Organizers are preparing for the Feb. 12-16 Progressive Miami International Boat Show with an all-new layout at the Miami Beach Convention Center, a new Accessories Pavilion and the largest Strictly Sail component yet.
“My message is very simple: We’re back,” says National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich, referring to the industry’s improving sales picture. “I think that’s going to be proven out in Miami with new product, increased attendance, increased sales, a lot of excitement and a really good vibe. I feel better about the possibilities in Miami than I have in several years.”
The NMMA, which owns and organizes the show, has the “aggressive goal” of attracting 120,000 people to the show’s three locations — about 20,000 more than showed up in 2014, says NMMA vice president for boat shows Cathy Rick-Joule. “Last year we had 13,400 flights canceled … the day before the show opened” because of bad weather in the Midwest and South, she says. Favorable weather should increase attendance significantly.
The show will take place at the convention center, Sea Isle Marina and Miamarina at Bayside.
The NMMA is also continuing to step up its outreach to international markets, Rick-Joule says. “We have increased the number of countries we’re working with through our international buyer program,” she says, with 25 participating — six more than last year.
Most important, organizers think they finally have the perfect mix of favorable circumstances to draw buying crowds. For example, lower gasoline prices free discretionary spending that otherwise would be tied up in fuel tanks, Rick-Joule says. An unusual pickup in fall sales also has boosted excitement and confidence among dealers and builders, and Dammrich believes an “amazing” amount of new and innovative product will energize attendees.
“I think 2015 is going to be a very strong year for the industry, and I think the sales from the Miami show are going to be as strong as they’ve been in seven or eight years,” Dammrich says. “I’m excited about the new layout. There will be more boats on the main floor — the show is sold out — and there’s a new Accessories Pavilion. The Strictly Sail show is going to be bigger than ever, or certainly bigger than it has been for several years. If the weather cooperates and people from outside Florida can get to Florida, I think we’re going to have great attendance and sales. I think it’s going to be a real uplift of the industry.”
More builders, new pavilion
For the first time in years, the convention center will have a new layout, featuring more boats on the main floor. A new, fully floored, air-conditioned Accessories Pavilion tent has been added outside to accommodate the increase in boats inside. Organizers have added about 50,000 square feet for boatbuilders by moving the accessories exhibitors to the tent. Engine manufacturers will remain in their convention center space, as will electronics manufacturers.
The people affected “fully embraced the idea, for the most part, because they knew we had to do it to reach our goal,” says Rick-Joule. “I would be lying if told you everybody was crazy about it. We probably lost five to seven companies that weren’t willing to make a move from one type of space to another.”
But most understood the NMMA’s goal of refreshing the indoor space, which has not changed in years, Rick-Joule says. “So what you’ll see is a fairly large expansion of boats on the main floor. This will be the largest square footage devoted to boats in the history of boat shows. What I think is exciting about it is, one, we’ve been able to address the needs of builders, and two, the look and feel of the show will be different, which is difficult in a show like ours. We had hit a roadblock in terms of space because the convention center is always full. So the look basically had stayed flat. From an attendee perspective, it will look different. The addition of the Accessories Pavilion outside will also change the look of the show, which I think will be refreshing for people.”
The show changed for three reasons, Rick-Joule says. First, many boatbuilders were eligible for increases in space and wanted them, but because the convention center is consistently sold out, it had been impossible to provide the upgrades. The NMMA also wanted to accommodate the new builders that had not been in the show recently, or ever. And lastly, she says, there were NMMA builders exhibiting outside the center, away from other builders. “We also think this change, as much as it is challenging, starts to set the stage for 2016, when we move to a new location.”
Exhibitor Alan Nederlanden of the insurer Bateman Gordon & Sands will be one of the occupants of the new pavilion. He says the interior of the convention center has been completely revamped and that it “will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
He had a mixed reaction to his booth being moved from the spot in the electronics room that it had occupied for 26 years. “To me, [that location] was fantastic. It was not the highest-traffic area at the boat show, but you also know if someone’s there to buy a shirt for the kids or some lures, they’re not spending time wandering that room. It was a very highly qualified section.”
Ahead of the curve
Michele Goldsmith, global marketing manager and key accounts sales manager for Power Products LLC’s marine division, was instrumental in getting the accessories manufacturers on board with the new pavilion, Rick-Joule says. Though Goldsmith acknowledges that no one is particularly fond of change, she maintains that this will give those exhibitors an edge at the 2016 show, when the entire venue will be different, as the convention center undergoes a renovation (see story, Page 44).
“My feeling was, this pavilion would actually put the accessories people ahead of the curve,” Goldsmith says, “because as we go into 2016, everyone is going to wind up in some type of tent … unless they’re in the water.”
Next year, accessories manufacturers will have had a year to see what works when they exhibit in a tent space, and they will be making adjustments rather than starting from scratch, she says. “We know change is inevitable. We know we’re going to leave the convention center in 2016. Once people realized what the evolution of the show would be in the coming years and had a broader understanding of why we were moving out, everybody seemed to get on board.”
In addition to changes in the floor plan, organizers have been working on Strictly Sail Miami at Miamarina at Bayside, which was up by double digits in exhibitor sales in early January, Dammrich says. “We’ve got a change of floor plan at the sailboat show, as well,” Rick-Joule says. “That space has been disrupted by a big project,” the building of the Skyrise Miami observation deck.
As a result, the land portion is moving west of the marina instead of occupying the land adjacent to the south. “We’ll have a new refreshed site plan and floor plan for that location, as well,” she says.
Project construction will stop during show hours so it does not cause “a lot of static around us,” Rick-Joule says. “The area will be fenced off still, but minimal work will be going on during the show.”
The hands-on training portion of the show at Sea Isle and Strictly Sail will be ramped up, as well. “It allows people to get out on the water and really learn. We’ve never been able to fill all the requests we’ve had for that program, so our plan is to add more boats and more people because it’s been so wildly successful,” Rick-Joule says. “People love the ability to get out on the water with someone educated and teaching them outside of the sales environment. We’ll be expanding [the number of] boats and captains available, as well as registering more people.”
Classes will teach skills such as close-quarter docking and navigation and offer advanced and intermediate sail training.
The Fred’s Shed Interactive Learning Center is another place for people to learn in an intimate setting, she says, and have conversations with talented people who can teach a variety of skills, including changing oil, maintaining props and winterizing.
Value of Miami
Nederlanden says he can count on one hand the number of insurance sales he’s made at the show. “The very important thing about the boat show, to me, is to make contact with that vessel owner. Coming out of Miami, I probably write 70 percent of my business from that show in the three months following it. The balance of it gets spread through the rest of the year,” he says. “I got a phone call [in December] from someone I first talked to in Miami. The three months following shows are the larger months for me. They generate significant business.”
“I think it’s going to be a really strong show,” Goldsmith says. “I know there are a large number of new-boat introductions. The economy seems to be pretty well figured out, and we’re not in a major election cycle, so people are not worried about that yet. I think it’s a good time financially and a good time in terms of builders having some new product to show.”
Rick-Joule says strong sales in September speak to a turnaround for the industry that should carry over into Miami. “We’re emerging from the ashes from 2008 and 2009, when things were really difficult. We expect the strong sales environment represented in the fall to carry over to the winter shows.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue.