IBEX: Where you go to see and be seen

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36_ibex_01This year’s show expects to build on the move to Louisville and last year’s increase in attendance

The International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference is billed as an event “where the business of boating gets done,” and show exhibitors and attendees agree it’s the place to see what’s new and to be seen by current and prospective customers.

“We think it’s important to be in the mix of all the action that’s at the show because you never know what’s going to happen when all those contributing influences come together,” says Ron Bailey, vice president of sales and marketing for Turning Point Propellers. “The influencers and the facilitators of the industry are all in one place. You’ve got to have an open mind and talk to as many people as possible.

“You really don’t know what’s going to develop out of those interactions, but by throwing your company into the mix you’d be surprised how many new ideas, new concepts and new products can be generated,” he adds.

IBEX 2011 takes place Oct. 17-19 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. This is the show’s second year in Louisville, a more central spot than its previous venue in Florida.

Last year, IBEX saw a 13 percent increase in attendance versus 2009, with 5,161 people attending, compared with 4,567 the previous year. Attendance at IBEX had been dropping for a few years, and 2010 marked the highest turnout in at least three years.

36_ibex_02More than 500 exhibitors took part in the show last year, with 70 of them exhibiting for the first time. New to IBEX in 2010 was the aftermarket pavilion, sponsored by Soundings Trade Only. The pavilion was added after the demise of the Marine Accessories Aftermarket Trade Show.

As of mid-August, organizers say, 528 exhibitors were signed up for the show, more than at the same time last year. And 60 new exhibitors had signed on. The aftermarket pavilion is expected to be about the same size as last year.

“Everything’s pointing to a really good show,” says Carl Cramer, publisher of Professional BoatBuilder magazine and co-director of the show, which is co-owned and produced by the magazine and the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Business climate

Many of those who spoke with Soundings Trade Only say business was up this year and they were optimistic that the trend would continue, heading into IBEX. “We’ve seen certain segments doing better than others,” says Josh Berry, special markets manager for Prospec Electronics. “The pontoon market is doing really, really well, [though] fiberglass is down. From that standpoint, we kind of concentrate on really being aggressive with our marketing pitch and sales pitch with pontoon builders. We’re not leaving the fiberglass guys out, but we’re just concentrating more on the pontoon manufacturers.”

Prospec has been exhibiting at IBEX for at least 15 years, he says. It’s a show the company must be a part of. “Otherwise our competitors will get a leg up,” Berry says.

“[IBEX] has always been a good source of success for us — just to have everyone view our products in one central location,” he says. “It’s always proven dividends for us.”

Terry Mead, national marine sales manager for upholstery manufacturer Spradling International Marine, says business has been “much improved” this year and that production has been up for most of the company’s customers. IBEX, she says, gives Spradling an opportunity to put its newest products in front of its customers.

“For us, it’s really an opportunity to see our customers in an environment where they’re very much in the zone of looking at new product,” Mead says. “[IBEX] is something we find to be very beneficial as far as an opportunity to speak with customers and meet new customers and introduce new product.”

Bailey, from Turning Point Propellers, says business is up in all of the markets it serves and the company has been aggressively expanding its network during the last three years, which has brought in new business. Though Turning Point is primarily an aftermarket supplier, Bailey also will be looking to meet potential OEM customers at the show.

37_ibex_03“We’re actively reaching out to OEM customers around the world. I think being in the general exhibitor population presents our company as an all-market player, and that’s better for us,” he says of the company’s decision not to exhibit in the aftermarket pavilion.

Although the marine industry represents just a portion of Thetford Corp./Norcold’s business, IBEX remains one of the most important events for the company, marketing manager Natalie Burns says. “We’re always anticipating new business, and it gives us the ability to talk to some builders and engineers in the market,” she says. “We’re hoping to continue to increase our presence overall.”

NMMA president Thom Dammrich says the marine industry remains challenged by the economy, but it is coming back. “We thought retail sales would be flat to up 10 percent [this year], and now it’s looking like they’re probably going to be flat, so the low end of our range is where it’s probably going to come in,” he says. “Right now they’re still down a little bit on a rolling 12-month basis, but we’re seeing good strength in pontoons, aluminum fishing boats, and we’re even starting to see some strength in smaller fiberglass boats.

“It’s coming back. It’s slow, but it’s coming back,” Dammrich adds. “Manufacturers’ production is up about 16 percent. Things are gradually improving.”

Dammrich says he expects the slow climb to continue into 2013. As for the instability of the economy, particularly the stock market in mid-August, he expects it will stabilize before October. “I think that while economists are expecting slower growth than they did in the beginning of the year, they’re still expecting second-half growth and growth in 2012 to be better than it was the first half of the year,” he says.

Louisville location

When IBEX organizers announced the move from Florida to Kentucky, they said the show had a three-year commitment there. With the success of last year’s event, it looks as if Louisville could become a more permanent home. Dammrich says dates are on hold for the next 13 years, and he expects IBEX to stay in Louisville for the foreseeable future.

Exhibitors generally liked the new venue, as well as the lower cost of doing business in Kentucky, compared with South Florida. Bailey says his company realized “substantial savings” from the move — about 30 percent on total show expenses.

“We’re pleased with this Louisville venue. It’s worked out really nicely,” Mead says. “We love Miami and South Beach, of course, but this has been kind of nice as far as getting a little different crowd attending the show.”

Berry agrees that there was more Midwestern representation at last year’s IBEX, and his booth saw increased traffic.

What’s new?

Each year, IBEX offers something new, and 2011 is no exception, organizers say. There are 91 seminars to choose from, more than ever, Cramer notes. “It’s always been a problem in the past having 13 seminars going on at once,” he says. “So now, the maximum we’ll have going on at once is six, so attendees will have a much greater likelihood of being able to go to the seminars they want.”

Also, organizers are working with more partners to produce seminars. Soundings Trade Only, for example, is sponsoring an enhanced dealer development track. Other groups producing seminars include the National Marine Electronics Association, the Association of Marina Industries and the Association of Marine Technicians.

The NMEA is also conducting ConnectFest during the show, which gives attendees an opportunity to see open-source navigation and control networking in action. A single NMEA 2000 backbone, using cable and connectors from multiple manufacturers, will be set up and connected to a variety of products.

As always, the show will feature exhibitor workshops and outdoor demonstrations.

The exhibit hall will feature a Green Marine Route with exhibitors offering environmentally friendly products. Products included are U.S. Department of Agriculture bio-preferred, listed on the EPA Design for Environment list, have an EPA Green Check or have the “Green Seal” rating.

The annual industry breakfast, held on the first morning of the show, includes an induction into the NMMA Hall of Fame, presentation of the Alan J. Freedman Award, Innovation Awards presented by Boating Writers International, a keynote speech from inspirational humorist Mikki Williams and presentation of the Mel Barr award.

An opening night party will take place Oct. 17 on Fourth Street in downtown Louisville. A concert featuring the Magic Mama Band is scheduled, and drink specials will be offered.

For more about IBEX, visit www.ibexshow.com.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue.

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