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‘Buyers showed up’

Exhibitors report strong sales at first FLIBS produced by Informa Exhibitions
The 2017 show had more than 7 miles of floating docks and 1,200 exhibitors.

The 2017 show had more than 7 miles of floating docks and 1,200 exhibitors.

An impromptu celebration broke out at the Viking Yachts display at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show on Nov. 3 when the saloon doors of a Viking 92 Convertible flew open and it was announced that the boat had been sold.

“We were running around trying to find enough bottles of champagne to keep everyone happy,” said Rob Bowman, marketing director of HMY Yachts, which made the sale. “The customer was a previous HMY customer who we had sold a new Viking to, and he showed up at the show and decided he wanted to buy the 92.

“It was one of the busiest shows that any of us could remember in years,” Bowman added. “The activity was phenomenal. We sold several new Vikings to people who had previously owned other brands.”

That kind of enthusiasm has been ubiquitous in the days after the 58th annual edition of the show, which ran Nov. 1-5.

“We had more than a 10 percent increase in units, and we sold into the triple digits [in units],” said Chuck Cashman, chief revenue officer at MarineMax. He also said the dealership’s average sale price was about $575,000.

“Sales beat the previous boat show record, set in 2015,” said Joe Cacopardo, marketing director at Hatteras Yachts.

“The vibe was very good,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “The economy is strong. Consumer confidence is high. Unemployment is low. We’ve got a lot of tailwinds working in our favor now.”

New management

The 2017 edition of FLIBS was the first under the management of U.K.-based Informa Exhibitions, which stages more than 200 events around the world.

FLIBS had an estimated 7 miles of floating docks. Some 1,200 exhibitors from 35 countries displayed 89 yachts that were longer than 100 feet, 46 that exceeded 160 feet and six that measured more than 200 feet. The queen of the show was the 257-foot Lurssen TV, which was on display at Pier 66.

The Marine Industries Association of South Florida owns the show, which took place at seven venues throughout Fort Lauderdale. Headquarters was the Bahia Mar Yachting Center. Fishing and smaller boats and accessories were at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center, with the Sailfish Pavilion just outside.

Larger production boats were exhibited at Las Olas Marina, and large yachts were at Sails Marina, the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina and Pier 66 Marina. The Windward VIP Club and the AIM Marine Group Pavilion (AIM owns Soundings Trade Only) were at the Hall of Fame Marina.

With the exception of a few showers on the morning of Nov. 4, a Saturday, the weather appeared to have been ordered by the local chamber of commerce, with temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s, plenty of sunshine and cooling breezes.

“We’re feeling very happy,” Andrew Doole, vice president and general manager of Informa Exhibitions, said the day after the show ended. “The thing that happened that’s the most overwhelming is the amount of sales at the show.”

“Buyers showed up,” added Phil Purcell, president and CEO of the MIASF. “Exhibitors had new product to show and create awareness, and those two met in the middle and deals were made.”

At a show-opening breakfast, Charlie McCurdy, president and CEO of Informa’s global exhibitions division, said Informa spent $7 million to improve the show’s facilities and infrastructure. Among the most notable changes were a new schedule and increased security. (More on this later.)

“It’s rare in a professional career that you get to take on a really good product in a really good business and make improvements that you can bring to bear,” McCurdy said.

Also speaking at the breakfast was well-known artist and conservationist Guy Harvey, who started his career at FLIBS more than 30 years ago and created designs for this year’s official show merchandise. He supports ocean research and has created the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University.

“Without knowledge, we can’t educate people,” Harvey said, “and without education, we can’t have conservation.”

Crowds grew steadily through the five-day event. Show manager Informa Exhibitions said atttendance was up from 2016.

Crowds grew steadily through the five-day event. Show manager Informa Exhibitions said atttendance was up from 2016.

Number crunching

HMY’s Bowman said registrations at the brokerage’s display increased by more than 35 percent from 2016. Without providing specifics, he said the company sold “several new Vikings, as well as several Princesses.” HMY also unveiled the Brazilian-built Okean 50. The display boat was sold, and Bowman said the company has orders for additional ones.

Even with HMY strongly representing Viking, the New Gretna, N.J.-based company made a powerful impression on its own. As of Nov. 7, it had sold 13 boats ranging from 37 to 93 feet.

“It was a tremendous show with high energy, brisk sales activity and great enthusiasm for our new boats — the 93 Motor Yacht and the 44 Open — as well as other yachts,” said Viking Communications Director Chris Landry. “We go all out at FLIBS with a 15-vessel display. The boat show is a great opportunity for us to flex our muscles and show everyone what we have been working on since the Miami show last February.”

Landry said Viking had record attendance at FLIBS this year. More than 7,000 guests visited the company’s display.

Tiara and Pursuit parent company S2 Yachts has emphasized new product for the past five years at FLIBS. Of the 14 Pursuits models on display at this year’s show, 11 weren’t there five years ago. All of the Tiara Coupe series models were introduced during the past five years too, as were that brand’s Q44 and flybridge models. The only Pursuit models in the 2017 display older than a half-decade were the 43-foot, 39-foot and 31-foot Open models. And in response to the surge in outboard-powered dayboats, S2 Yachts introduced the Tiara Sport series, which will be exclusively outboard-powered. The company introduced the new Tiara Sport 38 LS at FLIBS this year.

“We are moving forward with a lot of new product with Tiara and Tiara Sport,” said David Glenn, marketing director at S2 Yachts. “It’s one of the pillars of our success — having the right new product for the marketplace. Our boat-show results and the amount of new product that we showcase at a show is evidence of that.”

Compared with 2016, Glenn said, Tiara and Pursuit are ahead in sales numbers. Boats from all three model lines ranging from 23 to 53 feet have tallied more than $32 million in retail sales.

At Boston Whaler, a new unveiling and the redesign of a couple of classics helped generate sales that exceeded previous Fort Lauderdale shows in terms of units sold and dollars, said Jeff Vaughn, the company’s vice president of sales, marketing and customer service.

He was concerned that traffic would be down because visitors from Puerto Rico and the upper Florida Keys would not be at FLIBS in their usual numbers following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but sales turned out to be good. Big boats continued to be strong, with all triple-outboard models seeing increases from 2016, and Boston Whaler renewed interest in its 15- and 17-foot Montauk models by updating them with features that include colored hull sides.

“The Montauk was very well received,” Vaughn said. “We sold more of those this last weekend than the last year or two.”

With boats at three venues — Bahia Mar, the convention center and a private dock for sea trials — SeaVee Boats had a solid show. “We hit the numbers that we were expecting,” said SeaVee sales and marketing director Jon Caballero. “It was a nice mix of all our models. We were selling everything from $160,000 bay boats to 39-foot quad-engine center consoles.”

In the days after the show, Caballero said, SeaVee had sold 26 boats and the company was expecting more.

“We were a little concerned at the beginning,” he added. “Thursday was your typical Thursday, with the expectation of seeing it ramp up more. Friday the crowds began to show up. Saturday was absolute gangbusters. It’s everything you hope for at a boat show — surges of activity followed by a lull and then another surge.”

At Jeanneau and Prestige Yachts, America group president Nick Harvey said he would not have specific numbers until 15 days after the show, but he said volume was up overall.

“I’ll leave it at that until I have a better view,” he said. “The dealers were happy on the Prestige side because of the new location, which gave us more elbow room and put us right in the heart of where we want to be for the world of luxury motoryachts, across from Princess and next door to Azimut.”

The quality sales numbers weren’t limited to new boats. “There were several superyacht transactions going on,” Doole said. “On the brokerage side there were definitely some offers going on the superyachts.”

Purcell reported similar news. “I know several boats that either had multiple offers or finalized the deals in terms of acceptance at the show,” he said. “Those boats just participated in the Monaco show, and the deals were transacted here.”

The Viking 93 Motor Yacht was one of many new models introduced at the show.

The Viking 93 Motor Yacht was one of many new models introduced at the show.

Gearing up

The strong sales for boats trickled down to the equipment that people order on their vessels. David Dunn, director of marine sales at Garmin, said traffic was light in the electronics tent, but “the people that were there were qualified and ready to spend money.”

He also said that although a boat manufacturer or broker can take down contact information for a sales lead and follow up, it’s a little tougher for a company such as Garmin to track numbers at a boat show. Garmin gives dealers 12 days to place a boat-show order.

In the case of a boatbuilder such as Scout, which uses Garmin products exclusively, Dunn said, “As long as they’re selling boats, the units are on them, so by default we would have a good show as well.”

Gordon Sprouse, director of Americas marketing for Navico, had similar thoughts. He thought traffic was light in the electronics tent, but added, “Our dealers reported strong consumer interest in our brands — particularly Simrad — and strong sales for new-boat and retrofit electronics packages.”

If it’s tough to track boat show success at an electronics products manufacturer, consider having to do so at a marine paint company. Scott Townsend, sales manager at Pettit Paint, said customers appeared to be willing to open their wallets to do more extensive work on their boats.

