Rex Hodge attended his first International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference this year as an exhibitor with his company, Sternmaster Marine Tools.
Because the Sept. 19-21 show came on the heels of Hurricane Irma in Florida, Hodge, who was traveling from Zeeland, Mich., to the Tampa Convention Center, says he had no idea what to expect in terms of attendance or foot traffic.
“We had an exceptional show,” says Hodge, whose company makes engine stands, shop carts and similar tools. “Our whole booth is sold out.”
The company president brought display units of product rather than those he would normally sell, but show visitors scooped them up. Hodge says he will be back in 2018 and hopes to have an indoor exhibit.
That kind of enthusiasm was a recurring theme at this year’s show — and a welcome one. After Hurricane Matthew cut the 2016 IBEX short by a day, the threat of Irma to this year’s show felt quite real. Once it became clear that the storm had spared Tampa, as well as the most heavily populated parts of Florida’s west coast, show director Anne Dunbar got on the phone to the convention center to be sure the conference could move forward.
“I’m still in shock that we had the show, and I’m so relieved it had such a positive influence,” she says. “Our job is to bring the industry together, and to think there was a moment when it wasn’t going to happen.”
While Irma was threatening, Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, was keeping an eye on the show’s preregistration numbers. “Reservation numbers were going up 50 people per day,” he says.
IBEX drew 6,500 attendees, a 4 percent increase from last year. International visitors from more than 50 countries made up more than 7 percent of them.
The 2017 edition of IBEX had more than 600 exhibiting companies, including more than 100 first-timers. By comparison, IBEX 2016 had 556 exhibitors. For attendees, there were eight super sessions on Monday and more than 50 seminars scheduled during the three-day event.
After IBEX wrapped up, Dammrich said, “The reports from the exhibitors have been extremely positive. Almost everyone I talked to said the show exceeded their expectations.”
Dunbar reported similar results. “We had over 100 new companies, and this was their moment to launch,” she says. “It’s a big relief that it happened and it was so successful.”
The only Irma-related problem with setting up the Tampa show was that the Miami-based company contracted to install the exhibitor docks was pressed into emergency service. Tampa’s convention center temporarily relocated its permanent dock residents so exhibitors could use the in-water space.
The Marina and Yard Pavilion was new this year. “We added this because it was low-hanging fruit for us,” Dunbar says. “It worked out well despite the fact that the particular demographic was impacted by the storm.”
Although the pavilion did not lose exhibitors, Dunbar says, visitor traffic was slow there because marina and yard owners and their workers were busy getting their facilities back up and running.
Irma’s impact also was felt in other ways. Thirteen registered exhibitors missed the show, and freight issues affected another half-dozen that were there.
One of the best-received events at this year’s show was a last-minute addition. A special session on hurricane recovery was held Sept. 20. More than 12 experts volunteered to help guide marina and yard owners through the problems involved in getting their facilities up and running after a storm (see sidebar).
“The industry takes care of its own,” Dunbar says.
Dammrich agrees. “The feedback that I got on [the special session] was that people appreciated that we pulled it together so quickly and appreciated the advice they got there,” he says.
For those concerned about upcoming boat shows on Florida’s east coast, Dammrich says the site of the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key sustained only minimal damage, and the necessary infrastructure was intact.
IBEX covered 123,000 square feet of exhibit space this year, up from 118,000 in 2016. About 70 companies that wanted to get into the show could not because there was not enough floor space.
“We have not maximized the Tampa Convention Center,” Dunbar says. “We deliberately only used the two exhibit halls to have good density.”
Show management will add another 6,500 square feet of exhibit space for the 2018 show to accommodate the companies on the waiting list. IBEX has first rights to the convention center through 2021.
“Our decision to stay in Tampa is based on what the customers and constituents want,” Dunbar says.
Of the many reasons she gave for wanting the show to go on as scheduled, Dunbar says one of the most critical was how well IBEX is received by Tampa. At the industry breakfast that opened the show, she says, IBEX had teamed with Feed Tampa Bay, contributing $5,000 to the charity.
“Florida and, to a lesser extent, Tampa had been hit by a hurricane, and the show itself represents an economic infusion to the Tampa area,” Dammrich says. “It was important that we were there.”
Dunbar says that if IBEX were held in another city, such as Orlando, it would just be one of a number of shows in the area and would not get the response it receives in Tampa.
Most of the exhibitors Soundings Trade Only spoke with were pleased with the foot traffic, saying it was a little light on the first day, but improved the following day. The opening day of a show is usually busier, but as circumstances returned to normal for more parts of the Southeast, a visit to IBEX may have provided a break from the Irma recovery.
“Wednesday was really outstanding,” says Bill Michel, vice president at Uflex, a steering and control systems manufacturer in Sarasota, Fla. “We were pleasantly surprised that the turnout was quite good, based on what we had expected.”
Wally Ross, a senior product manager at Mercury Marine, says he expected traffic to be a little lighter, but he also said the crowds grew on Wednesday and that the people who stopped at Mercury’s booth were decision-makers at their companies.
When he heard that the show was moving forward, he was worried about the people who lived in the Tampa area. “I was concerned it could be disrespectful to locals, but I absolutely understand why they need to do this show,” he says.
IBEX opened on a positive note with a sold-out Industry Breakfast. This year was the first show with new co-owner RAI Amsterdam, which also produces the Metstrade show, in attendance.
“The one thing that our new Dutch partners said to us is that there’s such a sense of community that we feel, especially at the breakfast,” Dunbar says. “It’s not normal to see an industry where competitors are celebrating each other’s innovations and applauding them.”
The IBEX Innovation Awards had 96 entries in 13 categories (see sidebar).
In his state-of-the-industry address at the Industry Breakfast, Dammrich said $36 billion was spent on recreational boating in 2016, and 142 million people, including adults and children, went boating last year. Of the 17 million people who went boating for the first time, half were younger than 18. All of the figures were positive indicators for the future of recreational boating, he told attendees.
Dammrich said 32 percent of new boaters in 2016 were Hispanic, and 83 percent of anglers are active boaters. Lastly, 73 percent of active boaters started on the water when they were younger than 17, which Dammrich said is “critical to our future.”
Of the $36 billion spent on recreational boating last year, $11.7 billion was used for new boats, motors and trailers;
$8.7 billion went to pre-owned products; and $6.4 billion was spent on accessories. The balance went for storage, maintenance and other expenditures.
Although the industry generally seems to work in five-year cycles, Dammrich says it is in its sixth year of growth in 2017. Statistical Surveys said the industry sold 258,879 boats last year, topping 250,000 for the first time since 2008.
Pontoon boats are at pre-recession highs in terms of units, and a number of other categories are also at pre-recession highs in terms of dollars spent. Dammrich says this is attributable to factors that include rising consumer confidence and increased consumer spending. Dammrich expects continued growth through 2018 and a slight drop-off in 2019, followed by two more years of growth.
Dammrich says the NMMA’s No. 1 legislative priority is passing the Modern Fish Act, which would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to allow recreational saltwater fisheries to be managed differently than commercial fisheries.
“This is so important to our industry,” he says.
Ethanol continues to be a hot-button item, and Dammrich drove home the industry’s desire to see the ethanol level in fuel limited to 10 percent.
Dammrich also announced the Marine Industry Retirement Plan, a multiple-employer 401(k) plan designed to help manufacturers provide additional benefits to their employees. Administered by the J&R Group, a Merrill Lynch brokerage, the plan is open only to NMMA members and offers cost savings on investments, minimal plan maintenance, flexible features and no individual annual audits for each company.
The intent is to make it possible for the NMMA’s 1,300 members to offer a 401(k) plan with competitive investments and a strong employee education element. The benefit to a company is that the association takes care of the administration, including employee eligibility tracking, distribution processing, plan compliance, annual reporting and participant enrollment.
Also announced at the breakfast was the induction of Chuck Rowe, president of Indmar Marine, to the NMMA Hall of Fame. “For Chuck, it hasn’t just been about his business,” Dammrich said.
“I’m honored to have been chosen to receive this award,” Rowe said. “It means a great deal to me that the work we do is so important to others.”
Neal Trombley, incoming president of the National Marine Representatives Association, and Tim Hennagir, editor of Boating Industry magazine, presented the Mel Barr Award to Ron Schmitt, president and CEO of G.G. Schmitt & Sons.
Hennagir also recognized Jack Springer, CEO of Malibu Boats, with the Boating Industry Mover & Shaker of the Year Award.
For the keynote speaker, show management chose Jim Craig, who was the goalie when the U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the 1980 Winter Olympics and went on to win the gold medal. After a career in the National Hockey League, Craig became an entrepreneur. He stressed the importance of putting family first and conducting yourself with integrity.
“The reason I’m successful is I had people who believed in me and I didn’t want to let them down,” Craig said. “For all the people you represent, you have to leave here more valuable than when you came.”
Dammrich said Craig was “the best keynote we ever had. … It was a very positive message with the right amount of humor.”
Dammrich also said the importance of the breakfast cannot be underestimated.
“The breakfast is always important to getting things off on the right foot,” he said. “It sets a tone and gets people in the frame of mind to go out and get business done.”
For an exhibitor such as Sternmaster’s Hodge, selling out all of the product at his booth was a good result. n
Innovation Awards reveal industry’s cutting-edge products
Winners of the 2017 Innovation Awards were announced at the annual Industry Breakfast during the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference.
A panel of judges from Boating Writers International selected the winners. BWI consists of writers, editors and other communications professionals associated with the boating industry.
“These awards signify the importance that innovation plays in our industry, and IBEX is honored to recognize these key innovators and their products that keep the boating industry at the forefront of cutting-edge trends,” says IBEX show director Anne Dunbar.
There were more than 95 product entries. Attendees could see the winners at a display called Innovation Way at IBEX.
“This year, the entries reflected many of the changing consumer trends and expectations of today’s boating lifestyle,” says Alan Wendt, a past president of BWI and chairman of the Innovation Awards. “Competition reached new levels, and many product innovations were designed for easier user interface.”
The Innovation Award winners were:
- Boatbuilding methods and materials: CEproof Group, Icomia Technical File Generator
- Deck equipment and hardware: Aluna Systems, Light Pole (honorable mention: Surefas B.V., CAF-Compo screw-stud)
- Mechanical systems: Seakeeper, Seakeeper 3
- Electrical systems: JL Marine Systems, Power-Pole Charge
- Outboard engines: Suzuki Motor of America Inc., DF350A; and Yamaha Motor Corp., F25C
- Boatyard and dealer hardware and software: Gemeco Marine Accessories, TDT1000 Transducer Diagnostic Tester
- Propulsion parts, propellers: BRP US Inc., Evinrude iDock (honorable mention: PowerTech! Propellers, CushionLok2)
- OEM electronics: JL Marine Systems, Power-Pole Vision; and Lumitec, Power Line Instruction Technology
- Safety equipment: Vesper Marine, deckWatch app
Experts offer recovery advice at hurricane seminar
After Hurricane Irma tore through the northern part of the Florida Keys and southern parts of the state, IBEX education manager Sarah Devlin did what a lot of people were doing. She called a friend, Jim Cote, an electrical engineer and the owner of Cote Marine in Coral Springs.
“I had checked in with Jim Cote after the hurricane to see how he was holding up, and he said he was fine,” Devlin recalls. “But he wanted to know what IBEX was doing to share resources with the industry.”
On the Thursday before the show was scheduled to start, Devlin, who coordinates all of the seminars at IBEX, sent out an all-call email to the presenters to see what ideas they had to help fellow industry members after the storm.
“People were very quick to respond,” Devlin says. “We have all this expertise in one place, and they were very eager to participate. It says a lot about this industry that these presenters were willing to do that.”
By the weekend before IBEX, Devlin had a strong moderator, former BoatUS President Margaret Podlich, who suggested that each panelist offer five bullet points about hurricane recovery. The special session was held Sept. 20, and the list of 12 presenters was a who’s who of the most respected experts in the industry.
Cote and Nigel Calder, of Calder Enterprises, covered electrical systems for boats and marinas. Steve D’Antonio, a consultant who managed a boatyard for 12 years and dealt with a number of hurricanes and nor’easters, warned against latent damage to docks and facilities, including electrical boxes and pedestals.
“Everything worked after the storm, but two months later, six months later, we had fires, shorts,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of being thorough in repairing and inspecting potable water systems. They can become contaminated when docks get damaged from breaking away because of wind and wave action.
JB Currell, a lamination expert, covered the fine points of repairing gelcoat, fiberglass and cores. Lori Sousa of SeaLand Insurance and Jay Frechette of Starkweather & Shepley went over everything that marina and boat owners should know about filing insurance claims. John Sprague of JH Sprague Consulting provided strong insight into how to rebuild and deal with permitting. Carl Wolf of Robson Forensics gave a firsthand report after visiting Florida marinas within days after the storm. Robert Smith, a safety program administrator at MYMIC Training Technologies in Norfolk, Va., and Ed Maurer, director of occupational safety and health programs at the Suncoast Safety Council, provided training and OSHA compliance support to marinas and boatyards. Marine surveyor Ron Reisner of Reisner & Associates answered inspection questions; Jules Massee of Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel dealt with maritime law concerns.
Devlin said other experts also attended and were available on an on-call basis.
Handouts covered subjects that included how to apply for federal assistance, U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loans, hurricane recovery and relief effort guidelines from the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, and vessel disposal.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue.