Besides plush purses and sparkly jewelry, International Plaza soon will have something new for shoppers to buy: luxury yachts.
The national boat dealer MarineMax is close to finishing a large "boating lifestyle experience" showroom and dealership inside the former Robb & Stucky furniture store and early this morning will start rolling in at least three boats for shoppers to crawl around in.
Rather than just park boats on trailers, the company is trying to simulate the overall experience of boating. Boats that cost upward of $70,000 will sit amid a panoramic scene of the water, with fans simulating the wind and a wakeboard in tow, so potential customers have pictures taken of themselves (virtually) having fun at sea.
"We want to reach out to people who may not normally come to boat shows or a showroom," said David Witty, vice president of marketing and retail merchandising at Clearwater-based MarineMax.
If it would help make a sale, Witty said, he would be happy to spritz saltwater around to heighten the experience.
The showroom will open to the mall's lower-level main plaza and run through January as something of a large demonstration area. Witty hopes to open similar experience showrooms in six to eight other malls across the country by autumn.
Rather than just show off boats, MarineMax can take orders and even sell boats right on-site, company officials said, although they'll also encourage customers to first take test rides on the Bay before picking a final model.
The boats won't be up on trailers but rather built into platforms so customers can step inside and crawl around to see how they feel. MarineMax also will build a kind of small cinema to show a series of movies on what it's like to own various boats. One movie chronicles a recent MarineMax group tour that departed Fort Lauderdale and visited a series of harbors and coves around the Bahamas, the kind of group adventure that is a growing part of MarineMax's overall marketing plan.
Shopping malls often rent out space in their hallways to companies such as car dealers so they can promote their newest models, but those are typically not staffed with salespeople. This will be a more functioning boat store.
The space in the former Robb & Stuckey building at the mall has been empty since the furniture company filed for bankruptcy court protection in February last year and liquidated its inventory. Since then, the mall's owners have been scouting for new uses for the property until they sign a permanent tenant.
MarineMax has more than 50 dealerships in the United States, and the owner of the mall, Taubman Centers Inc., has more than 25 mall properties and is considered the nation's premiere luxury mall operator.
The showroom will be open through January and is an experiment for International Plaza and MarineMax, but both companies say they might roll out the yacht showroom idea nationally if it goes well.