“It seemed like there were more larger jobs being done right now, which is encouraging,” Townsend said. During the past couple of years, he said, a boat owner might be willing to do a job that was equal to 1 to 2 percent of the cost of the boat. At this year’s show, he quoted multiple jobs that could cost closer to 5 percent of the boat’s value.

“It’s no longer, ‘I gotta service my engine,’” Townsend said. “It’s now discretionary spending instead of having to spend it.”

Boat owners would not be as excited to spend money if there were no product they deemed worth the cash. When it comes to Pettit, that product was Black Widow bottom treatment, a multi-ingredient coating designed to increase speed and efficiency.

“They just desire to have a bottom that is smoother and cleaner than in the past,” Townsend said.

Large center-console boats with multiple outboards continue to be a big draw in the industry.

Large center-console boats with multiple outboards continue to be a big draw in the industry.

New boats

If new paint drives consumer interest, then new boats should also garner curiosity from customers.

Viking and Hatteras went big to get that attention this year. Each introduced a model that exceeds 90 feet. The 93 Motor Yacht is the biggest boat that Viking has ever built, and it’s the third in the motoryacht series, which includes the 75 Motor Yacht and 82 Cockpit Motor Yacht.

“Part of the sportfish-boat DNA is the overall performance, along with the high level of engineering and mechanical equipment,” Landry said.

The 93 Motor Yacht has three decks, five staterooms, seven heads and 12 TVs, including two 65-inch screens. The belowdecks master stateroom is accessed via private stairs. Above, Landry says, “One of the unique features of this motoryacht is that it has an enclosed bridge.”

Bifold doors, a hydraulically powered window on the bridge deck aft and an electrically operated sunroof open the enclosed bridge area, which includes a second saloon with an L-shaped couch and flat-screen TV.

The 93 Motor Yacht is powered by twin 1,945-hp MTU V-12 diesels. The boat has an estimated top speed of 27.5 knots and a cruising speed of 21 to 24 knots, depending on the fuel load.

The Viking 44 Open also made its world premiere at the show, and the company gave a sneak peek of the 68 Convertible, which is scheduled to debut at the Miami Yacht Show @ Collins Avenue in February.

Hatteras M90 Panacera

Hatteras Yachts unveiled three new models and showed a scale model of another at FLIBS. The showstopper was the M90 Panacera, named for its open, free-flowing space.

“The Panacera line was developed with the consumer in mind who actually uses the boat,” said Hatteras President/CEO Kelly Grindle. The first M90 Panacera has an open flybridge arrangement. The boat can also be had with an enclosed, air conditioned flybridge.

A first for Hatteras is the fold-down balcony on the port side of the M90’s saloon. Along with the flybridge, aft deck dining area and foredeck lounge, the balcony expands the boat’s versatility.

Belowdecks, the boat has four staterooms, all with en-suite heads, to accommodate a total of eight guests. The master suite is a full-beam layout amidships with a king-size berth. The master head has twin sinks, a toilet and a shower.

For what it sees as the most efficient combination of strength and weight, Hatteras builds the M90 Panacera with resin-infused fiberglass. The boat also has Hatteras’ integral day fuel tank, which utilizes the ship’s structure to form the tank.

For vessel management, the M90 Panacera has HattCON, plus a Crestron system that lets guests control the entertainment system using iPads from anywhere aboard.

Also introduced was the M75 Panacera, which Grindle called an evolution of the Hatteras 70 Motor Yacht. The M75 Panacera also has the HattCON system, plus a design that is intended to ease the flow between gathering spaces.

For fishermen, Hatteras unveiled the GT45X, a flybridge model with upper and lower helms. The Hatteras display also included a mockup of its GT59 Convertible. The company said the 59 represents the next evolution of the GT series, with a new exterior design and enhanced interior arrangements. The interior layout will have a flush-deck saloon/galley with an island layout to facilitate guest movement.

Group Beneteau, after investing nearly $55 million in product development among its 10 brands —Beneteau, Jeanneau, Lagoon, Prestige, Monte Carlo Yachts, CNB, Four Winns, Glastron, Wellcraft and Scarab — introduced 38 models at the show, compared with 29 last year.

The company also introduced its Ship Control system, a universal interface that is accessible from a boat’s navigation screen or a tablet. It lets an owner control all of the boat’s functions.

Brokerage HMY Yachts sold multiple new and used boats during the show. 

Brokerage HMY Yachts sold multiple new and used boats during the show. 

Outboards rule

S2 Yachts introduced the Pursuit DC 365, the company’s flagship dual-console model, as well as the aforementioned Tiara Sport 38 LS, which S2 CEO Tom Slikkers called a “radical interpretation of a Tiara.” He added, “No, this is not a Pursuit that has been rebranded.”

Slikkers called outboards “the most prominent propulsion vehicle” and said customers were losing interest in inboard-powered boats.

MarineMax’s Cashman agreed. “I think every manufacturer has seen what’s going on,” he said. Among the most popular Sea Rays on display at the show were the SLX 400 OB, which has triple Mercury outboards.

For the second straight year, Formula Boats focused on an outboard-powered introduction with its 430 All Sport Crossover. The company took the twin-stepped bottom, bow seating area, cockpit and cabin from its 430 Super Sport Crossover and adding fishing elements to create the 430 ASC. The new model is powered by four outboards, and the most popular power package has been four Mercury Racing Verado 400Rs.

Taking things to the extreme, Midnight Express Powerboats showed a 43 Open center console powered by five Verado 400Rs.

Iconic Marine Group, which owns Fountain Powerboats, Donzi Marine and Baja Marine, has focused on two outboard-powered Fountain center console models, both of which are outboard-powered, to get the company back on track with solid production. The Fountain 34CC and 38CC have new interiors with redesigned T-tops and combination helm seats/tackle centers. The 38CC also has optional aft seating that can be removed to create room for fishing.

At Cobia Boats, the new 320 center console has a straight, non-stepped bottom, and the company said the 10-foot, 3-inch-wide boat is trailerable. It’s designed with forward-facing backrests that tuck into the gunwales, and the hardtop is new.

ZF Marine unveiled the first inboard system with contra-rotating propellers.

ZF Marine unveiled the first inboard system with contra-rotating propellers.

ZF Marine’s Contra-Point

Although outboards continue to dominate propulsion, ZF Marine introduced a concept that consumers have been asking about for years. Called Project Disruption, it’s a contra-rotating system for inboards with a traditional shaft drive. The concept lets inboard-boat builders take advantage of the benefits of contra-rotating propellers to improve performance and efficiency.

The concept takes a standard ZF Marine transmission and utilizes a strut-housed underwater gearbox to transmit power to twin contra-rotating propellers. Initially, the concept was designed for wakesurfing and wakeboarding boats because of the demands the added weight of ballast systems put on standard inboards with a single prop. The twin propellers open up gearing and propeller choices. ZF said the concept can also be scaled to larger boats.

In another non-outboard introduction, Volvo Penta showed its new 1,000-hp diesel, which can be used in straight inboard applications or with a pod drive in the IPS1300.

Electronics integration

On the electronics front, multifunction displays continue to be the buzzworthy items. Raymarine expanded its product line with the Axiom Pro, which is available in 9-, 12- and 16-inch screens. Features include Raymarine’s HybridTouch, which combines touch-screen controls with a keypad, and RealVision 3D sonar. The Axiom Pro is also available with a 1,000-watt CHIRP sonar.

Lowrance’s new HDS Carbon 16 is the biggest display ever from the company. The high-definition SolarMAX HD is designed to allow for a wider viewing angle and as many as four panels in split-screen mode. The unit integrates with StructureScan 3D with SideScan and DownScan Imaging, StructureMap, broadband radar and SiriusXM weather chart overlay.

With radar working its way onto more boats, Furuno expanded its solid-state Doppler radar models with the DRS6A-NXT open-array series. Three arrays are available in 40.8-, 49.4- and 70.7-inch models. The unit has Furuno’s Target Analyzer with solid-state pulse compression Doppler technology to identify approaching targets in red and safer targets in green.

Garmin took a somewhat different approach, showing off a range of products for owners of everything from bass and flats boats to yachts and offshore fishing machines.

The introduction of Garmin’s ActiveCaptain now makes it easier to update a piece of equipment, the company says. “We’re used to our iPhone telling us there’s an update, so now just using your phone as a conduit, there’s no excuse to not keeping your unit up to date,” Dunn said.

Using a smartphone or tablet, a boater can chart his course at home and download it to his plotter as soon as he steps aboard his boat. With ActiveCaptain, a boater can see texts, emails, phone calls, software updates and navigational information on one Garmin screen.

Additionally, ActiveCaptain can be added to 2013 or newer Garmin products. “We bring backward compatibility as far back as we possibly can,” Dunn said.

Also at FLIBS, Garmin announced integration partnerships with companies whose products can be controlled on a Garmin multifunction display. For larger vessels, Garmin is working with Böning and its vessel management systems. All of the information from the three companies can be seen on a Garmin screen. Garmin MFDs can control Lumishore underwater lights and Seakeeper stabilizers on smaller boats.

Positive changes

For the past couple of years, Garmin has been known for having a raised exhibit at FLIBS. The electronics manufacturers are housed in a tent, but when it rained, there was a potential for flooding in the displays. Garmin raised its display to stay dry.

This year, Informa built the floors in all of the tents on raised frames and used draining composite walking surfaces. The drainage wasn’t tested (the weather was nice), but the material was comfortable underfoot and gave the tents a more finished appearance.

Color coding on the docks at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center made it easier for visitors to navigate the show.

Color coding on the docks at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center made it easier for visitors to navigate the show.

New composite flooring gave the tents a more refined appearance. It was more comfortable for walking and was designed to drain if it rained.

New composite flooring gave the tents a more refined appearance. It was more comfortable for walking and was designed to drain if it rained.

New composite docks and an upgraded electrical system on the docks also drew positive comments from exhibitors.

“They clearly invested in new transformer boxes that you could see on the docks,” said Harvey, of Prestige/Jeanneau. “They look a little more sophisticated than the old white ones that were 30 years old.”

Additionally, the docks were relabeled with colored zones and new pylons that made it easier for visitors to get around.

“I couldn’t be more pleased,” said Cashman, of MarineMax. “The new group is clearly very interested in providing the consumer a better experience. I never had one person ask me directions. I believe it worked.”

Perhaps the most noteworthy change was moving the show from a Thursday-to-Monday schedule to a Wednesday-to-Sunday schedule. The show opened at noon on Wednesday (Nov. 1) and at 10 a.m. on the ensuing days. Some exhibitors said they would like to have seen more promotion of the new opening day, but overall response to the change was positive.

“Wednesday was a good day,” said Vaughn, of Boston Whaler. “I was somewhat surprised at the activity on Wednesday.”

Glenn, of S2 Yachts, agreed. “We’re all behind it,” he said. “Wednesday-to-Sunday is fantastic. We had great traffic all the way through Sunday.”

Purcell added, “No Monday ever felt like that Wednesday. It was well received by the visitors, and the attendees.”

The other noticeable change for 2017 was a necessity that couldn’t be denied: increased security at the show entrances. Exhibitors and visitors alike were asked for photo identification, and all bags and backpacks were searched.

After experiencing the increased security, most people understood it and approved of it. Glenn suggested exhibitors-only entrances, and SeaVee’s Caballero said the positioning of vendors outside the security checkpoints at the convention center could use a rethink.

“The simple task of going out to get coffee would subject you to having to go through security,” he said.

HMY’s Bowman echoed most people’s comments, saying, “I feel that security is necessary, and I think people felt secure going to the show.”

Dammrich said such measures are here to stay. “You’re going to see that at all shows,” he said. “You’re going to see more security at all NMMA shows in the future.”

In addition to the visible security, more was going on behind the scenes. Doole said Informa had a command center and worked closely with the city of Fort Lauderdale, the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Undercover personnel were deployed throughout the venues, drones were utilized to check on potential aerial threats, and a camera was positioned on a balloon that provided a view from Bahia Mar to the Las Olas bridge. During show move-out, Doole said, the security cameras caught someone stealing equipment from a booth. The gear was recovered; without the cameras, it probably would not have been.

Going forward, Doole said, Informa plans to use its global reach and relationships in other industries to invite participants from those shows to Fort Lauderdale, to introduce them to boats and yachting.

“Our job is to help the success of the marine industry in Florida and increasingly find ways to tie in the international aspect of the higher-end market,” Informa’s McCurdy added.

Purcell said the show’s effects are farther-reaching than most people realize. The economic impact on the area is estimated at $857 million, which Fort Lauderdale Mayor John “Jack” Seiler said is the equivalent of bringing two Super Bowls to town. Purcell said more than 1,000 private jets land at local airports during FLIBS, and the people on those jets stay at local hotels and patronize restaurants and shops. Owners of those local business understand the importance of FLIBS.

“They’re starting to fully appreciate that it’s not a bunch of white boats and people with wealth,” he said. “They also understand this show brings the best entrepreneurs in the world together.”

And when those entrepreneurs are in a spending mood, good things happen.

“You had a show where the weather was good, the economy was good. It was not an election year,” HMY’s Bowman said. “There really wasn’t anything looming over the show to keep buyers from feeling confident.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue.



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