Q&A with IBEX director Anne Dunbar

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes

dunbar1Anne Dunbar was named director of the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference shortly before last year’s show. The industry veteran had been the marketing director of the show, co-produced by Professional BoatBuilder magazine and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, before she was tapped to head up the whole endeavor. She says her role hasn’t changed a lot except for the amount of responsibility she feels to keep the show thriving.

He background is in ad sales, a career path she launched at Soundings magazine, and her effervescent and down-to-earth personality makes it apparent she was good at that job. Dunbar lives in Buffalo, N.Y., with her husband, two daughters and three boats.

“We’re on our boats all summer and ski all winter,” she says. “And Lake Erie is like an ocean, but it’s fresh water so you can go swimming and you don’t have to take a shower afterward. It’s awesome.”

Soundings Trade Only caught up with Dunbar to get a sense of the upcoming IBEX, which will take place Sept. 17-19 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, and to find out what it is about the pending conference that most excites her.

For Dunbar, who talks about marine products ranging from composites to propulsion the way many kids talk about Christmas, the answer is simple: IBEX is all about the new products, and ultimately, how the new technology shapes the future of boating.

Q: Can you talk about your background and what led you to this point?

A: I’m from Connecticut, and I grew up on boats. My family joined Black Rock Yacht Club when I was 9 or 10 years old, and I was racing sailboats by the time I was 11. Through the program there, the Junior Yacht Racing Association of Long Island Sound, all the kids would have these major regattas all summer long. It was the most incredible way to spend the summer. I learned to drive and trailer a boat the same year. I actually would attribute my love of boating and my entire career in the marine industry directly to the yacht club sailing program. That’s how it all began for me.

dunbar2From there, I went on to teach sailing. That was every summer job out of college and during college. I ended up in California teaching sailing at the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club in Long Beach. A member came in one day and told me that a magazine called Soundings needed someone to sell subscriptions at the Long Beach Boat Show. I was like, “Soundings! My dad gets Soundings!” So I called and talked to John Woods, who told me I was going to get paid 8 bucks an hour and I thought, This is great. I’m going to be rich. This was in the ’80s. I was right out of college, maybe 22 years old. I worked the 10-day boat show at Long Beach and I had such a good time that I told John, “I would love to work for you. I don’t even know what I could do for you, but I would love to work for you.”

I met him and [Soundings founder] Jack Turner when I was back home for Christmas, and they sent me to do ad sales for the West Coast. I asked, “What do I do?” and they said, “You just go around and sell ads.” No training, except for this weird little course with cassette tapes. That’s what I did for three years and I had a blast. That’s how it all began — Jack taking a chance on me. He was my original mentor.

I was doing really well, but because I was having so much fun I felt like I didn’t have a career, so I decided to quit and go work in Manhattan, where I worked for a really big ad agency. It was an amazing experience, but I realized I was jealous of the magazine advertising reps coming in and presenting. I love advertising and marketing. When the Super Bowl is on I’m watching the commercials. So when Jack called again and asked if I wanted to move to Newport (R.I.) and sell ads in the Northeast, I was out of New York City and in Newport within two weeks. I’ll never forget my first morning on the road. I was in New Bedford [Mass.] on my way to Concordia Yachts, and I stopped at a coffee shop. I could smell the sea breeze, and I was so happy.

From there, I went to Boating Industry magazine for a few years. And then Carl Cramer called one day and said, “Come work for me.” I always thought Professional BoatBuilder magazine was such a brilliant idea because a technical magazine catering to that part of the industry is what we needed, and that’s why it’s been so successful.

I eventually began marketing for IBEX, and I was associate publisher of the magazine until last year, when I was promoted to show director. Because that job is so big I walked away from the magazine so I could focus on that full time.

dunbar3Q: I know you and your family boat together. What kind of boat or boats do you have and where do you do most of your boating?

A: Currently we own three boats: a 33-foot International One Design sailboat, which we race when we have the time; a 35-foot Chris-Craft, which we live on every weekend all summer long with our daughters; and an 18-foot Zodiac Pro. I love all my boats, and I love being with my family on them. My personal mantra is that life is better on a boat. That’s why I get so excited at IBEX when I see a new product that is going to improve my boating experience.

I think that one of the reasons I am so uniquely qualified for this job is because I can see the entire spectrum, from design to delivery. I’m passionate about boating. The only way we can get more people on boats is to build better boats. Technology is changing so quickly, and IBEX is where all the leading marine product manufacturers present their new products and boatbuilders discover ideas and inspirations to take it to the next level.

Q: What’s your vision for IBEX moving forward?

