Taste of the future at IBEX

The big Tampa trade show is again serving as the industry’s spawning ground for innovation and technology
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The big Tampa trade show is again serving as the industry’s spawning ground for innovation and technology
Photo of Tampa Convention Center

The Tampa Convention Center's waterfront location makes on the water demonstrations a breeze.

The 2017 edition of the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference, scheduled for Sept. 19-21 at the Tampa (Fla.) Convention Center, will feature 108 new exhibitors and has a waiting list of about 75 companies.

“We are maximizing the space at the TCC to accommodate more exhibitors, so this year there are more than 650,” says show director Anne Dunbar. “And more exhibitors means more new companies, more new products and more access to new technology.”

The theme for IBEX 2017 is “All Tech on Deck,” highlighting the fact that IBEX will feature more new technology and products than ever before. “We are working on a new plan to add more exhibit space for IBEX 2018 so we can accommodate more exhibiting companies,” Dunbar says.

RAI Amsterdam, the group that owns and produces the Marine Equipment Trade Show — now known as Metstrade — acquired a 50 percent stake in the IBEX show last October, buying out WoodenBoat Publications, publisher of IBEX founder Professional BoatBuilder magazine. Professional BoatBuilder remains the event’s media education partner and is still involved in crafting technical seminars, Dunbar says.

RAI and the other co-owner, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, are working to bring in more industry partners and offer expanded exhibits to “engage and involve all segments of the industry,” Dunbar says.

Still, there will be no noticeable difference at the show after the change, organizers say. “So far the new partnership is going very well, and we find our new Dutch colleagues to be very smart, capable and supportive partners with a lot of great ideas,” Dunbar says. “They invested in IBEX because it is the leading marine trade show in North America, and they have no intention of changing a good thing.”

UFlex USA at IBEX in 2016 photo

Uflex USA, a manufacturer of marine steering and control systems, drew lots of activity at its booth at last year’s hurricane-shortened IBEX.

“We’ve been partners with the RAI now for 10 months, and it’s going great,” says NMMA president Thom Dammrich. “We’re looking for ways to enhance the show in future years.”

Organizers are hoping for better weather than they had last year, when Hurricane Matthew forced the show to close a day early. Still, more than 6,000 marine industry professionals gathered at the 2016 show. “We’re hoping to have a great show this year and no hurricane,” Dammrich says. “We were poised for near-record attendance last year, and people had to stay home on the east coast of Florida to batten down the hatches. If we have good weather, we’ll have a great show.”

New marina pavilion

Registration data showed that marina and boatyard professionals are the third-largest demographic attending IBEX, at 15 percent, Dunbar says. That prompted organizers to add the Marina and Yard Pavilion to its pavilions — collections of very focused groups of products and exhibitors designed to help buyers navigate the show.

“The purpose of adding this pavilion is to better serve the needs of the marina and boatyard professionals who attend IBEX,” Dunbar says. “The MYP is a dedicated showcase of exhibitors who offer innovative solutions and technologies for today’s refit, boatyard and marina companies, giving attendees the opportunity to see a dedicated showcase of repair and refit innovation and marina and dock technologies.”

The IBEX seminar series has always offered a specific track dedicated to this segment, and this year organizers have welcomed new education partners Marina Dock Age magazine and the Association of Marina Industries, Dunbar says.

Factory rep at IBEX 2016 with attendee

It’s an opportunity to hear factory reps explain how the technology works.

“In addition to the new marina and yard exhibitors, more than 200 of our regular exhibitors sell product specific to this group, making IBEX an efficient show for marina, yard and refit professionals,” Dunbar says.

AMI will produce two “super sessions” — Marinas 101 and a Marina and Boatyard Study Tour. Marina Dock Age will also host two seminars — “A Copper Paint Ban: How this Impacts You and Some of the Alternatives” and “Marina and Boatyard Service Efficiency.”

Other pavilions include the Electronics Pavilion, which will be sponsored by the National Marine Electronics Association this year; the Composites Pavilion, which includes the Future Materials display curated by Professional BoatBuilder magazine and Composites World; and the Compliance, Standards and Education Pavilion, which will include the popular session hosted by the American Boat and Yacht Council — Coffee Compliance — that facilitates conversation with industry associations and professionals around issues of compliance.

International presence

IBEX will be more accessible for international participants this year through two new features: the International B2B VIP Program, and expanded exhibits from global vendors throughout the show floor.

“IBEX has always had international exhibitors,” Dunbar says. “All industries are becoming global, and the marine industry is no exception. International companies who want to expand their business to North America have always used IBEX as their starting point. We have seen an increase due to our new relationship with Metstrade since it is a very familiar and trusted brand worldwide.”

Julie Balzano, senior director for export development with the NMMA, will spearhead the international B2B program, which is designed to facilitate a “positive first-time IBEX experience for boatbuilders, distributors, marine retailers, dealers, marina and boatyard managers who are seeking specific products or need expert advice on challenges they are facing,” Dunbar says.

“If you are looking to source quality-made American products and peruse some of the show’s list of growing international exhibitors, IBEX affords international buyers an alternate opportunity to source in the U.S.,” Balzano says.

With a VIP Buyer’s Badge, attendees will have access to the show’s IBEX B2B VIP Lounge with complimentary Wi-Fi, refreshments and light snacks, lunch vouchers for two days (a $30 value), and an invitation to an exclusive networking cocktail cruise on Sept. 20. “We have more than 50 VIP buyers coming this year, so the program is off to a great start,” Dunbar says.

There will be about 70 international companies throughout the exhibit halls, including the Marina and Yard Pavilion, of which half are new to the event. These exhibitors will be displaying products from countries that include Australia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Norway, Italy, Sweden, Germany, Slovenia, Belgium, China, Taiwan and the Netherlands.

IBEX will continue to offer additional networking opportunities during show hours, as well as afterward, Dunbar says. “Often the after-hours interactions can be the most valuable,” she says.

“This year we already know about dozens of private events, which is a good sign for the industry overall,” Dunbar says. “IBEX will host all exhibitors and attendees at the opening night party taking place just outside the convention center at the Sail Pavilion and the new IBEX Beer Garden, which is sponsored by Bellingham Marine.”

Organizers also will host happy hours on Sept. 19 and 20 (Tuesday and Wednesday) from 4 to 6 p.m. at the IBEX Beer Garden in the Marina and Yard Pavilion.

Retailer development

Also new this year, the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas is offering a 90-minute seminar titled “Creating a Competitive Advantage through Dealer Development,” which will showcase methods manufacturers can use to strengthen their relationships with dealers.

“Prior to the recession, a lot of organizations had vice presidents of dealer development on staff to help dealers grow,” says MRAA president Matt Gruhn. “During the recession those positions went away and we have not, for the large part, seen those positions come back. Consequently, we’re getting calls from dealers, suppliers and manufacturers, asking how we can help them find that training.”

The presentation at IBEX is designed to help boatbuilders realize how they can save time and money through dealer-development strategies, Gruhn says. “That’s part of what we’re doing, but this is part of a much larger initiative we’re in the midst of to communicate the opportunities MRAA can offer dealers, manufacturers and service providers.”

MRAA is starting to reach out to manufacturers and suppliers to craft a program for them that will help provide that training for dealers, Gruhn says. In conjunction, MRAA is working to augment the dealer certification program and evolving it to provide an ongoing certification curriculum tailored to certified dealers. “Most manufacturers don’t know they can turn to MRAA for that kind of solution,” Gruhn says. “Our goal is helping dealers grow and improve, and dealer development and training is at the forefront of that.”

Photo of crowd at IBEX 2016

More than 6,000 people attended last year’s IBEX despite a hurricane threat.

Speakers and awards

Jim Craig, known as the heart and soul of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, will be the keynote speaker at the annual industry breakfast.

“The ‘Miracle on Ice’ victory for the United States over the seemingly unbeatable Soviet Union team is largely regarded as one of the most extraordinary sports victories of all time, and the team’s success is attributed to exceptional teamwork,” says Dunbar. “IBEX’s industry breakfast is a great way to kick off the show, and we encourage anyone interested to purchase tickets in advance since we expect this event to sell out.”

The IBEX Innovation Awards, managed by the NMMA and judged by Boating Writers International, will be handed out during that breakfast, recognizing innovation in 13 categories. The breakfast will also be the setting for Dammrich’s state-of-the-industry address.

Other popular speakers will return this year, including Nigel Calder, Steve D’Antonio and Richard Downs-Honey, who will present five seminars, Dunbar says. Pete Melvin and Andrew Boxom will present a session titled “The Future of Foiling in Powerboats.”

Focus on education

IBEX will feature six educational tracks this year with the addition of a track titled “IBEX Extras,” which will include a session on repurposing materials called “Don’t Leave Your Profit on the Shop Floor,” another one titled “Life Cycle and Future of the Marine Industry” and one called “Lightweight Bionic Design.”

The other educational tracks are Composite Methods and Materials; Design and Engineering; Manufacturing Management and Policy; Marine Electrical Systems; Onboard Systems; Survey and Repair; and Marina and Boatyard Operations.

The inaugural “Marine Industry Marketing Summit to Grow Boating,” which will take place Sept. 18 from 1 to 5 p.m., will be an extensive half-day seminar included in the IBEX schedule that costs $75. The agenda will include “Data Drives Success: Research to Power Your Marketing Efforts.” This session explores new consumer research, such as why first-time boat shoppers stop, why first-time owners leave and the challenge ahead.

Another topic of focus during the summit is “Best Practices for Turning Web Referrals into Boat Buyers — Your website is critical. So developing and applying best practices for inbound content and nurture marketing is crucial to growing your business.”

In this section attendees explore website analytics to market effectively, how to attract prospects with content marketing, successful inbound marketing practices and how to take a lead from referral to prospect to buyer.

The convention center’s waterfront location also lends itself to in-water demonstrations and sessions, allowing visitors to “test-drive technology, which is an amazing selling opportunity for our exhibitors,” Dunbar says. “The docks sell out very quickly each year, and that was the case this year. The boats and technology you’ll find on the IBEX docks are an incredible selection of the most innovative trends in the industry.”

The IBEX Tech Talk Theater also will return, featuring free presentations by exhibitors’ factory experts. “These 45-minute sessions are highly attended and extremely valuable,” Dunbar says.

The National Marine Electronics Association and the American Boat Builders and Repairers Association, educational partners, will feature several seminars, such as “The Integrated Boat,” which looks at increasingly complex marine electrical systems, and “Leading a Multigenerational Workforce,” which explores the complexities of having four generations among the workplace demographic.

Standards and technology

ABYC will focus on new hot topics such as lithium ion battery technology, says ABYC vice president and education director Ed Sherman. “We’re going to do a presentation at IBEX, but also we will have what we call a technical information report that we hope to have done by the end of this calendar year,” Sherman says. “We will publish that immediately because it’s really a red-hot item. A lot of people are interested and have a lot of questions, so it’s time to provide some guidance with installs.”

Another topic on the table is electrical systems. “Electronic steering in today’s boats is a hot item,” Sherman says. “It’s a controversial issue — it’s happening whether we want it or not, but there are many questions. One of our seminars is going to address electronic steering. That’s becoming more and more mainstream, so it’s time to talk to folks about that a little bit more.”

Related to that, another session will focus on retrofitting 21st century controls, which includes electronic steering, in addition to electronic shift and throttle controls. “I think that data that you have will indicate that boats are getting old, and there are plenty of old boats out there that people are keeping, selling and new people are buying,” Sherman says. “But they’re doing expensive retrofitting, and the whole issue of whether to upgrade to these new electronic systems is one of the questions that needs to be answered.”

It’s also pertinent for those who want to repower their boats because a lot of engine manufacturers are embracing the technology. “It becomes a really big question as a part of a major retrofit,” Sherman says.

The ABYC also will hold a session to help guide overseas builders looking to export into the United States, looking at Coast Guard requirements, ABYC requirements and some of the legal requirements or ramifications. “What’s driving that is, we’re seeing more overseas builders bringing boats into the United States, so we’re just trying to help with that,” Sherman says. “These are all areas that are growing and we believe will continue to grow at a pretty rapid rate. “

Education conference rooms are in the first floor of the convention center, as well as the first-floor hall that includes new IBEX exhibitors. Outside, attendees can find outdoor exhibits, the IBEX docks, the Marina and Yard Pavilion and the new IBEX Beer Garden.

The second floor is dedicated to the new VIP lounge sponsored by IBI magazine, the Tech Talk Theater and a large attendee lounge. The third-floor exhibit hall will house several exhibitors, as well as three pavilions and many live demos, Dunbar says.

“IBEX is a large event and we encourage all of our attendees to not miss any of it,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue.

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