Show time in Fort Lauderdale

U.S. market’s growing allure to overseas builders gives FLIBS an even greater international flavor
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The show comprises seven venues, and this year’s production will feature $4 billion in products, including 1,500 boats. The vast array of boats and gear is spread over 3 million square feet.

The show comprises seven venues, and this year’s production will feature $4 billion in products, including 1,500 boats. The vast array of boats and gear is spread over 3 million square feet.

The 56th Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, which takes place Nov. 5-9 in seven locations, is drawing a larger and more international mix of exhibitors than ever and will showcase the largest boat that has ever been displayed at the five-day event.

This year’s show, which includes all-new branding, a new user-friendly website, new VIP packages and several additional events and attractions, is drawing international builders in droves. European markets remain challenged, and a strong U.S. dollar gives overseas builders a pricing advantage in the more robust American market. Show organizers say that not only are new companies exhibiting, but they are also bringing more and bigger boats.

Domestically things are hopping, as well, as boatbuilders, engine makers and accessories manufacturers are harvesting the fruits of their reinvigorated R&D budgets — many of which took a back seat to survival in the first few post-recession years. Now new products, engines, accessories, electronics and models are scheduled to debut either globally or to the American market at this year’s show. And the market has been clear: Consumers are clamoring for new products.

From superyachts with helipads to smaller boats for the weekend angler, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show has something for everyone.

From superyachts with helipads to smaller boats for the weekend angler, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show has something for everyone.

Market forces

“There are two things going on that are making the show especially strong,” says Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, president of Show Management, the company that organizes the show. (Soundings Trade Only and Show Management are part of Active Interest Media’s Marine Group.) “One is that the U.S. economy is coming back. The other thing is everybody around the globe wants to reach the U.S. buyer. There are not only a lot of buyers out there, but a lot of sellers. We’re seeing a lot of new exhibitors — and not just new to us, but new to the industry — introducing new brands, models, lines, and introducing them at Fort Lauderdale. Part of that is the strength of the economy, part is the strength of the dollar, and part of it is just the fact that this is where you want to be to have your products seen.”

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“We probably have more superyachts on the face dock than ever, without question,” says Andrew Doole, senior vice president and COO of Show Management. “I think the shipyards, from small to those building superyachts, everybody’s looking toward North America as the most stable, hottest market, without question.”

The pickup in international and domestic exhibitor traffic doesn’t just apply to yachts. Space at the Broward County Convention Center was sold out months before the show, and when organizers added outdoor space, that also quickly sold out.

“It’s a trend we’ve been noticing for the last two, three and four years, where boats in the 20- to 40- or 50-foot size, which were very slow right after 2008 and 2009, have been coming back,” says Zimbalist. “That category really took the biggest hit, but it has been coming back strongly. It’s the fastest-growing part of the show. There is a lot of amazing new product coming out, and new features that make it easier to boat. These types of products are making the vessels friendly for day boating and entertaining, and for people learning to boat. The market has been very responsive to it. People who have caught that sweet spot are selling a lot of boats.”

The show will feature the largest boat in its history — the 312-foot Lürssen yacht Kismet, which will be represented by Moran Yacht & Ship. “She’s a beautiful yacht. She’s there for charter bookings,” Zimbalist says. Also on display will be Rock.It, a 198-foot Feadship, the second-biggest boat at the show. “Both are fascinating and are big examples of the best in the world,” says Zimbalist.

The presence from abroad — particularly Europe — is significant, says Doole. “I would say there are very few European major brands that aren’t represented at the show. It’s an extraordinary selection of yachts this year.” All of the European builders, such as the Ferretti Group brands, Azimut and Sunseeker, are grouped on E dock in a new configuration. “Everyone has updated their display, so it’s a really fresh look on the south end with all the European boatbuilders,” says Doole.

In particular, organizers are seeing interest from Italian yards. For example, Sanlorenzo will feature five new yachts from 104 feet to 133 feet, Doole says — “the largest display they’ve ever had in the show and possibly in any show.” The Italian builder took two boats to the Monaco Yacht Show.

For Turkish builder Numarine, FLIBS is crucial for reaching buyers from all of the Americas, says sales and marketing director Antonio Caviglia. “Since last year we are investing a lot on the North America market [by] opening Numarine North America,” he says.

The fireworks staged on the roof of the Bahia Mar are an annual celebration.

The fireworks staged on the roof of the Bahia Mar are an annual celebration.

Increasing the appeal of the Fort Lauderdale show is the strong presence of attendees from Central and South America. “Since 2008, Central and South American markets were very profitable for Numarine,” says Caviglia. “We sold a number of yachts in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and South Florida, thanks to exclusive dealer CitiMarine.”

Numarine will do what some European builders have hesitated to do in the past — schedule a model’s world debut on American soil. The 60 Flybridge, which has already sold three units, will be on display for the first time, Caviglia says. The builder will also bring the 70 Flybridge, which made its European debut in May. Both will be available for tests.

“I love Fort Lauderdale — first because it’s the beginning of the season, so we have high hopes, and we always come with new boats,” says Laurent Fabre, president of Beneteau America. Beneteau Groupe is based in France, although it also builds boats in Annapolis, Md. Beneteau has been pushing hard to penetrate the American powerboat market.

The company also is celebrating a milestone this year — 30 years of sailboat manufacturing in America, Fabre says, and four years of building powerboats here. “It’s a really strong message that we’ve been building these boats in America for four years,” particularly as European companies make a push to sell more boats in this market.

Styling crossover

This year, Beneteau will bring its newest Monte Carlo, the MC6, for its American debut. “In the beginning we had to Americanize the boats for the market,” Fabre says. “What’s really neat about this boat is that now we are bringing to market the boats that are made for this market, and this is really new.”

It has taken the company four years to understand the needs of the American boater, and hear from boaters and dealers what was needed. Things such as air conditioning, additional cup holders and door sizes that have been changed to reflect American needs.

“We boat all the time with our customers, and they would say, ‘Hey, there are not enough cup holders on the flybridge’ or ‘That swim ladder is too small for a big guy like me.’ ”

Arcadia Yachts, in partnership with HMY Yachts of Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, will bring its Arcadia 85 U.S. edition this year, says Arcadia president Ugo Pellegrino. “We will also introduce a new 55-foot model in its tropical edition, perfect for South Florida, the Caribbean and all Central and South America.”

The styling crossover is a two-way street, says Fabre. “What’s going to be very interesting is to see how much European design and style will impact the American market. If you remember a few years ago, I was showing to you that suddenly the American builders were making hulls with big windows cut into them to give natural daylight,” Fabre says. “That was new and different, and took time to come to America from Europe. Now there is all wood, like in homes. Carpeting may be in the cabin, but the rest is wood. This is all coming from Europe. It will be interesting to see how much of that style continues to come to America, and how fast the American manufacturers are going to switch and adopt the European style.”

Smaller boats, too

Organizers of the show, which is owned by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, say don’t overlook the fastest-growing section of the show — the smaller boats. “The center console smaller-boat market has an incredibly strong presence at the convention center,” Doole says. Improvements in engines and accessories, such as joystick docking for smaller boats, have invigorated that segment, he says. “Everybody is updating and coming out with even more powerful outboards. It really creates some very exciting boats.”

That’s certainly true for Boston Whaler, which has added 18 brand-new models to its portfolio during the past five years, says Jeff Vaughn, vice president of sales, marketing and customer service at the Brunswick-owned company. And some of those models have been so popular, they have been difficult for dealers to get, making Fort Lauderdale even more alluring for customers. “The Fort Lauderdale show is one of the few, few places that we showcase this new product,” Vaughn says.

This year, for example, Whaler will debut a 330 Outrage and bring along a 420 Outrage that debuted last year. “Right now, it’s the style of boat that is very popular — center, dual console saltwater outboard boats are still in favor. We’ve been fortunate to have that segment growing faster than any other,” he says. The 330 is the first of four new Outrages that will be introduced in the six months after FLIBS, with a 230, 250 and 280 coming.

Because Whaler has been adding bigger boats to its lineup, it has two displays, one in the water and one at the convention center. In the water will be the Outrage, Vantage and Conquest lines; the convention center will house the Dauntless, Montauk and Sport models. “We’ve expanded our footprint in the convention center and would gladly take a little bit more space in the water if it were available,” Vaughn says.

The company will have nine dealerships at its display, with 27 salespeople working the show. There will also be the engineers, designers, production people and executives the builder always brings to the major shows. In addition, several European and South American dealers are bringing clients to see boats that have been sold out, such as the 420 Outrage, meaning the only way a potential customer can get on the boat is by coming to a big show like Fort Lauderdale or visiting the factory. “By the time it’s over and done, we’ll probably have well over 50 salespeople working in and out of the display. It wasn’t like that seven years ago. We do many millions of dollars [of business] and sell dozens of boats.”

And what goes on them

Companies such as Maryland-based Seakeeper, which reports it is growing business by about 50 percent year over year, also will be contributing to the convention center traffic. The company, which counts Fort Lauderdale as the best show in the world in terms of deals sealed, will bring a Contender as a demo boat equipped with a DC-powered gyro staibilizer for boats of 30 to 40 feet, says Andrew Semprevivo, vice president of sales and marketing. “We soft-launched in May, but this will be the first time many consumers and builders will get exposure to that.”

The gyro stabilizer can reduce roll by as much as 95 percent in a range of sea conditions. Based on the company’s Seakeeper 5, the Seakeeper 3DC shares the same footprint of 30 by 30 by 25 inches and weight of 790 pounds.

Fort Lauderdale is ideal for the company to show its products to boatbuilders and to consumers who are looking to retrofit their boats — a growing part of the business, Semprevivo says. “Fort Lauderdale gives us an opportunity to meet the consumer, take them out on a sea trial, allow one of our partners to visit the boat and grab a lead on someone who wasn’t aware of our product before, and make a sale,” he says. “A large part of the refits we do come out of Fort Lauderdale. We also manage relationships with OEMs. A lot of sales they make at the show, we’ll see the rewards of that a month later as they build boats. We’ve seen historically our business increase 30 to 40 percent each year over that sell season.”

A catamaran section

Among the firsts this year will be a catamaran section at Pier 66, Zimbalist says, where there will be a couple of dozen boats of “all sizes and shapes,” primarily sailing cats. “We’ll be building out that sail and catamaran section over the next several years, and we’re very excited about it,” Zimbalist says. “And the catamaran builders are very excited about it, too. One great thing about the pier out there is that it can take the width and we can also do sea trials there.”

The SYBAss dock, a collaboration between the Superyacht Builders Association and the boat show, is being completely redesigned.

“It’s been a joint effort between us and them, and we’ve created a village-like atmosphere, where there’s a little more space to sit and gather and enjoy the atmosphere, as well as walk and see the exhibits,” says Zimbalist. “There’s a lot more room on the dock and lots of places to have conversations and enjoy yourself.”

There will still be a 30-by-30-foot tent that is surrounded by 10 boats, says Brett Keating, Show Management vice president of consumer marketing.

This year the tent in the SYBAss area will host an international media studio for interviews with CEOs, manufacturers and yacht owners, Keating says. “We thought it would be a good location because a lot of yacht owners are very private. There’s a private tender dropoff there, so if any yacht owners want to come in that way, they enter for the interview as well as leave that way.”

The idea is to share stories about how a yacht supports the marine industry in total. “These 100-plus-foot yachts take a lot of crew, a lot of maintenance and all kinds of support that goes into owning a yacht,” Keating says. “It’s what created the industry in Fort Lauderdale and made this region the yacht mecca of the United States. It’s great to hear from them about how they use their yachts, manage them and the different reasons why they have them. It’s also interesting to hear their stories about how they … create a business around their yachts. It’s those stories that keep us all intrigued and wanting to work in this industry.

“And there’s a lot of jobs available, especially when it comes to captains and technical people,” Keating adds. “I go to these meetings at the Marine [Industries] Association of South Florida, and they’re constantly talking about how there’s this need for labor that can work on engines, these massive systems, and it’s very difficult to find those people. There are not enough of these highly qualified and skilled people. The more people who know about the potential jobs and where they’re needed, the more it might intrigue some people to get training to do that because many are also paid very well.”

Timing, location

Another thing that sets the Fort Lauderdale show apart is the timing. “It marks the beginning of the fall season, when people migrate to Florida from up North,” says Boston Whaler’s Vaughn. “The other thing is people who come to the Fort Lauderdale show are serious, engaged boaters, so it adds a level of excitement. Boston Whaler is not the least expensive option, so people have to understand what they’re buying, and we run into a lot of those people in Lauderdale.”

“There’s another point here about the importance of Fort Lauderdale for building brand awareness,” Zimbalist says. “My view of why Fort Lauderdale works is, it’s timing and it’s geography and it’s infrastructure.”

It’s timed at the end of the Mediterranean season and the beginning of the Caribbean season, which is ideal because boats are coming back and getting refitted for the Caribbean, making the show ideally placed, he says. That plays back into the marine economy that the show is working hard to tout this year.

The second thing is, it’s the time when people increasingly introduce new models. “It’s an ideal time for a boat show so those models can be introduced and can be on the market ready for the boating season, wherever it is,” Zimbalist says.

“In terms of the Fort Lauderdale infrastructure, that’s another reason the show has become so important, in combination with the boats going through — the whole marine trade business has grown to accommodate them, and there is a regulatory environment there that understands this and encourages it. They have the finest workers and craftsmen in the marine industry, so it’s another magnet to have boats come here and get work done before and after the show.

“The facilities there, like the Bahia Mar, are really unmatched,” Zimbalist says. “It’s very hard to find marinas to accommodate the number of boats we do during the show. All of those things have come together to make it a terrific event.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue.

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