A: My job, following in the footsteps of Carl Cramer, who is a very big thinker and the visionary of the show, is to make sure IBEX continues to deliver an exceptional and valuable show experience to the exhibitors and attendees. IBEX is the starting point for change and innovation. In order for the industry to thrive we need to build better boats. We need to improve the boating experience so the end result is increasing boating participation. The only way to do that is to build beautiful, efficient, comfortable, safe and affordable boats.

dunbar4Just like in every industry, the marine industry has to evolve and benefit the consumers, and it all begins at IBEX. That is the builders’ starting point for the whole life cycle of our industry because if they’re not building good boats, the dealers don’t have anything to sell. My role is to make sure it continues to be the exciting, innovative event people expect it to be.

The great thing is that’s not hard to do because our exhibitors are so spectacular. Every year they deliver. It’s so exciting to see all the new products coming out every year. It’s mind-blowing. Every year there’s something that makes your eyes bug out of your head and you think, “I can’t even believe somebody thought of that.” That’s my favorite thing about IBEX. I’m already hearing a lot about what’s coming down the pike this year, and I can’t wait.

Q: What impressed you at IBEX last year?

A: The Mercury Marine Joystick Piloting for outboards and SeaStar Solutions [formerly Teleflex Marine Products] and their articulating outboard, the Optimus 360 steering and control system. That was incredible. There’s so much cool stuff going on — the flooring, the lighting, the integrated power systems, the hull and composite materials that are coming out. They can build more beautiful, better boats because of all of this.

It’s amazing what’s happening in every industry. It’s a continual process of evolution. Consumers are more and more demanding. The builders who are going to succeed are the ones stepping up to the plate and discovering all the new technology developments and applying them. These guys have to invest in changing to make boating easier. What that Optimus 360 product did is make boating an easier experience. Docking a boat is a challenge, and that product makes it a lot easier.

Q: How has the initial response been to this year’s upcoming show?

A: Response to IBEX this year has been really strong. IBEX is a direct reflection of the economy and the industry, and we’re tracking ahead on booth sales and registrations, as well as sponsorship sales, which are well ahead of last year. That’s a beautiful indicator that we haven’t seen in three or four years. The show’s currently about 87 percent sold out. We’re selling pretty steadily. If we don’t sell out, we’re going to come pretty close.

dunbar5And I’m really excited, too, [because] this is the first time we’ve hired a famous big-name speaker, Rick Pitino, the coach of the Louisville Cardinals, who just won the men’s NCAA [basketball] championship, who is local. He’s an incredibly motivated speaker and he has a book out called “Success Is Not a Choice.”

We’re going to have a lot of boats showcasing new technologies and products. I don’t want to give away too much, but we’re going to have a little slip area of boats that are utilizing new technologies and materials. We used to have a lot of concept boats, but that takes a lot of time and money, so we haven’t seen that in a while. That’s a really good indicator that people are doing better. We will also have new show hours. We’re opening the show at 9 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday and closing one hour earlier on the final day.

Q: What have you learned after your first year? How will your approach change, if any?

A: It wasn’t as much the running of the show because I’ve been neck-deep in that with the rest of the IBEX staff, which is a great group of seasoned professionals. I think the thing that really hit me the hardest was the responsibility of making sure this show continues to thrive because it’s such a critical part of getting more people to buy boats.

IBEX is the platform for change in our industry. This is the beginning of the process. Ideas, innovation, and inspiration: That’s what builders find at IBEX. The future of boating begins at IBEX, so I feel like I’ve got to keep my show happy and thriving.

The other thing is IBEX is for everyone. It is definitely a hardcore technical boatbuilding show because that’s where it all begins. It’s all about the boats. But that affects the marina and yard guys because they’re going to be storing them, fixing them and dealing with all the problems. They need to know what’s coming down the pike.

Distributors also can’t live in a vacuum. They need to see what’s new and what’s next so they can share that with the dealers. The dealers need to come to IBEX so they can get excited about what’s coming and go back and get their customers excited about what’s coming.

An engine builder, for example, wants to hear from a dealer who had issues with their product. IBEX is the dealers’ chance to meet with the top dogs, as well as the engineering and design people, and say, “Here’s one thing we hear the consumers complaining about your product and you should know that as you’re working on next year’s design.”

Any exhibitor at IBEX would welcome that feedback. Really forward-thinking dealers are at IBEX and they’re taking advantage of that opportunity to not only see what’s coming down the pike, but also to talk to the factory experts and engineering guys because they have valuable insight that the manufacturers welcome. A lot of communication among every facet of the industry is necessary to build a better boat. IBEX exists to be a platform for that dialogue.

Q: Can you talk about the dealer track at the show?

A: With our seminar partners being the American Boat and Yacht Council and the American Boat Builders and Repairers Association, IBEX is not necessarily geared toward dealer education. That’s what the Marine Dealer Conference & Exposition does and they’re doing it well. IBEX is more about the product and the technology and the design.

Dealers should send in their service and yard guys. IBEX isn’t about running a better dealership. It’s about a better boat, a better product and dealing with all the regulations coming down the pike. Dealers are the front line to our consumers, so they come to IBEX to see the future of products in an effort to stay ahead of the curve and better informed. In the end, the face-to-face is just so invaluable. Nothing can replace that.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue.

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