Increased traffic, forecast of sales gains this year and next cheer participants at the big trade show
Kate Bilbrey was happy when the International BoatBuilders’ Exposition & Conference moved from Florida to Louisville, Ky., two years ago. The co-owner of Lake Sara Marina in Effingham, Ill., says it wasn’t easy to attend shows when so many were so far away.
Bilbrey and Lake Sara Marina co-owner Howard Janis had gone to the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in Florida and wanted to attend yearly, but because of the downturn and the distance they couldn’t make it an annual trip.
“We went to Florida ... [and] it was pretty costly by the time we paid for airfare, the rooms and food, so we decided we weren’t going back for five years,” Bilbrey says. “When this IBEX thing came along, we thought, ‘Let’s try it.’ We were pleased with the outcome last year, so we’re back this year.”
Feedback from the 22nd annual IBEX was largely positive, with many exhibitors pointing to an increase in traffic. The three-day conference — Oct. 2-4 at the Kentucky Exposition Center — included 520 exhibitors from 12 countries showcasing products in the 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall.
The educational component was again strong, with 92 technical and business seminars featuring 120 speakers.
A social media lounge, headed by Engaged! CEO Josh Chiles, a Bourbon Trail experience highlighting examples of Kentucky’s signature drink and a welcome back party at Louisville’s Fourth Street Live were new this year.
“Part of our challenge is to help the dealers understand they’re welcome to come,” says Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which produces IBEX with Professional BoatBuilder magazine. Still, Dammrich says, “This is not a replacement for MDCE. They’re two very different experiences.”
Here are a few IBEX highlights:
Taylor Made Products’ trademark mermaid fenders turned 40 and went hot pink to promote breast cancer awareness. At a press conference Taylor Made announced a limited edition of the pink fenders.
“Our iconic mermaid fenders were first introduced in 1972 and they have been one of the most enduring and popular products,” says David Karpinski, Taylor Made’s vice president of sales.
A $20 donation earned attendees a free pink mermaid, with all of the proceeds going to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Social media lounge
Discover Boating has been nudging the industry toward using social media, so a social media lounge designed to help companies learn about, utilize and maximize digital and social media was launched. Josh Chiles, the 33-year-old founder of Engaged!, a company that helps marine businesses manage their social media, spearheaded the initiative.
“I thought it was a great show,” Chiles says. “Just the click rates on IBEX items that went out on Facebook and Twitter were up 33,000 percent. That was pretty impressive to see.”
Joining Engaged! in the social media effort was Carl Schellbach Jr. of BoaterRated.com — the “Angie’s list” of the boating world.
“The collaboration between Engaged! and BoaterRated is kind of a natural fit,” Schellbach says. “He takes care of outbound communications and content ... and we complement the outbound stuff by helping businesses or dealers or OEMs have at least the knowledge of and some control over what’s being said about them in the hinterlands.”
BoaterRated was born when Schellbach and his girlfriend were looking for a mechanic for their 250 Yamaha. They had several within a stone’s throw, but couldn’t determine which had the best reputation. So they created a site that allows consumers to post reviews of marine businesses. It also allows for reconciliation if a bad review is posted.
Chiles and Schellbach agree that the lounge had a successful first year.
“On balance, we thought it was a great feature,” Schellbach says. “For the people at the show it was a new and great feature. Nobody had ever seen anything like this before.”
Chiles says the industry seems to have more confidence in the medium in general. “Visitors want to get more serious with social media, but they seemed to be missing the step about how to get there,” he says. “But there were a lot of great questions about it and good feedback.”
Upbeat sales picture
Dammrich gave his State of the Industry address at the opening day breakfast, which also included the IBEX Innovation Awards and a keynote address by Steve Murdock, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau. About 200 people attended the breakfast.
The industry outlook is brighter, Dammrich said at the breakfast, with sales of boats and engines expected to increase 10 percent this year and another 10 percent in 2013.
“There’s a new spirit in the marketplace,” he said. “If you look at the data, there is a reason there’s a new spirit — because things are turning up, slowly turning up, slowly improving and that creates a more positive spirit.”
In 2011, sales of outboard engines and boats rose to $6.8 billion, he said. “People are still buying boats — and even through the recession people were still buying boats,” he said. “People still have a very strong desire to get out on the water.”
Boating participation has been up in five of the past six years, and 82 million adult Americans went boating in 2011, Dammrich said. He cited a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey that showed fishing participation was up 11 percent during the past five years.
A changing demographic
Murdock’s address was titled “How Demographic Trends in the U.S. Population Will Affect the Boating Industry.”
The aging, non-Hispanic white population is being supplanted by a growing minority that includes Americans of Hispanic descent, Asian Americans and African Americans, he said. Future customers will not look like the people at the breakfast, he said, telling the audience the industry should take this trend into account.
Also during the breakfast, Yamaha Marine Group president Ben Speciale presented the Hall of Fame Award to his predecessor, the retired Phil Dyskow, who now serves as senior adviser to the Yamaha Marine Group.
“Phil has been a passionate proponent for recreational boating during his 37 years in the industry, with an unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction and sales growth,” says Jason Pajonk-Taylor, president of Taylor-Made Products and chairman of the NMMA. “He has made an indelible mark on the boating industry, and I’m honored to be announcing his induction into the NMMA Hall of Fame.”
Joe DiMaria, director of marine marketing and sales for Hubbell Marine, was recognized with the Mel Barr Award, established in 1967 in memory of the founder of the National Marine Representatives Association.
Don’t use the F-word
Joe Lewis, of Mount Dora Boating Center and Marina, says that if you don’t like rejection, don’t even attempt to cultivate local lending sources for floorplan loans. But he told attendees at an IBEX seminar that if they want an alternative source of inventory capital, the time to pursue local lending is now.
“What happens when you have one supplier of anything?” Lewis says. “We have all felt the ramifications of that.”
With banks stronger now than when Lewis began to “entertain different scenarios” and with loan demand down, banks are more likely to make loans they wouldn’t have considered in the recent past.
“I’m not saying they’re going to do it. I’m saying now’s a good time to start the process,” Lewis says. “And it will be a process.”
One piece of advice: “Do not use the F-word!” Floorplan, that is.
Middle managers at banks have no experience with the concept or terminology, but they are familiar with the phrase “inventory finance,” Lewis says.
Lewis, and Larry Russo of Russo Marine, a dealership with three locations in the Boston area, addressed attendees about stocking and inventory control in a challenging economy.
Both suggested tricks for moving aging boats, such as moving the boat to a different part of the showroom, changing the online photo, providing employee incentives and monitoring interest. As a last resort, Lewis says, he positions the boat in the most inaccessible spot at his dealership.
“I bury it,” he told attendees. “The harder it is to get out of there, the more chances I’ve got that someone will be interested.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue.