LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After opening remarks from NMMA president Thom Dammrich and a motivational pep talk from NCAA champion basketball coach Rick Pitino, I headed out to the Kentucky Exposition Center floor on Tuesday to take in the first day of the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference.
Here are voices from a half-dozen meetings I had, including chats with first-time exhibitors, longtime show veterans and an Innovation Award winner. I also attended one of 29 seminars and demonstrations that were held on the first day:
Elco Motor Yachts senior vice president of sales and marketing Kevin Kearns spoke with one inquisitive attendee after another who stopped at the company’s display to check out its first 100-hp electric motor (a 70-hp model was previously Elco’s largest).
“We’ve only been here 2-1/2 hours so far, and the three of us [manning the display] have not stopped talking and answering questions,” Kearns said. “There’s a lot of unknown about this technology, which has been around a lot longer than gas combustion engines.”
Kearns said the target market for the new 100-hp motor is displacement hulls, primarily sailboats as large as 70 feet. He said Elco expects the motor to garner interest mostly from boat owners looking for green (and quiet) propulsion alternatives.
Horizon Premium Dock Lines senior sales distributor Julian Hood was busy fielding questions about the company’s dock lines and soft coolers.
“Coolers are generally recession-proof, but we can tell a lot about the state of the industry by dock-line sales,” Hood said. “During the worst of the recession we sold more ones and twos of line, but now we’re getting more orders for complete sets, which tells us new boats are being sold. It’s getting better. We saw things break last year at Lauderdale.”
David Halcomb, of CD Consultants, who recently took on fuel catalyst manufacturer Nano Fusion, was on hand to help the company recruit regional dealers for the sales network Nano Fusion is developing.
“Our marketing strategy is to set up regional dealers to sell the products, rather than rely on distributors and retail stores,” Halcomb said.
Dometic senior vice president of global system sales Ned Trigg was showing attendees the company’s large display. It showcased seven new products, including the Orbit 7100 Series MasterFlush Toilet, which earlier in the day won an Innovation Award.
“It’s turning out to be a great year for us. The team really pulled together for new-product development,” Trigg said. “We see the MasterFlush and Spot Zero Dock Box portable freshwater reverse-osmosis system as game changers. We’re in the solutions business for OEMs.”
Toward the back of the exposition center was an eye-catching display from marine audio manufacturer Roswell Wake-Air that featured an airborne sportboat and plenty of bright lights and flat-screen monitors showing ski boat action. This is the first time the 15-year-old company has exhibited at IBEX, but it has been very well-received, executive assistant Callie Hardwick said.
“We’re here to further grow our brand identity and meet more potential OEM clients,” she said.
The seminar I attended was titled “Go Global: Expand Your Business Through Exporting” and it was produced by the National Marine Manufacturers Association and moderated by Julie Balzano, the NMMA’s export development director for the past year.
The message from the export finance manager, international trade specialist and economist who spoke was that there are many options — educated advice, personalized market research and low-interest-rate loans — available to small marine businesses that want to develop export markets for their products.
“Why export? You can’t afford not to export,” Balzano told the dozen or so in attendance. “Quite frankly, if you’re not exporting, your competitors are.”
— Rich Armstrong