Marine industry players are pretty much unanimous when it comes to February’s Miami boat shows — you can’t miss them. The Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show, which runs concurrently with the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach Feb. 13-17, is an institution in the city of Miami and for the overall boating industry.
More than 2,000 companies showcased 3,000-plus boats at the 2013 show and attendance was up 1 percent from 2012, to 102,118. The figure includes attendance at the Strictly Sail portion of the show, which was 19,742, up 17 percent from the previous year.
Organizers say the show, which is produced by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, draws more than 100,000 visitors and has an economic impact of $597 million in Florida. Venues include the Miami Beach Convention Center, Sea Isle Marina and Miamarina at Bayside,
“We feel very optimistic. All the indicators are right now that we should have a very good boat show season and a positive spring,” says Shelley Tubaugh, who directs sales and marketing for Grady-White Boats. The North Carolina builder will bring products that include the company’s 251 Coastal Explorer, which Tubaugh says is a whole new category of boat, and the Freedom 335, the company’s largest dual console.
“Dealerships are reporting good activity and interest levels through a traditionally slow period, no matter where they are, from Florida or [in the Northeast]. There seems to be a more forward-looking outlook on customers’ part, as well, so we feel confident. We feel like there’s an improvement over last year already.”
Carver will have three new yachts at its indoor display at the convention center: the C34 Command Bridge and C40 Command Bridge and the C37 Coupe. All three have been introduced within the past 12 months, and the C37 Coupe is making its international debut at the show. The C40 made its retail debut in the fall at the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
The company says all three have innovative new hull designs, spacious and private staterooms and fiberglass stall showers. Their interior layouts are based on an integrated design that combines the swim platform, cockpit, salon and galley into a single living environment.
Even boatbuilders who do not regard Miami as a primary target market say the shows are useful. They provide opportunities to attend key industry meetings and for exhibitors to meet with their South and Central American dealers, plus an international venue to put new models on display.
“The Miami show for us is a unique show because of the international dealers that attend,” says Chaparral and Robalo president Jim Lane. “It’s always one of our goals for that show to introduce again some of our brand-new models. Our view of the Miami show is always very positive because it’s also an industry show. It’s where all of us have a chance to talk to other industry leaders, so that gives us confidence about how they view the market.”
Rob Parmentier, president and CEO of the Larson Boat Group, says the company’s Striper brand has the most market penetration in Miami, but the pontoon market is showing some promise there and he is working with show management to display the company’s new Escape in the convention center lobby. A fiberglass-aluminum hybrid pontoon that was unveiled last July, the Escape comes in 21-, 23- and 25-foot lengths.
“We’re pretty excited about having one or two Escapes there,” Parmentier says. “They have been extremely well-received.”
The group will bring several Larsons, putting one with Axius power in the water at Sea Isle Marina so show-goers can sea-trial the boat.
Of the three locations, the largest is the convention center, which has 2.5 million square feet of exhibition space that uses 1 million square feet of carpet, enough to cover 20 football fields, says show manager Cathy Rick-Joule.
The New Yacht and Power Show at Sea Isle Marina showcases hundreds of boats in the water and is the site of hands-on classes presented by the Recreational Powerboating Association, as well as demo rides by various manufacturers. The third location, Strictly Sail Miami at Miamarina at Bayside, features sailboats and sailing accessories, live music and free sailboat rides.
The show also has grown its international presence this year, Rick-Joule says. The British Marine Federation, Australian Marine Industry Association and at least 20 companies from China will have a presence.
“We’ve had a real influx of international exhibitors,” she says. “It’s the most I’ve seen in six years. We’re starting to see larger growth in the presence of international marine trade groups. It’s a very good thing for the show.”
The International Buyers Program, launched last year with the U.S. Department of Commerce, is now working with 20 countries to draw buyers to the Miami show, Rick-Joule says, nearly quadruple the number from last year, when the outreach involved six countries.
“The feeling about the whole program was so good that we increased our reach,” Rick-Joule says. “I think that’s a very positive thing for the show. Between buyers and exhibitors, the international presence is really increasing.”
The program seeks to match buyers with manufacturers, as well as secure hotel rooms at a particular rate and make the overall experience smooth for non-natives.
“Buyers come in and register, and we partner them up with manufacturers and decision-makers at the show,” she says.
Last year the program reached out to buyers in Japan, Turkey, Chile, Panama, Costa Rica and Brazil. This year the outreach will include all of those countries except Chile, plus Argentina, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Ukraine.
Wellcraft and Four Winns have always had a strong presence in the convention center, but Rec Boat Holdings has been working to secure space for Glastron — “which you probably know is not easy in Miami,” Rec Boat Holdings president Roch Lambert says. “This year we have two more brands that were not there last year.”
