Big show is even bigger

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32_bigshow_01The $3 billion Fort Lauderdale production adds TrawlerPort and an enhanced superyacht pavilion

For more than half a century, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show has been a mainstay on the fall show circuit, but the world’s largest in-water show isn’t resting on its laurels. It’s continuing to grow and change with the times.

From the new Superyacht Builders Association pavilion and the inclusion of PassageMaker magazine’s popular TrawlerPort to new technology connected to the show and enhanced signage to help visitors find their way around, FLIBS is again boosting its offerings. “We have a lot of improvements, a lot of things happening with the show,” says Colleen Deverteuil, show committee chairwoman of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns FLIBS. “We’re very excited.”

The show features more than $3 billion worth of boats and marine products — superyachts, tents full of accessories, a convention center packed with boats — and offers a fun, boating-friendly atmosphere with something for everyone.

FLIBS encompasses more than 3 million square feet of space on land and in the water over a 6-mile area. It takes place Oct. 27-31 at six locations: the Bahia Mar Yachting Center, Hall of Fame Marina, Las Olas Municipal Marina, Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, Broward County Convention Center and the Sails Marina. An intricate network of shuttles, water taxis and riverboats runs between the locations.

Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, CEO of FLIBS producer Show Management, said in mid-August that all indicators point to a successful show this year. At that time, the number of exhibitors was up 10 percent — 673 had signed on versus 616 at the same time in 2010 — and revenue was up about 8 percent, Zimbalist says. Sales of e-tickets were running about 5 to 8 percent ahead of where they were last year in mid-August.

32_bigshow_02“All those kinds of indicators are positive,” he says. “The requests for press passes and exhibitor badges and all those things are tracking ahead of last year, so we’re pretty confident, absent some calamity, that things are tracking in a good direction.”

Last year the show featured almost 1,000 exhibitors and was up about 5 percent in terms of numbers and dollars. Zimbalist says he thinks the total space sold will be up, although this year’s show will feature more large vessels, which may reduce the total number of boats. For the first time, the show will feature at least five boats exceeding 200 feet.

The economy

Zimbalist acknowledges that the economy and the discourse in Washington, D.C., aren’t helping boat sales. “I think anything that is bad for consumer confidence is not good for the show, and so I think that the budget wrangles and the debt ceiling wrangles are not positive for anybody, but especially for people who are planning significant capital expenditures,” he says. “On the other hand, the people who are buying boats, especially boats over a certain  size, have significant net worth and there’s a lot of pent-up demand out there. I’m expecting if things don’t get any worse that attendance will be up this year and the boat sales will be up.

“I’m hoping Congress and the administration get together between now and the show … and they’ll get their act together and put something together that everybody can support and get behind, and I think that would be a huge positive for the economy if that happens — and for the show,” Zimbalist adds.

Despite the sluggish economy, he says there are bright signs in the industry and demand is slowly improving. “I’m encouraged by, through July, a lot of the new-boat categories are ticking up, where the comparisons for the first time in a long time are inching above the zero line. We’re seeing some positive growth. We’re not seeing that in the cruiser segment yet — those are still getting hurt — but in a lot of other segments you are seeing that,” he says.

33_bigshow_03Zimbalist says the strength of the brokerage market compared with the new-boat market continues, and some of the show’s brokerage exhibitors are significantly increasing their space this year. “The brokerage market has been stronger than the new-boat market in terms of growth,” he says. “I think that’s primarily because there’s a lot more flexibility in the brokerage market and you have owners that want to sell their boat. They reduce the price and those boats move, whereas the manufacturer has a cost basis in the boats they can’t go below and they’d rather not make them and not sell them than sell them for little or no margin.”

Exhibitors

Exhibitors are looking forward to a strong and productive show. “Lauderdale is a very good show, and part of the reason is that in the build cycle, if someone wants to build a boat and they order it in Lauderdale, they’ll have it by next summer,” says Peter Frederiksen, director of communications for Viking Yachts. “If you have a good display in Lauderdale, it gives people incentive.”

The builder is premiering its 66 convertible this year. “We always have a new boat to introduce at the major boat shows,” Frederiksen says. “Last year, we had the 70 convertible and the 42 convertible. Then in Miami we had the 70 enclosed bridge and the 42 open. This year, we’re going with the 66 convertible, and that will be one of the 12 or 13 other boats ranging from 82 down to 42 [feet].”

Last year, he says, Viking sold a dozen boats at FLIBS. “We want to show new things and we think it gets people psyched up to look at it,” Frederiksen says. “It helps to build up a little excitement.”

