A rosy forecast in stormy weather

The threat of Hurricane Matthew forced an early IBEX closing, but not before attendees heard projections of stronger U.S. boat sales and robust growth for the show in a new partnership with METS
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Attendance was on pace to set records, but Matthew caused many preregistered attendees to miss the show.

Attendance was on pace to set records, but Matthew caused many preregistered attendees to miss the show.

The 26th annual International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference got off to a fast start before Hurricane Andrew interrupted it, forcing exhibitors to leave early, keeping attendance from reaching record levels and forcing an early closing.

“Hurricane Matthew had a significant impact on IBEX, but despite that it was still an incredibly successful show, matching Tampa 2014 [attendance] in only a day and a half,” says show director Anne Dunbar. “Our second day is historically the largest attendance day, but we never got to see what that might have been.”

IBEX drew 6,000 marine professionals to the Tampa Convention Center, where 556 exhibitors filled 118,000 square feet of sold-out space on two floors. Attendance was expected to eclipse 7,000.

IBEX kicked off on Oct. 3 with seminars. The show was scheduled to run from 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4, to 3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6. With Matthew on track to hit Florida, IBEX leaders decided to shut down the show at 12:30 p.m. (2-1/2 hours early) on the final day.

“We wanted to allow everyone ample time to break down and get out of Tampa early if they wanted to,” says Dunbar. “We had a lot of [preregistered attendees] come on Thursday who were disappointed the show closed early. But we had to do this for the safety of everyone.”

The storm forced GEM Products Inc. to break down its outdoor display at noon Wednesday, says Matthew Bridgewater, CEO of the Jacksonville, Fla., company. “All of our employees live on the east coast of Florida near Jacksonville, where there was a mandatory evacuation,” he says. “We needed to get them home to their families. The show [organizers] were very helpful, cooperative and understanding. They were great.”

GEM employees made the most of the time they were at the show, however. During the first day and a half, GEM (a supplier of stainless-

steel marine and boat hardware) had 42 boatbuilders take a look at its outdoor display, says Bridgewater.

The outdoor displays were a big hit, giving exhibitors such as SeaStar Solutions a chance to demonstrate their products.

The outdoor displays were a big hit, giving exhibitors such as SeaStar Solutions a chance to demonstrate their products.

1,500 no-shows

A whopping 1,500 preregistered attendees never came to the show, says Dunbar. “We usually only have maybe 200 no-shows,” she says. “This year’s large number is a big indicator of the storm’s impact.” More than 70 exhibitors had left by Wednesday morning, she says.

Matthew overshadowed some big — and good — news for the future of IBEX.

RAI Amsterdam, the group that owns and produces METS Trade, purchased a 50 percent stake in IBEX, buying out WoodenBoat Publications, publisher of IBEX founder Professional BoatBuilder magazine. RAI will work with the National Marine Manufacturers Association to produce future IBEX events, helping to grow attendance and increase exhibits and sponsorships.

“For the last 29 years we’ve been organizing the METS Trade show,” Ids Boersma, director and executive vice president of RAI Exhibitions, told a crowd of 750 at the marine industry breakfast Oct. 4. “It has been the platform of choice for the global marine equipment sector, and we’re delighted to partner with the NMMA to serve the global industry even further.”

‘Good times’ ahead

The partnership should bring more international business to IBEX at a prosperous time in the marine industry, said NMMA president Thom Dammrich. The marine industry should grow for two to three more years as consumer confidence and spending continue to strengthen, Dammrich told the audience in his state of the industry address at the breakfast. “There are a lot of things going well in our industry,” Dammrich said. “These really are good times in our industry, and fortunately those good times are going to continue.

“From 2011 through 2015 boat sales grew in the 5 to 6 percent range,” he said. “This year it looks like retail sales could be up in the 8, 9, even 10 percent range. So we are beginning to see some acceleration.”

Most segments in new-boat sales are increasing. PWC sales have shot up 15.5 percent, pontoons are up 11.5 percent, and saltwater fishing boats, as well as runabouts, grew 9.4 percent — this is on a rolling 12-month basis year-over-year from June of last year to June this year.

Dammrich also talked about the leading states. Alabama and Florida were the top two states in 2015 for new-boat spending. Spending increased by more than 10 percent in both states. Michigan and Wisconsin also were top states in spending.

“Pontoon boats and outboard [boats] are almost back to prerecession levels in terms of units, and with the exception of runabouts, sterndrive cruisers and inboard cruisers, most of the other segments are 60 to 75 percent of the way back toward those prerecession levels,” said Dammrich, adding that most segments are back to prerecession levels “in terms of dollar sales.”

Growth in real disposable income, the real gross domestic product and consumer confidence have fueled the industry’s success of late, he said.

“Consumer spending is strong and has been driving the economy for the past six years,” he said. “Recreational boating has always gotten its fair share of total consumer spending.”

Lean new-boat inventories have helped, too, Dammrich said. The NMMA has been working on collecting data with an economic consulting company that has projected the industry will continue to expand through March 2019.

“That is another two and a half years of growth for our industry — that is pretty good,” said Dammrich.

The partnership with RAI should lure more international exhibitors and attendees to IBEX.

The partnership with RAI should lure more international exhibitors and attendees to IBEX.

More room needed

IBEX will be held at the Tampa Convention Center in 2017 and 2018. “We sold out this year,” Dunbar said during a media briefing after the RAI announcement. “That is one of our challenges. We are too big for this convention center. We’re contracted for three years here, and we’re going to maximize the space.” Dunbar said 90 companies are on the exhibitor waiting list.

“If the show is going to continue to grow, it will have to move to another venue,” Dammrich said at the media event. “The decision will be made in consultation with IBEX exhibitors.”

Dammrich was confident that IBEX would draw more international exhibitors and attendees through RAI’s “international sales network and contacts.”

There were 45 international exhibitors this year, said Dunbar. IBEX lost some international exhibitors when the show moved from Miami to Louisville in 2008.

“With the partnership with RAI we are really confident that we can bring back that international component,” said Dunbar. “We can create an entire international area. And that’s pretty much our plan.”

‘Synergies’ with METS

At the press meeting, Dunbar and Dammrich were joined by Boersma and Rens-Jan van Vliet, the METS product manager, who will also become the IBEX global sales and marketing manager.

“We want to learn from each other and share some synergies,” said Boersma. “As we look into the future, we will be looking at some adjacent segments of the industry to grow [IBEX]. The growth of METS for the last eight to 10 years has come from adjacent sectors, such as the marina pavilion, the construction materials pavilion and the superyacht pavilion. Those could be possibilities for IBEX, as well, as long as it makes sense for the customers. We can help IBEX become more of an international show — both in terms of exhibitors and attendees.”

One of the convention center’s biggest assets is its waterfront location (where in-water demos have been set up). But the chances of finding another larger venue on the water are minimal, said Dammrich.

The water space in the Tampa location “was serendipitous,” said Dammrich. “It’s unlikely we will find that at any other location.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue.

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