The Scarab was brought out of virtual retirement as a brand for the company’s entry into the jetboat market and has secured space. Glastron jets also were introduced during the past few months. The company will bring the 195 and 215 HO Scarab models, as well as the Glastron 187 and 207, all recent models with jet propulsion.
“You get grandfathered into your spot,” Tubaugh says, adding that Grady-White also would like more room. “Unless someone gives up space, you can’t get any more. Last time space came available we did opt in for it, so our booth is split across the aisle.”
Exhibitors at the convention center have continually asked to increase their company’s footprints, but because space is limited the NMMA has been unable to accommodate the requests, Rick-Joule says. “The main floor inside the convention center, the renewal rate is well over 93 percent, and many exhibitors wanted more space, which pushes the parameter to an outside area.”
As a result, the outside display area grew by about 65,000 square feet this year. “We’re matching desire against availability,” Rick-Joule says. “You can’t always tell customers yes, which is extremely frustrating, but this additional space should help accommodate them better. The main floor has traditionally had a very high rate of return, but this year feels much different. The list of people looking for more space has been larger than it has been in the past few years.”
That allowed the Robalo booth to virtually double in size, Lane says, “so we can show every model we build at Robalo. That’s a change at the show for us and we wouldn’t do that if we didn’t have a lot of interest in the products.”
Robalo has had a significant increase in market share, so demand is high, says vice president Ann Baldree. “And that is a very good market for Robalo.”
Robalo now has space inside the convention center and in the expanded outside area, Lane says. “We will split our sales opportunities between the two booths, and ultimately as the grandfather clause kicks in more for Robalo, we’ll move that space inside. But we have to start somewhere,” he says, adding that all of the new Chaparral and Robalo models will be displayed — the Chaparral H2O 21 and the 307 SSX and the Robalo 206 Cayman and R222.
In addition to increasing the international presence at Miami, the NMMA is trying to strengthen its relationship with the superyacht segment. NMMA president Thom Dammrich, Rick-Joule and export development director Julie Balzano attended the 2013 Monaco Yacht Show in September to increase the U.S. organization’s visibility and develop relationships with the superyacht segment.
Superyacht Lifestyle Miami will be a new event at the 2015 show, and it will be previewed this year. Although the NMMA initially scheduled the new event for this year’s show, the trade group said launching it so quickly was too lofty a goal.
“We’ve had such incredible interest,” Rick-Joule says. “If you think about why we started working on this, it was because the superyacht folks were looking for something very different than the traditional boat show. So we set off with an extremely lofty goal with extremely little time. We had so much interest, so we decided to postpone the event so we could work with all segments of the industry. We’d rather do it right than rush ourselves through it and not get it completely right.”
Instead the NMMA will host the preview event at the 2014 show to give attendees a “flavor” of the event, Rick-Joule says.
“We haven’t determined what day that’s going to happen, but we will definitely have a preview in the window of the Miami show,” she says. “We want to let people get a feel of what’s going to happen there … and see firsthand what the location is, how prominently located it is and what we’re going to be able to do for them there.”
A unique show
The Strictly Sail location has had increasing demand for large catamarans, Rick-Joule says. “We probably have the largest selection of cats of any U.S. show. The challenge is having the ability to accommodate boats of 100 feet and more. We’ve got two very large cats interested in coming in, so we’re trying to work that out.”
The Sea Isle location allows engine manufacturers to partner with boatbuilders so attendees can sea-trial boats, an important element at the Miami show, Rick-Joule says. The area also is used to hold Discover Boating classes.
“We’re looking at how we’re going to add some boat inventory to that,” she says. “Typically we have 10 to 12 boats with licensed captains just to educate people on docking, close-quarter handling, navigational systems and so forth. This is the fourth year we’ve had the program, and we continue to see more and more interest on both the power and sail side. People are just so interested in learning in this type of environment. It’s not just new boaters. We get a fair number of existing boaters who just don’t want to ask those types of questions to the dealer.”
Baldree says the thing that makes Miami unique is that builders have already participated in a significant number of winter shows by the time this one rolls around, so they have a good idea of production levels and the buyer’s mood around the country.
“What we find in Miami is, you get a little more of an indication of, is there a comeback in some of the bigger models over 35 feet? We’re seeing a little bit of interest in that segment, and we think Miami is a good bellwether for those bigger models,” Baldree says.
“I think the takeaway for us is, we’re encouraged by what we see in the opening shows,” Lane says. “We’re looking forward to attending Miami because of the benefits it brings to the industry, and we’re looking to reasonable growth as we move forward into 2014. While Miami might not be the show that generates the most volume, it is a bellwether because there is such a cross-section of our dealer base and customers attending the show.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue.