More buyers, fewer ‘tourists’

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes
An aerial snapshot of the Collins Avenue event shows some of the estimated 800 boats that were on display at the Yachts Miami Beach show.

An aerial snapshot of the Collins Avenue event shows some of the estimated 800 boats that were on display at the Yachts Miami Beach show.

Organizers of February’s Yachts Miami Beach show say the crowds exceeded their expectations and exhibitors said the quality of attendees was strong.

It is a bit tricky to gauge whether attendance was up or down, compared with the previous year, because this was the first year in which show producer and co-owner Show Management charged admission.

The look and feel of the show, which ran from Thursday, Feb. 16, through Monday, Feb. 20 (Presidents Day), also changed this year. Water taxis created more activity on the waterway, a new VIP yacht was available for those who purchased tickets, and adjoining floating docks allowed visitors to walk the show over the water, diverting traffic from busy Collins Avenue sidewalks.

“I was thrilled with the show,” says Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, who is retiring as CEO of Show Management, which co-owns the show with the International Yacht Brokers Association. “I think it was very well received. I think the exhibitors liked it. They liked that we charged admission, and they liked the traffic flow, which was greatly increased along the water, as opposed to the sidewalk.”

Exhibitors also in large part responded favorably to the separation of new and brokerage boats. “It’s a bit of a learning experience the first year,” Zimbalist said. “The issues with some of the exhibitors who have both new and brokerage at the show is they have to split their staff among two locations. But we think the benefits outweigh the inconvenience.”

A selling show

Zimbalist did not hear a single complaint about the shift to charging admission.

“The quality of attendees was improved and the exhibitors had lots of great buyers and leads and not as many tourists as they had in the past,” Zimbalist said. “I think that was very helpful.”

The layout allowed sightseers to look at and take pictures in front of large yachts from the sidewalk, and it meant exhibitors could focus on serious buyers who paid the $20 to enter.

“We’re seeing a lot of higher-quality people,” Tim Pulcher of Galati Yachts said at the Cruisers Yachts booth — one of seven lines Galati sells. “It takes a week or two to shake out, but we have a ton — 15 or 20 deals — working.”

“I like it a lot,” Mike Murdoch, a Princess Yacht dealer with Freedom Marine in Vancouver, said of the decision to gate the show. “I think it’s better that they are charging. Most of the people I talk to seem more serious.”

The folks at Sea Ray agreed. “You’re not getting the tire kickers, and you can focus on the buyers,” said Scott Ward, president and general manager of Sea Ray sport yachts and yachts.

The company sold a 650L during a VIP party on the evening of Feb. 17 and was poised to close a few additional deals.

Pulcher was excited to see innovative products, even from competitors, because that’s what generates excitement. “You’re seeing it from every company,” Pulcher said. “It’s so exciting. In 2008, 2009, no one was coming out with anything. Now it’s a whole different vibe.”

“The new layout was very positive and much more organized than previous years,” said Mike Obolsky, senior vice president of Intrepid Powerboats. “It was easy to direct arriving customers to our location within the show, and the new gate pre-qualified the attendees. We saw many very knowledgeable boaters, and our sales were up more than 50 percent over last year.”

“Yachts Miami Beach was another great event, as it has been for 29 years running,” said IYBA president Gary Smith. “Overall, the restructuring of the venue seems to be a positive move for all concerned. The reports I am getting from the vendors indicate that the business resulting from the show is good. It is always a waiting game, with the next 30 to 45 days telling the tale.”

“In terms of exhibitors, I heard it was a selling show,” Zimbalist added. “There were lots of large boats that sold, and quite a few medium-sized boats that sold, as well.”

yachts_stern

A global appeal

Yachts Miami Beach is a critical show because it’s the one that draws the biggest international representation. So say Viking president and CEO Pat Healey and George Jousma, president and CEO of Sanlorenzo America, who were among three speakers at a panel discussion for the media. The third panelist was Kobi Karp, founder and principal of Kobi Karp Architecture.

“This is where George meets most of his clients from Central and South America,” Zimbalist said.

“The rebranding was a great first step in the exciting process of reimagining the show,” Zimbalist said during the press event. “After last year’s show, Show Management and the International Yacht Brokers Association collaborated on a new vision for updating the show, and we engaged EDSA, one of the world’s foremost design companies, to help us translate that vision into reality.”

EDSA is known for creating environments at destinations such as Atlantis in the Bahamas, the John F. Kennedy Center and Disney resorts. The goal was to enhance engagement between exhibitors and buyers with the new design, Zimbalist said.

For the second year, Yachts Miami Beach had a superyacht display at Island Gardens Deep Harbour on Watson Island, an invitation-only “show within a show.” The two largest boats in the show at each venue were Martha Ann, a 230-foot Lurssen at Island Gardens, and She’s a 10, a 164-foot Oceanfast, on Collins Avenue.

A transit upgrade

Zimbalist also addressed the transportation improvements, including additional water taxis and more shuttles running to parking lots as well as to the Miami International Boat Show, which runs concurrently but is separately owned and operated.

“I think people did have a good transportation experience,” Zimbalist said. “I didn’t hear any complaints about that. They liked the buses, and they also liked the water taxis. We had a lot more valet business than we had in the past [because] we changed the location and vendor. I think people had a good experience.”

The Indian Creek Waterway location saw an increase in activity, perhaps sparked by the water taxis. Stand-up paddle boarders frequently glided by, and sightseers on boats of their own traveled past.

I took a shuttle ride from the Miami International Boat Show to Yachts Miami Beach to gauge how the system was working. It appeared to be a success — riders were able to walk into a clearly marked line and step onto a bus with only a 2- or 3-minute wait. An attendant hired by Show Management boarded the bus to announce that the passengers were traveling to a separate boat show with a separate $20 entry fee. No one chose to disembark, but it was a nice touch to make sure people understood they would be charged again.

A few highlights of the massive event:

Sea Ray

Sea Ray entertained VIP clients on the docks of Yachts Miami Beach Friday night, in part to show off its new L550 — an addition making its world premiere in the popular L Class series — and also to demonstrate the digital switching system that comes with a custom-designed user interface in the L550 Express and Fly models.

“We wanted to do what Apple did with its first tagline,” Sea Ray product portfolio vice president Ron Berman said. “ ‘You already know how to use it.’ That was the idea here. You can control everything from any of the four Raymarine screens. That was the idea behind this, to make it as intuitive and easy as possible.”

The four touch screens throughout the boat — two at the cockpit, one below deck and one on the flybridge version of the L550 — can operate pretty much every feature on the boat by owners touching the screen, including lights, windows and air conditioning.

Operators can touch the yacht based on zones to isolate which lights, for example, they’d like to turn off, or just dim. The system comes with lighting presets to allow owners to choose a party mode (lots of lights), for example, or a romantic dinner. The boats come equipped with an iPad mini to allow owners more control.

“It’s the [graphical user interface] that makes it unique to Sea Ray, and it’s extremely user-friendly,” said Scott Ward, president and general manager of sport yachts and yachts at Sea Ray. (Ward’s appointment to that post and the promotion of Brad Anderson to president and general manager of Sea Ray sport boats and sport cruisers were announced at the show).

Hatteras

New Hatteras Yachts president Kelly Grindle says his timing is good. Hatteras grew 37 percent in dollars and grew its backlog by 49 percent last year, Grindle said, addressing a group at Yachts Miami Beach on the opening day of the show.

“We have a great foundation to build on here,” Grindle said. “We’re going to continue to grow and lead this industry.”

He spoke next to a 70 Motor Yacht, the company’s newest model, which has an enclosed bridge. It’s a newer version of the open-bridge model.

Grindle, who arrived at Hatteras only a few weeks before the show, had been president of outdoor products at Vista Outdoor in Overland Park, Kan. Vista Outdoor is a $2.3 billion designer, manufacturer and marketer of consumer products in the outdoor sports and recreation markets.

Before Vista Outdoor, Grindle spent 15 years as senior group vice president of marine electronics, watercraft and diving at Johnson Outdoors in Racine, Wis. He was credited with turning around the company’s watercraft division and quadrupling the size of the marine electronics group.