Dirk Boehmer, president of Vicem Yachts USA, says the builder has two boats to show at FLIBS. The 72 Flybridge is a new model and the 57 Sportfish is a demo boat. “It’s certainly an important show with regard to our main client base,” Boehmer says. “What we find is people who gravitate toward Vicems tend to have a home in South Florida … and then they use the boats quite a bit up north in the Newport [R.I.], Norwalk, [Conn.], area. That’s a very strong area for us in the summertime. But we see a lot of customers migrate, so the Fort Lauderdale show is as important for us as the Northeast shows. Also, we do meet quite a bit of international customers in Fort Lauderdale. Not as many as in Miami, but we still get a good bit of international customers coming into the Fort Lauderdale show.”

Boehmer says the show is important for gathering leads as well as sales. “Many relationships are started and also restarted at boat shows,” he says.

33_bigshow_04Boehmer says business this year definitely has improved from last year, and he’s optimistic heading into FLIBS. “We have new models in production and new options for customers who expect a higher level of quality and joinery at a competitive price,” he says. “Our new brokerage division will allow new boaters to join the Vicem family with opportunities to purchase preowned yachts from our Vintage series.”

Regal Marine plans to show seven boats at Fort Lauderdale, including three 2012 models: the 24 FasDeck, 28 Express and 35 Sport Coupe. The 52 Sport Coupe, though not a new model, will feature a new hard enclosure aft. “[Fort Lauderdale] has been a selling show up until recently, and now it seems to be more an opportunity to show our boats,” says marketing manager Mark Kellum. “Shows, in general, have turned more into lead gathering and people kicking tires — what we call hull thumpers. I think the sales process itself has become much more complex and takes a lot longer than it used to.

“We’re optimistic [heading into the show],” he adds. “We wouldn’t be surprised if it became a selling show again because we’re starting to see movement in the industry. We’ve been pretty lucky in the sense that we’ve kept even all year. Compared to other fiberglass manufacturers, that’s a pretty good showing.”

International Yacht Collection president Bob Saxon says he’s also looking forward to the Fort Lauderdale show following an active summer in which IYC completed 12 brokerage sales. “Given the remarkable ride on Wall Street and watching with a certain kind of amazed fascination the political gamesmanship over the deficit and debt ceiling, I’m encouraging our team to suggest to prospective yacht and charter yacht owners that there is perhaps no better hedge against economic uncertainty than a yacht,” he says. “Moreover, pent-up demand for yachts and yachting amongst our demographic has never been higher.

“Gone is the perceived embarrassment of affluence of 2008, 2009,” Saxon adds. “In its place is the understanding that owning a yacht puts an entire industry to work.”

What’s new

The Superyacht Builders Association’s new 16,000-square-foot pavilion will showcase the world’s leading builders on a custom-built floating, air-conditioned barge along the Intracoastal Waterway at Bahia Mar. Adding to the new show design is a revamped superyacht docking layout offering up-close profile views of the largest yachts at the show.

Zimbalist says Show Management had been talking with SYBAss for a few years about creating a special environment for the group. A final agreement came in July. “It enables the superyacht builders to have their stand, their tent, adjacent to their boats,” Zimbalist says. “The primary benefit of this is it puts it right together, so while they’re entertaining and meeting and greeting their potential buyers, they can see the boats. They’re right there.”

33_bigshow_05Zimbalist also says he’s excited about the inclusion of TrawlerPort at FLIBS. It was made possible by Zimbalist’s Active Interest Media’s purchase of PassageMaker magazine, Soundings magazine, Soundings Trade Only and other assets of Dominion Enterprises. A dozen or so trawlers will be grouped at the show, and seminars will be held in association with TrawlerPort.

Deverteuil, the show committee chairwoman, says a top priority this year is making it easier for people to find the areas they most want to visit by increasing signage. “We are really aiming at making our show a much more friendly show,” she says. “We want people to succeed, and if they can’t find the person or the business or the company or the service that they’re looking for, then it’s not a success. So the friendliness is not just signage. We’re going to have people stationed throughout the show that are just there to simply help you get where you need to get to.”

Zimbalist anticipates a couple of hundred signs at key locations. There are also plans for pocket maps and a smart phone app (see story, Page 24)that attendees can download, allowing them to search the show by boat type, manufacturer or vendor, in addition to providing information about restrooms, show offices and more. Also, he adds, the show is once again sending invitations — in the United States and overseas — to those who own boats beyond a certain length, personally inviting them to the event.

“We spend a fair amount of money on it, and the response was significant enough that we’re doing it again this year and increasing it a little bit,” Zimbalist says. “We’re optimistic, things are looking good, and we’re working hard on getting the right kind of buyers to the show.”

For more on the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, visit www.showmanagement.com.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue.

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