The mood at IBEX was one of optimism for an industry that is making a slow but steady comeback
Amid the discussions and networking at IBEX 2013, the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference, was the underlying theme that although business is better, growth is going to continue to be slow, compared with the pre-recession era.
“As far as the mood of the show goes, I found it very positive. Of course, I am an optimist, but I sense that we are turning the corner,” says Bill Arwood, vice president of sales and marketing for exhaust system manufacturer Centek Industries. “For the past few years the atmosphere was almost pensive — everyone seemed on edge and the uncertainty of the future and our industry made everyone overly cautious and risk-averse. No one wanted to get too far out in front.”
Arwood says he sensed a positive overall mood emerging at IBEX 2012 and gathering strength at this year’s show.
“IBEX this year was very successful for us and is always one of the most important shows that we attend,” Arwood says.
Organizers say attendance at the Sept. 17-19 event, held at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, equaled the turnout of 4,700 a year ago. Show director Anne Dunbar says the best indicator of any show’s success is exhibitor satisfaction.
“It’s easy to gather valid data because all you have to do is walk around the exhibit hall,” Dunbar says. “Exhibitors are very quick to tell you when they are unhappy, but this year all we heard were positives.”
National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich says 90 percent of the exhibitors he spoke with were pleased because business was being done on the show floor.
“Many high-level marine professionals — boatbuilders, engineers, designers, composite professionals and others — were networking and making deals,” Dammrich said in a post-show statement.
A sampling of exhibitors reveals that they attended IBEX with different priorities — to land new business, first and foremost, but also to network, showcase new product and promote their brands.
“The market will come back and we’ll be here,” says Chip Walsh, product manager at connectors and interconnect component manufacturer Molex. Walsh says his company has exhibited at IBEX for more than 15 years, even though the marine market makes up less than 5 percent of the company’s business.
“The reason we come here is we don’t want builders to forget that Molex is a player, and the steady traffic this year produced several solid leads,” Walsh says.
Roswell Wake-Air, a manufacturer of wakeboard towers and accessories, made its IBEX debut with a large, brightly lit booth featuring a “flying” wakeboat.
“We came to further grow our brand identity and add more OEM clients,” executive assistant Callie Hardwick says. Roswell also used the show to introduce its new Neptune 8.0 marine audio speakers.
Marine fabric manufacturer Bainbridge International sat out IBEX during the recession, returning for the first time since 2008.
“We decided to exhibit this year because we wanted to announce our new relationship with Plastimo,” sales and marketing director Bob Mills says. (Bainbridge has been named the exclusive U.S. distributor for Plastimo.) The company also wanted to promote the November opening of a new warehouse.
“We have positioned ourselves to grow significantly in 2014,” Mills says. “We have made some substantial product line additions — Yale Cordage and Plastimo — and we are opening a third U.S. branch in Pompano Beach, Fla. Needless to say, we are optimistic about the future.”
One of the largest exhibitor booths was that of control system manufacturer SeaStar Solutions, formerly Teleflex Marine.
“The show was also useful in promoting our name change to SeaStar Solutions,” CEO Yvan Cote says. “The customers have received the new name well, and although we will always be known to some as Teleflex Marine, SeaStar Solutions is being used more and more by our customers.”
Cote accepted two awards at the Industry Breakfast for videos the company produced to promote its Optimus 360 product and to publicize the name change.
David Halcomb, well known as co-founder of Awlgrip, now works as a consultant (CD Consultants) to promote fuel catalyst manufacturer Nano Fusion. Priority one at IBEX, he says, was to recruit dedicated regional dealers to build a sales network rather than rely on distributors and retail stores to sell Nano Fusion products.
Halcomb says his goal was to familiarize company staff with the marine industry and the industry with the diesel and gasoline catalyst manufacturer.
“I remember when I first tried to sell Awlgrip at $90 a gallon in 1972-73,” Halcomb says. “That was not easy — people told me it was not going to jump off the shelf, so we set up a network of yacht dealers,” he says, comparing the Awlgrip experience with the Nano Fusion education and marketing plan.
While at the show, Nano Fusion signed up John Greviskis, founder and host of “Ship Shape TV,” as a spokesman.
