METS: An entree to global markets

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14_METSglobal_01The world’s ‘biggest and best-attended’ marine trade show is a first step for doing business abroad

The United States does not exist in a bubble, and neither does its business community.

A daily glance at stock market performance shows how closely the U.S. economy is tied to developments in the rest of the world. The Dow, Nasdaq and other indexes rise and fall based not only on what’s happening here but also in Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

For the recreational marine industry, the best demonstration of globalization comes in November. More and more U.S. boating businesses are looking overseas, and METS, the annual Marine Equipment Trade Show, is the place to meet the people and companies needed to grow internationally.

“If you have any interest as a marine accessories manufacturer for doing business in the international playing field, it’s a show you must exhibit at,” says Brian Sheehan, sales and marketing manager for Fort Lauderdale-based Fortress Anchors. “You will get a high-caliber attendee there, oftentimes distributors, boatbuilders, naval architects and dealers — from all over the world. It is certainly the premier trade show in the industry for accessories manufacturers.”

14_METSglobal_02Brian Schneider, CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based API Marine, agrees. “To do business in Europe, unless you’re some kind of mega-company with a huge brand, you’ve got to go over there and meet people. It’s built on relationships, a lot of it — trust, face-to-face interaction,” he says.

This year METS celebrates its 24th anniversary Nov. 15-17 at the Amsterdam RAI Convention Centre in the Netherlands. METS and the accompanying SuperYacht Pavilion are organized by Amsterdam RAI in association with the International Council of Marine Industry Associations. The show’s target audience is broad — boatbuilders, naval architects, repair yards, distributors, dealers, wholesalers, captains, marina operators and equipment manufacturers.

“Not only is it the world’s biggest and best-attended marine equipment trade show, but it’s truly global, highly professional and a firm fixture on the annual agenda for many industry greats and global brands,” says Sarah Westdijk, product manager of METS/SYP. “For U.S. companies, it is an ideal stepping-stone to Europe and the rest of the world. They can literally meet the international marine leisure industry in three days, saving enormous travel time and expense.”

In 2010, METS/SYP boasted a record number of exhibitors — 1,320 from 41 countries — and a modest rise in attendance from the previous year, with 18,861 people from 94 countries. Last year also brought a record 261 first-time exhibitors.

“We could not have made so many contacts in a short period of time without the help of METS,” Larry Grundtner, president of St. Paul, Minn.-based MarineTech Products, said after last year’s show. “METS has opened our eyes to the world marine market.”

Westdijk says the U.S. contingent has grown in the last 10 years. In 2001, there were 107 U.S. exhibitors, she says, compared with 148 in 2010.

“The first years, we saw incredible growth from the U.S., but the last years, due to the euro-dollar exchange rate and the economy, presence from the U.S. slowed down,” she says.

U.S. pavilion

This year’s show boasts 15 national pavilions — Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, Norway, Denmark, Spain, France, Finland, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands and Germany. The U.S. pavilion is one of the largest, says Melissa Gurniewicz, project manager of trade events, for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, who organizes the U.S. and Canadian pavilions.

As of early August, 78 companies had signed up to exhibit in the U.S. pavilion and seven in the Canadian pavilion. “Even if you want to just test the waters over in Europe and see if it’s a good fit for your product, exhibiting within our pavilion is a great option,” Gurniewicz says. “All of our exhibitors, essentially, return to METS [each year]. Just try it once and I think that … you would most likely return the following year.”

16_METSglobal_03API’s Schneider exhibits within the pavilion and says it’s comfortable because he knows the other exhibitors.

Sheehan, of Fortress Anchors, says that although his company does not exhibit in the pavilion he would recommend it for first-time exhibitors. “I would be reluctant to go off on your own and exhibit at the show because you could end up with a booth location that’s far away from the main traffic areas,” he says. “If you exhibit within the NMMA pavilion you are assured of getting great visibility, and that’s the main thing — great visibility.”

Return on investment

Exhibiting at METS is worth the cost, say several people who spoke with Soundings Trade Only. Mark Warden, general manager of Monrovia, Calif.-based GLM Products, attended for the first time last year, although his company’s master distributor had been showing at METS on GLM’s behalf for some time. “We definitely came away with new business, but the thing that we were really there to do was help promote our master distributor in Europe, so we definitely added some business to him,” Warden says. “I was amazed at how many people attended the show and how busy it was up to the very last minute.”

Schneider says his company now has seven or eight European distributors, largely because of METS. “It’s nice added business, for sure,” he says. “Europe is a smaller market, definitely, but it’s still a good market.”

Sheehan agrees that the years of exhibiting at METS have brought new business to Fortress Anchors. “Over 14 years we have certainly met some high-caliber distributors who have, in turn, brought our product into their warehouses, and they’ve become successful at selling it,” he says. “Our presence at METS has helped us gain worldwide exposure and helped us meet new prospective customers, as well as cultivate the relationships that we have with existing customers.”

A welcoming city

Experienced show goers say Amsterdam is a relatively easy city to navigate. “English is the dominant language on the show floor,” Westdijk says. “In fact, as organizers, we communicate to visitors and exhibitors solely in English.” Outside the show halls, “people in Amsterdam pride themselves on their language skills, particularly English,” she says.

NMMA members exhibiting within the U.S. pavilion can take advantage of the group’s hotel block and assistance with travel arrangements. “I know it can be scary, especially for a smaller company, trying to even figure out if they want to export or are able to,” Gurniewicz says. “It is intimidating going to a different country, but Amsterdam is a great place to start, especially during METS. I’ve never run into anyone that did not speak English. [Amsterdam] is easy to get in and out of and affordable, compared to some shows.”

Sheehan says staying in a hotel close to the convention center can save time, as well as the cost of cabs, and it enables you to avoid the crowds on public transportation.

As for a language barrier, he says there really isn’t one. “As an American you have to be very aware of the fact that the people you’re talking to may not have English as their first language,” he says. “You have to really concentrate on slowing down your language and simplifying it so you can better communicate with everyone.” n

For information on exhibiting at METS, visit www.metstrade.com. For information on the U.S. or Canadian pavilion, contact Gurniewicz at (312) 946-6281 or mgurniewicz@nmma.org.

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.

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