Staying big but not overwhelming

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes

Size of largest boats, range of vessels, gear hallmarks of FLIBS, but organizers taking steps to simplify show

When it comes to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, it’s true: Size matters.

Show organizers are quick to point out that the exhibits represent every facet of the marine industry — from runabouts to megayachts to accessories — but the sheer breadth of the event can make it a little overwhelming to some.

The size, the location and the ability to handle huge vessels are some of the aspects of the event that make it truly unique in this corner of the world, exhibitors say.

“The show’s focus on large vessels is what makes it stand out from other shows in the Americas,” says Louis Chemi, chief operating officer of Nashua, N.H.-based Navico America.

And this year, as they do every year, organizers are continuing to make things even easier and more intuitive for visitors who can be overwhelmed by the massive scale of the show, says Kristina Hebert, president of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, the show’s owner, and chief operating officer of Ward’s Marine Electric in Fort Lauderdale.

“I want to say I really like the direction of the show, with the digital promotion and the new app that came out last year,” Beneteau marketing manager Maryline O’Shea says. “I think they’re getting it more organized with signage and maps, and that has made a difference over the years because it’s so big.”

FLIBS is a must-attend show if a company is active in the recreational boating industry.

“The proof in the pudding is the whole line of megayachts that make their presence at the show each year,” says Martin Meissner, of ZF Marine.

The show has certainly increased its focus on larger vessels, says Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing at Sabre Yachts.

“We have tried to show our smaller Back Cove models, but we haven’t had as much success, so we tend to think bigger,” Collins says. “At the end of the day it’s a heck of a boat show, and it’s a great value. You get to see everything from the smallest paddleboard to the largest custom yacht and everything in between — basically everything the powerboat side of the industry has to offer.”

The mid-range boats

The megayacht portion of the market, though important, represents a very small number in sales volume, Meissner says.

“They’re in the single digits each year,” Meissner says. “It doesn’t play an influence in the marketplace the way other builders are, like Sea Ray or MasterCraft. While it’s important for us to provide a range, the focus for us is the real mid-range size —the 30- to 40-foot range.”

Though that range has had more trouble rebounding, Meissner says ZF is hopeful, based on what the company has seen the market doing so far this year.

“Hopefully the FLIBS will inject some interest and carry that momentum through the end of the year and over next year,” Meissner says. “[The mid-range] is the sweet spot, and when times were good those boats were flying off the shelves. So I think that part of the industry will come back at some point.”

Differentiating

Chemi believes each show should have a unique flavor.

“I have felt like the focus on larger boats and superyachts has continued to grow stronger, which I think is a good trend,” Chemi says. “Miami and FLIBS have long been in competition for the prominent Americas show and for our dollars as exhibitors. This further focus toward the larger boats and yachts is a great place for FLIBS to differentiate and add value for businesses like Navico.”

The in-water portion of the Fort Lauderdale show focuses on boats 30 feet and above, which means many of the important meetings with customers take place there, Meissner says.

It also makes a good forum for internal discussion. “It’s a chance to get engineering senior purchasing staff together, and we can have some really good conversations about where we’re headed,” Meissner says.

“I like the FLIBS event because it’s the first international show of the year in the U.S. market,” Chemi says. “The Newport show kicks off the domestic season in America, but FLIBS widens that out to where I can see my customers from Latin America and Canada, as well.”

Meissner thinks Show Management and the Marine Industries Association of South Florida have done a good job of listening to feedback from exhibitors and visitors and tweaking things.

Maps and apps

The app, My Boat Show, has been one development in helping to enhance the experience and make the mammoth show more accessible and navigable.

Beneteau has moved heavily toward digital technology, O’Shea says, “so we specifically appreciate the app that can help customers search for us. The goal is to advance people in their searches when they come to the show.”

Efforts to keep things organized and navigable with maps and the app give attendees a more enjoyable experience, O’Shea says.

“I just think the level of promotion being done for the show is great,” Collins says. “Having the full integration of all of the magazine groups and Show Management works to everybody’s benefit. It works for exhibitors, it works for promoters and it works for the consumers. It’s a fully integrated market approach that makes sense.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue.

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