Also at the show, Hatteras demonstrated its new ship management system, HattCON, which integrates a yacht’s navigation and the vessel’s monitoring and automation systems, increasing ease of use. It will make its debut on the Hatteras 90 Motor Yacht, which is not slated to launch until the summer, although the yacht was available for virtual reality tours.

“It integrates all the systems on a boat,” Grindle said, from lights to blinds and everything else controlled on the boat. “People expect things to be easy and interconnected, and enjoyable to interact with. It runs on multiple PCs, so there is always backup for safety reasons. There are lots of redundancies built in.”

The company will continue its balance of sportfishing boats and motoryachts, Grindle said. “There’s a good company culture coming in,” he said. “There can be improvements, particularly in customer experience, but it’s a high-quality boat and people are proud of that. I came in with high expectations … and everything I thought has been confirmed. It’s in good shape.”

Sunseeker

Sunseeker International, the United Kingdom’s oldest boatbuilder, held a dinner for the press after Yachts Miami Beach on Friday night at STK South Beach to discuss growth and to convey that the company is poised to achieve its five-year plan ahead of target.

Sunseeker has increased its overall business in Europe and North America, said Sean Robertson, the company’s sales and marketing director.

“Europe is OK, obviously pending Brexit,” Robertson said. “To be honest, the pound has weakened [since Great Britain decided to leave the European Union], and that has increased business. It dropped 20 percent and has evened out now.”

The Dalian Wanda Group Corp. Ltd. acquired a majority stake in the yacht builder in 2013, and the company has beaten its initial projections. The idea was to focus on new products, and the mission has “been working fantastically,” Robertson said.

“Last year we launched five new boats; this year we’ve launched four, and there will be four more for 2017 [model year 2018],” he said. “We launched the [Manhattan] 52 in September of last year, and we’ve sold 82 boats. Before its launch we had sold over 40. We launched the 131s at Fort Lauderdale — a $20 million unit — and we’re doing five a year. So it’s working at both ends of the scale.”

The company expects to invest 50 million pounds (more than $61 million) during the next three years, Sunseeker CEO Phil Popham told the group. It also plans to hire 100 to 150 people during the coming year. The company recruited 225 workers during the past year, said marketing manager Bryan Jones.

“There is a definite uptick in the U.S. market,” Jones said. “And I don’t think that’s just us. It’s everyone who’s seeing it.”

Virtual reality tours

Visitors were able to take a virtual-reality tour of the Hatteras 90 Motor Yacht, which is slated to debut next fall at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

Virtual reality may be disappointing those invested in technology, but the tool is growing in the boating industry. Scattered around Miami Beach, visitors could see people in goggles spinning in circles and trying to touch parts of boats during virtual-reality tours. “Selling something no one’s been on is tough to do,” said Grindle. “Someone who’s going to spend millions of dollars” wants to tour a yacht.

Yavuz Goncu, director of 3D technology for Baltimore-based High Rock Studios, said Hatteras approached High Rock to create a demo of the upcoming 90-foot model. A screen shows a viewer the yacht from the dock. Using controllers, the viewer can choose areas of the boat to visit and tour.

Though amusing for people in the room watching, the realism of the tour makes it worth enduring the snickers. A fold-down balcony on the yacht offers ocean views; users can look out a window to see the walkaround decks.

Last year, Sea Ray offered Virginia Key visitors an immersive virtual-reality tour that put them aboard a boat in high definition and took them on a ride behind it on a wakeboard.

At the March 23-26 Palm Beach International Boat Show, Fairline Yachts will showcase its limited-edition 50th anniversary commemorative book, together with an immersive virtual-reality experience to bring its Targa 63GTO to life.

In 2015 Carver and Marquis offered a virtual-reality, image-viewing headset at a dealer meeting to allow distributors to see and control a 3D animation of the C50 Command Bridge on two large screens.

“It’s a great sales tool we’ve got to mature the pipeline,” says Mike Fram, of Hatteras owner Versa Capital Management. “It shows off that the company’s become a lot more technologically advanced over the years.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.

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