“I think it was mission accomplished on our end,” Halcomb says. “We came away with more than a dozen good leads from this show from engine manufacturers, boatyards and marinas. By the end of October we expect to have five or six dealers between the Great Lakes and Florida.”
‘The right people’
Whatever the motivation for attending, exhibitors say they believe IBEX is a show they must attend.
“The atmosphere of the show lends itself to relaxed, unhurried conversations and also gives us an opportunity to mix after hours, which is something we don’t get when we travel from account to account during a typical business day,” Centek’s Arwood says.
Halcomb says he stressed to his clients at Nano Fusion that new business is not just found at your booth.
“Yes, we’re here to sell product, but you can’t just sit back. You have to get out and network the show,” he says. “There are so many people at IBEX. The right people are here. You just have to dig them out. I accomplished more here in two days than I could in two months of travel.”
Ned Trigg, senior vice president of global system sales at Dometic, was showing conferees the company’s large display, which showcased seven new products, including the Orbit 7100 Series MasterFlush Toilet, which won an Innovation Award.
“The show itself wasn’t over the top with the flow of traffic, but while the quantity wasn’t there, the quality of attendees was good,” Trigg says. “Eighty percent who we do business with in the U.S. had a representative there. Today our industry has shrunk so much, the expectation of what the show brings has changed. We don’t write orders at the show; it’s more about showing your face and getting visibility for our new products.”
Simon Dube, plant manager for the Canadian windshield manufacturer Veralex, says the company’s new frameless windshield was a hit with OEM manufacturers.
“We’re now working with a minimum of three new potential customers, with a high-volume order projected,” Dube says. “The market is now ready for innovation in windshield design. It was once just viewed as functional, but now it is viewed as part of the design.”
Dube says shows such as IBEX are critical to his relatively small company in competing with larger manufacturers such as Taylor Made Systems. Taylor used the show to introduce the next-generation version of its Eclipse-series frameless windshields, which were first introduced in 2006.
Among the hundreds of new products introduced at the show, Raymarine used IBEX to launch its new engine and drive-by-wire steering interface, ECI-100, and has high expectations for the OEM product, pointing to partnerships with Yamaha, Caterpillar, Yanmar and Volvo Penta.
“It breaks down a lot of barriers for system integrators and boatbuilders,” marketing director Jim Hands says. “We plan to add other engine manufacturers as time goes on. Our goal is universal compatibility.”
Elco Motor Yachts introduced its first 100-hp electric motor (a 70-hp model was previously Elco’s largest) for a target market of displacement hulls, primarily sailboats as large as 70 feet.
Senior vice president of sales and marketing Kevin Kearns says part of the motivation for attending IBEX is educating the industry about the viability of electric propulsion.
“There’s a lot of unknown about this technology, which has been around a lot longer than gas combustion engines,” Kearns says. “Electric motors preceded gas and diesel by about 50 years. Everything starts small, but it was not too long ago that most people didn’t have smartphones.”
Greg Miller, vice president of sales at PierVantage, attended his second IBEX to promote the marine-specific company, which develops cloud-based solutions for boatbuilders and boatyard service centers to safely secure data off-site.
Just days after the show, cruising catamaran builder Gunboat International said it had hired PierVantage to run the company’s production boatbuilding business.
Next year, Tampa
After four consecutive years in Louisville, IBEX shifts to Tampa, Fla., next year and will then rotate annually between Louisville and Tampa through 2016.
IBEX 2014 will be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the Tampa Convention Center.
“When it comes to what’s new for IBEX 2014 in Tampa, the most exciting thing is the in-water dock space,” Dunbar says. “Expect to see many of our exhibitors showcasing their products live on the water.”
Some exhibitors welcome the decision by show co-owners NMMA and Professional BoatBuilder magazine to return to a Florida venue.
“Nothing at all against Louisville,” Arwood says. “I have really enjoyed the past three years, but I think a bit of change is good and will perhaps bring in additional customers.”
“Tampa might bring some smaller builders,” Dometic’s Trigg says. “I’m not convinced that Louisville is the ideal venue for our industry.”
Trigg says he hopes the Tampa venue will attract more international companies.
This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue.