellingham, Wash., the marketing specialist who brought this fleet to White Marsh.

The novel mall store is operated by Riverside Marine, a 15-year-old Bayliner dealership in Essex that is aiming to broaden its business beyond the narrow circle of boating enthusiasts who typically visit its waterfront location.

During the Christmas holidays, Riverside operated temporary stores in three Baltimore-area malls -- White Marsh and Harundale, which are still open, and Eastpoint, which has closed until another space can be located. The results, Mr. Evans said, have been "unbelievable."

Now Riverside, one of the largest Bayliner dealers on the East Coast, is gearing up to get into 26 malls throughout the Baltimore area, said general manager David Baumgartner. Yesterday, it opened a display of 12 boats in the atrium at Glen Burnie Mall, and the company expects to be continuously booked in regional malls for the next six months.

"People aren't driving into the marinas," said Mr. Baumgartner. "We have to get out and find our buyer."

Boats are only the first step in Mr. Evans' efforts to exploit the potential of malls as a marketing medium. He foresees a much wider use of mall locations to sell cars and he envisions homebuilders demonstrating their skills in malls. Future displays could be equipped with a technology that, using the latest software, could let shoppers "experience" a computer-generated simulation Chesapeake cruise or auto test-drive without ever leaving the mall.

Dick Mathieu, whose company arranged for Chrysler Canada to display its cars in 25 malls across that country this Christmas season, said shopping malls are not just places to buy and sell, but powerful and cost-effective advertising media.

"They've become community centers in spite of themselves," said Mr. Mathieu, president of Mathieu-Lethren Associates in Toronto. "The smart developers are beginning to see that."

Riverside is not the first boat dealer to display its wares at a mall. Florida Marina in Pasadena, as well as other Maryland dealers, have shown their boats in mall parking lots and common areas for several years. But the practice is still uncommon enough in the Baltimore area that the sight of a power boat amid the shoe stores and kiosks surprises mall shoppers.

But if Mr. Evans has his way, the sight won't be a surprise for long. The former Bayliner dealer, who is living here temporarily, is convinced that shopping centers are ideal places to reach people who never knew how much they wanted a boat.

He recalls looking out at the snow-covered boats in his his own boatyard in Thunder Bay, Ontario, on a minus-20 degree day in January 1985. Realizing he wasn't going to sell many boats in that weather, he arranged with a friend to tow some to the nearest mall.

"A week later, I had sold 17 boats," he said. It was shortly after that he decided to stop selling boats and launch his Interactive Marketing Group to sell his concept.

Mr. Evans and Mr. Baumgartner say they aren't overly concerned about closing deals at their mall locations. What they want to do is get their message across, to get people thinking about buying a boat, to get a brochure in their hands and a gleam in their eyes.

The Bayliners on display at White Marsh range from $4,390 to $18,895, but the stickers emphasize the monthly payments of between $129 and $269.

"The No. 1 reason people don't buy boats in this country is they perceive they can't afford it," Mr. Evans said.

For the malls, the payoff is considerable. Not only does Riverside fill temporary vacancies with a rent-paying tenant, its boats can also be used as a marketing draw. At Cranberry Mall in Westminster, which is negotiating with Mr. Evans now, marketing director Kathi McEvoy sees the Riverside boats as a possible centerpiece for a "Sail Into Spring" sales promotion.

Mr. Evans describes the mall displays as "the Chicken Man marketing plan":

"He's everywhere! He's everywhere!"

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