It might be the only show in North America at which you can actually watch a sailboat being built in the parking lot. Marcy Offner of Composites One has been to 18 of the 25 International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference shows — although Composites One has been represented at every single IBEX — and Offner calls the trade show pivotal to her company’s growth.
“They’ve always worked with us to promote new technology,” she says. “It’s a show that’s always been willing to embrace new or more efficient technologies.”
In the early days the company pulled off small demonstrations that focused on the closed molding process — “which has actually been around a long time, but with new regulations over the last 20 years or so became a process that interested a lot of boatbuilders because it removed a lot of the emissions.”
Composites One has always presented live demonstrations, starting with table-top presentations. “We would have a mold, put in fiberglass and other materials, close it up and inject the part with vegetable oil. We didn’t think we could actually use resin types of materials in the show hall, but we still did it with vegetable oil. We had a good laugh about it in the background. Yet it was always very well attended, and people found it interesting.”
Over time, those demos grew to large-scale events where the company made small parts using resins and gelcoats and finally went really big. “We actually made a sailboat one year in the parking lot,” Offner says. “We would have 150 people attending at a time. IBEX has been really easy to work with in presenting these types of demos. They’ve really evolved over the years, and that has really helped Composites One evolve over the years. There was really no one else doing what we were doing; they were not able to produce these large-scale demonstrations that we were doing.”
At this year’s IBEX, set to take place in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 15-17, Composites One is doing a super session prior to the event. The company already had about 60 registered attendees by early August. “We’re expecting about 100 to attend,” Offner says. “It’s a daylong event broken into mini-sessions that address different topics, using both open and closed molding. It’s just another way that IBEX has offered us an opportunity to [demonstrate] the benefits and efficiencies you can find when you utilize composite materials.”
Such is the story of IBEX, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The show has spanned four U.S. presidencies and endured two major recessions, several venue changes, the luxury tax and more.
Some have been there for the entire ride. Composites One is one of 15 companies being recognized for having participated in every show — from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa to Louisville and in between. They will be honored at the Industry Breakfast, where awards are handed out each year and National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich gives his State of the Industry address. This year’s keynote speaker is baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.
“This year’s show in Louisville is shaping up to again be the primary industry event for keeping connected to the new products, technology, people and training that are advancing recreational boating,” Dammrich says.
Many exhibitors are familiar names in the industry — the American Boat Builders & Repairers Association, 3A Composites Baltek and the Taylor Made Group among them. But the thread that ties them together is innovation, says show director Anne Dunbar. “It’s our 25th show, our silver anniversary show. It’s just exciting that we’ve come this far,” Dunbar says. “We have 15 exhibitors we’re going to honor at the industry breakfast — silver members — for their 25 years of marine innovation.”
Bob Donat of AzkoNobel, parent company of silver exhibitor Interlux, says the marketing at IBEX is part of what has made this a must-attend event for his company. “The marketing and advertising and promotions that the IBEX team do is second to none,” Donat says. “They do an excellent job promoting the product — the show. I don’t think that can be treated lightly. That’s a key thing.”
As an IBEX planning committee member, Donat says he has experienced the dynamic at planning meetings for the past five years. “The committee tends to bounce ideas, and they do a good job trying to accommodate different exhibitors from different facets of the industry. And whether it’s a builder or a repair yard, it’s an area where you do get principals from your largest customers, no matter who it is. They get the quality of people at IBEX, and it’s where new products are launched at the right time of the year.”
Can’t miss it
IBEX is returning to Louisville after spending a year in Tampa, Fla., for the first in an alternate-year rotation schedule between the two cities. Many of the silver exhibitors say it doesn’t matter where the show takes place, even if one venue is slightly more convenient than another.
“We’re not going to miss the show. We’re going to be there. No doubt about that,” says Donat. “It brings together the quality people that we feel are very important customers. It brings together boatbuilders, and it brings together the service yards from around North America. It brings the decision makers.”
Because it’s not a consumer show, it doesn’t have the same fervor as one of the bigger boat shows, he says. “There’s plenty of time to talk to exhibitors. You really get time with vendors, and exhibitors enjoy taking the time to have a better conversation. It’s quality of people and quality time.”
Echoing that sentiment was Jim Lane, president of Marine Products Corp., parent company of Chaparral and Robalo boats. “I think we always like IBEX because it’s an opportunity for us as manufacturers to have our vendors all in one spot,” Lane says. “It gives us the opportunity to talk to our vendors.”
“Our engineering and purchasing departments are always interested in seeing what’s new and what’s different,” adds Marine Products vice president Ann Baldree. “I think all the vendors use IBEX as a venue to show what they have and what’s coming. I would say the complexity of the boats we build, from electronics and different aspects of boatbuilding, is constantly evolving right now. So it’s always interesting to see what’s new.”
Budgets are back
Not that anyone interviewed for this story ever advocated missing an IBEX show, especially those who are with companies that have been at all 25. But this year excitement was high, as pretty much everyone mentioned research-and-development budgets bouncing back for companies, meaning there will be more cutting-edge technology than ever.
In early August 536 exhibitors (110 of them new) were booked, and only 18 booths were left to sell, and that was already after organizers expanded booth availability by 50, Dunbar says. “That’s significant; we weren’t expecting that. That’s a sign of the times, a sign of the strengthening economy and a sign that businesses are investing in R&D,” she says.
So how will the R&D dollars translate to innovation? “Technology for connectivity on boats — the changes are incredible,” Dunbar says. “There are more exhibitors in there and showcasing even more products that can be connected. That’s exciting.” Another emerging theme is 3-D manufacuring technology. “We’re definitely seeing an increase in 3-D technology, and it’s advancing so quickly we almost can’t keep up with it,” Dunbar says. “There’s probably twice as much of that on display as last year — both indoor and outdoor.”
“This has been a great year so far for recreational boating, with sales of numerous categories seeing healthy growth,” Dammrich says. “As we look ahead at the next three to five years, innovative thinking and new-product development will remain critical avenues for our industry’s continued success. IBEX is an important platform that brings together our industry’s brightest minds and leaders to carve a path for our future. The education, networking and access to new products that are changing and shaping our industry are second to none. I encourage everyone from engineering to marketing to make IBEX a part of their strategy, and I look forward to another engaging and worthwhile event in Louisville.”
As Dunbar puts it, “Innovation doesn’t wait. You can’t afford to miss it; IBEX is where it’s happening. If you miss that one year, you’re missing out on that whole year. Change happens.”
If Boeing shows up …
The seminar series has been extremely popular, as well, Dunbar says. “The military signed up. Boeing signed up. So that’s a good sign.”
“The seminars, that’s one of the things that’s really pulled us into IBEX — the workshops and seminars,” Donat says. “They do a great job promoting the seminars and workshops, and you get quality people to those events. From our company’s perspective, education and training are a big part of what we do. We feel it’s very important to train marine professionals about our products. They do a great job pulling all the pieces together and pulling people into the event. And it’s all trade, not consumers and boat owners. They do a good job of bringing boatbuilders in, but they focus on the aftermarket also.”
The hands-on demos done by the American Boat and Yacht Council for the first time last year were so popular that the group is bringing a boat inside the convention center for an expanded version. Kevin Ritz will lead Onboard I: Electrical Troubleshoot and Onboard II: Installing an Auxiliary Battery or Battery Bank. He will show the processes from start to finish and how to comply with ABYC standards and use current technology. He will have a GoPro connected to a big screen so conferees can see the detail work from his angle.
“Last year really opened our eyes to how much hands-on content people want, with the boat we had there, so for the last two days we’ve been prepping the boat we’re bringing,” ABYC president John Adey says. “People want people to walk away with a skill. They want to see from beginning to end how to install a second battery on an 18-foot center console. We’re using brand-new products that Blue Sea is introducing. For us, it’s nice to talk about the job from beginning to end.”
A “compliance and coffee” session will take place before the show opens so exhibitors can ask questions. “There’s a large group of exhibitors at IBEX that aren’t aware … of how ABYC affects their products,” Adey says. “There are people who come by for free coffee and food, but we also see some manufacturers that aren’t as aware of the standards world as they should be. We have some come ask me about lawsuits.”
ABYC is also holding its “Ask a Lawyer” session, which has been extremely popular, as well. “The attorneys couldn’t get through the presentation, people had so many questions. So for this year they asked if they could just hold a panel-style discussion so the exhibitors would have more leeway to ask questions,” Adey says.
There will be a new virtual Marine Career Fair in partnership with IBEX, ABYC and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. “Everybody’s talking about an employment shortage in the industry,” Adey says. So ABYC linked its site to the MRAA site in what they are calling Career Peer. Then, if all parties will be at IBEX, they can schedule an appointment.
“The MRAA is handling the front side of it, and we’re handling technicians on the back side,” Adey says “They’re trying to fill positions from their membership, and our members are the qualified people that need the jobs.”
The NMMA will do its Environmental Protection Agency and compliance seminars, but also is doing something a little new, Dunbar says — a panel on collaborative consumption. “I thought this was really interesting because this could be a game-changing trend, and how do you take advantage of it? And who’s going to take advantage of it? It could be manufacturers who take advantage, or entrepreneurs, and how does that impact the industry? I think it has some big implications, and the best thing about it is it’s going to get more people on boats.”
The Party for a Purpose will raise funds for the industry BoatPAC, Dammrich says. “I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on the state of our industry during the breakfast, welcoming renowned baseball player Johnny Bench and showcasing our industry’s newest advancements in product development with our IBEX Innovation Awards.”
Rock the Yacht at IBEX on Sept. 16 will include live music from performers that include the Little River Band and Ambrosia, as well as food and drink. Dunbar is also excited about the Marine Millennial program, which is designed to connect young professionals. “We got a really good response rate, with 50 sign-ups right away. Those include exhibitors, attendees, boatbuilders, marinas, yards and manufacturers — the whole spectrum,” Dunbar says. “This group is all very engaged and they’re looking forward to coming together at IBEX.”
The Future Materials interactive display is also brand new and done in conjunction with Professional BoatBuilder (which co-produces the show with the NMMA) and CompositesWorld magazines. The collection of new materials, processes and technologies will be gathered from a variety of sources, including the marine, aerospace and automotive industries and some applied academic research and development.
MakerMobile Trailer is built from a collaboration between Velocity Indiana and San Francisco-based TechShop. Aboard the 32-foot trailer will be a variety of maker tools, including 3-D printers, laser cutters, a vinyl cutter, a CNC machine, laptop workstations and electronics kits.
Maybe most of all, people say they are looking forward to the networking. “While the boating industry is a big industry, it’s still a small industry, and it still feels like that when you go to IBEX, like you’re running into family,” says Offner of Composites One. “It’s an excellent opportunity to network and has always been.”
Add that to increasing business that, after being down 80 percent during the recession, is finally back. “People are feeling good,” she says.
“Over the years the show has definitely been pivotal,” Offner says. “I’d say IBEX was a huge part of helping us build our reputation as closed-molding experts. If we didn’t have the platform that IBEX offered us at that time, I don’t think we would have achieved that brand, so to speak.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue.