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Putting the  ‘international’ back in IBEX

As the U.S. marine market remains strong, IBEX organizers aim to globalize the event.
The Tampa, Fla., location is favored by international and domestic visitors who were reluctant to attend the show when it was in Louisville, Ky. It will run in Tampa through 2020. 

The Tampa, Fla., location is favored by international and domestic visitors who were reluctant to attend the show when it was in Louisville, Ky. It will run in Tampa through 2020. 

IBEX has long been considered the domestic U.S. marine equipment trade show, and this year organizers are working to rival the larger global reach of Metstrade in Amsterdam.

Four new country pavilions and a growing list of non-U.S. exhibitors and buyers reflect the broadened initiatives of the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference. The 50 percent ownership stake in IBEX that RAI Amsterdam, owner of Metstrade, acquired from Professional BoatBuilder magazine two years ago, plus the continued focus of co-owner National Marine Manufacturers Association on boat and equipment exports, have created a more international path.

“RAI Amsterdam brings a global perspective to the show,” says IBEX show director Anne Dunbar. “We’ve added an international sales team and recently partnered with ICOMIA [International Council of Marine Industry Associations] to raise the international standing of IBEX by encouraging and facilitating increased participation by ICOMIA members as exhibitors, speakers and visitors.”

NMMA president Thom Dammrich says global outreach makes sense for IBEX’s future. “The U.S. is the largest market in the world for recreational boating, so if you’re a supplier and you’re not targeting the U.S., you’re missing half the world’s market.”


The 2018 event, taking place Oct. 2-4 at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida, is scheduled to have 700 companies spread across 137,000 square feet of exhibit space and docks. Dunbar says 583 are U.S.-based, and 15 are Canadian. About 100 are coming from outside North America, including the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia, Belgium, China, Taiwan and the Netherlands. International visitors should account for about 8 to 10 percent of total attendance, Dunbar says, with 23 nationalities represented. Australia, France, South Korea and Italy will have pavilions, with an average of 10 companies from each country.

“When we walked the show floor two years ago, we found 10 nationalities,” says Rens-Jan van Vliet, exhibition manager at Metstrade and head of global sales and marketing for IBEX. “Last year was 19, and this year we’re up to 23. We’re moving in the right direction.”

At the same time, he says, RAI does not want to transform the event into a mini-METS. “It’s an American show and should stay an American show, but we want the show to develop internationally,” van Vliet says. “When you look at the American market, IBEX used to be the international show. We want to go back to those years.”

Some international exhibitors left IBEX as it moved from Fort Lauderdale to Miami to Louisville and Tampa. The global downturn also led many others to abandon the show. Some are now coming back.

This year’s IBEX will have visitors and exhibitors from 23 countries. 

This year’s IBEX will have visitors and exhibitors from 23 countries. 

A busy schedule at IBEX

Visitors to this year’s International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference will have at least 100 opportunities to learn about new processes, gain technical information, test products and more, including access to the IBEX Seminar Series, preconference Super Sessions and free Tech Talk Workshops.

“We are offering more educational opportunities than in years past,” says Sarah Devlin, IBEX education director. “With world-class presenters, industry partners and an exceptional mix of timely topical programs, IBEX offers a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of decades of specialized hands-on expertise.”

IBEX offers 58 seminars on boat manufacturing, including design and engineering, composite methods and materials, on-board systems, electrical systems, manufacturing management policy, survey and repair, boatyard and marina operations, and IBEX Extras (a track of specialty topics). The IBEX Seminar Series is organized by IBEX and Professional BoatBuilder magazine, the American Boat & Yacht Council, the American Boat Builders & Repairers Association, the National Marine Electronics Association and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which co-owns IBEX.

To attend the IBEX seminars, visitors can register for an individual, three-pack or full-conference pass. The full-conference pass includes seven seminars plus a panel called “Designing for Speed,” with Nigel Irens, Pete Melvin, Michael Peters, Michael Reardon and Donald Blount. A new feature this year is that attendees can select onsite which of the 58 seminars they would like to attend. Also new: Seminars are 45, 60, 90 or 120 minutes. Continuing education units are available for paid and verified participation at IBEX seminars, at one unit per one hour.

“The entire education conference has grown,” says Anne Dunbar, IBEX show director. “We will be offering two days of Super Sessions, and we are thrilled to launch a new Marina & Yard Pavilion Theater with workshops dedicated to that growing segment of the IBEX audience.” IBEX Super Sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 30 and on Monday, Oct. 1.

Tech Talk Workshops are exhibitor-run training sessions that begin every hour. There will be two workshop theaters: the Marina & Yard Pavilion Theater on the first-floor exhibit hall, sponsored by Tides Marine, and the Tech Talk Theater on the third floor, sponsored by West System and Pro-Set Epoxy.

At the seminar “What Does the Future Hold? How Today’s Global Trends Will Impact Your Business,” Correct Craft CEO Bill Yeargin will look ahead to the next 10 years. He will share what is driving current trends, how they will impact the industry and how attendees can make sure they and their companies are prepared.

Kicking off IBEX, the Industry Breakfast and Awards Ceremony will open at 7 a.m. on Oct. 2 in the main ballroom of the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. The program begins at 7:30. Best-selling author, motivational business speaker and Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard will deliver the keynote address. Preceding the keynote speech, NMMA president Thom Dammrich will address the more than 750 marine professionals who are expected to attend the breakfast, discussing the future of the industry with the theme “Recreational Boating in 2035.”

Several industry awards also will be presented, including the National Marine Representatives Association’s Mel Barr, Boating Industry Movers & Shakers, and IBEX Innovation awards. New this year is the International Boat Industry Export Excellence Award.

Organizers say the Tampa Convention Center will host IBEX for several years. The show also is scheduled for Oct. 1-3 in 2019 and Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 in 2020. “Tampa has proven to be an ideal location for IBEX since we relocated there in 2014,” Dunbar says. “The waterfront location and easy access to the dock space at the Tampa Convention Center, combined with the walkability to restaurants and hotels, make Tampa the perfect convention city to host the marine industry.”

Some international companies use IBEX as a launchpad into the U.S. market.

Some international companies use IBEX as a launchpad into the U.S. market.

Razeto & Casareto, an Italian manufacturer of marine hardware, exhibited at IBEX in Fort Lauderdale and Miami but never in Tampa or Louisville. This year, it will be part of the Italian pavilion sponsored by UCINA, Italy’s marine trade association. “The market trends in the U.S. remain very positive, and we have the advantage of presenting products that were at Metstrade but are new to the American market,” says Andrea Razeto, head of the nearly 100-year-old, family-owned company. “We’ve exported to the U.S. for more than 30 years and have a distributor in the Pacific Northwest, but there’s nothing like your boots on the ground to get results.”

French company CarenEcolo, which manufactures a mobile bottom-cleaning system that collects wastewater, plans to use IBEX as a launchpad into the U.S. market. “Our expectations are to sell our products and find a U.S. distributor,” CEO Gaëtan Fouquet says. “We have a very particular product and know it isn’t something that everyone would look into. But it’s simple, works and is good for the environment.”

Nicolas Fata, OEM and export manager for Dolphin Charger, says IBEX offers the opportunity to increase brand visibility as the French company launches a new range of products for the U.S. market. “The show is the perfect destination to reach our U.S. customers,” he says. “It’s a great location, well organized and lasts three days. We can support Scandvik, our U.S. partner, and meet our distributors and dealers, as well as new boatbuilders.”

Van Vliet says many new exhibitors want to meet distributors and boatbuilders, but some are shying away from the U.S. market because of the Trump Administration’s trade wars with China, the European Union and Canada. “We’re trying to get the exhibitors to take a long view and commit to three years,” van Vliet says. “Some people are hesitating because of the strong words.”

Joe DiMaria, director of marine marketing and sales at Hubbell Marine Products, hopes organizers can overcome the ongoing trade wars. “Internationally, business is not very strong, and there’s so much going on that I wonder how it’s going to affect this year’s IBEX,” he says. “But the way the organizers grow it will eventually help us as manufacturers. We see the right people without the pressure of the consumer. It’s an excellent opportunity to interface with engineers there to see what’s new.”

Organizers hope to build on that kind of enthusiasm. “We’ve seen an uptick in international buyers who are interested in the U.S. market because of its strength,” says Julie Balzano, NMMA senior director of export development. The show plans to have buyers from Europe, Australia, Thailand, Egypt, Nigeria and Venezuela.

The International B2B VIP Program will increase its buyer numbers from 35 last year, when it launched, to 50 this year. “We’ll have the most international buyers in recent history,” Balzano says. “It was designed for qualified first-time buyers who may not know the U.S. industry. We provide support with introductions to exhibitors, offer a private lounge and other concierge services.”

Technical discussions at IBEX tend to overcome language barriers among attendees. 

Technical discussions at IBEX tend to overcome language barriers among attendees. 

Some U.S. exhibitors already view IBEX as increasingly international. Don Gross, owner of Gross Mechanical Laboratories in Stevensville, Md. — more commonly known as Groco — has always considered IBEX more than a domestic event. “I’ve seen international customers for six, eight, even 10 years at IBEX,” he says. “I think it’s going to become more international because the U.S. market is where they sell their products.”

Kenyon International, a Connecticut-based company that sells grills and cooktops to an international market, also sees value for international customers. “IBEX provides a nice advantage for the buyers from the European and Middle Eastern countries to find products,” says Phil Williams, president. “I think they’re going to make it Mets East.”

Kyle Davidson, supply chain manager for Riviera in Australia, also sees opportunity. “We’re there to ensure that Riviera stays up-to-date with all the newest innovations in the marine segment,” he says. “It also lets us keep up good relationships with our existing suppliers, while meeting new suppliers.”

Davidson, who has attended IBEX the past four years, sees an interesting dichotomy between Metstrade and IBEX. “Mets is all about the latest and greatest off-the-shelf products, while IBEX is more about working together with suppliers to develop products that meet our requirements.”

For Grayslake, Ill.-based Livorsi Marine, non-U.S. business makes up nearly 20 percent of its annual sales. The instrument and performance accessories manufacturer says that since IBEX moved from Louisville to Tampa, it has become more of an international event. “It seemed like when it was in Kentucky we only got builders from the Midwest,” says Mike Livorsi, president. “Now we’re getting builders from all over the United States and all over the world.”

SeaDek’s vice president of marketing, Jason Gardner, sees more than international opportunities at IBEX. “We go to IBEX to talk to U.S. boatbuilders, and go to Mets­trade to see our international builders,” Gardner says. “For me it’s a bit of a stretch that the international crowd will make the trek here when they know what they have in Mets … [but] if IBEX starts to draw some of that international business, we’d welcome that with open arms.”

Chris Baird, managing director of New Zealand-based Fusion Entertainment, understands the significance of being an international company competing in the U.S. market. “IBEX is an extremely important show, as is Metstrade,” Baird says. “We do more trade business at both those shows than any others. And the ownership under RAI has opened up a larger international market.”

Van Vliet says U.S. and European marine equipment firms often go to market differently, with cultural and business practices that separate them, which means there’s room for more international business at Mets­trade and IBEX alike. “Every market can benefit from competition,” van Vliet says.

This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue.



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