The International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference is returning to its new permanent home in Tampa, Fla., Oct. 4-6, where conferees will have the opportunity to literally test-drive technology.
All three floors of the Tampa Convention Center were sold out months in advance. There are two packed exhibit halls, thousands of new products and processes and more docks and outdoor exhibits this year, says Anne Dunbar, who directs the show. It’s owned and produced by Professional BoatBuilder magazine and the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
“I think what’s really special about Tampa that is influencing all the attendees and exhibitors is the live dock demonstrations,” Dunbar says. “This is a significant game changer for exhibitors and the thousands of marine professionals who attend. In addition to seeing everything in two sold-out exhibit halls, you get to go on docks and actually test-drive technology. The decisions that are made at IBEX influence the future of boats. So that aspect of having on-water demonstrations is significant for exhibitors and attendees.”
The show had planned to alternate between Louisville, Ky., where it was held last year, and Tampa, until a big drop in attendance last year. Exhibitors moved swiftly to commit to the preferred Tampa location. Registration and hotel reservations have been tracking ahead of 2014, the last time the show was in Tampa, says National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich. “There’s always so much new product to see, so much innovation, great education opportunities and great networking opportunities. It’s a major show.”
The outdoor dock area had 25 boats in 2014, when the show was last in Tampa. This year, more than 40 had been booked by late July.
“I think we’re doubling it, if not more,” says Dunbar. “We have more outdoor demo space also, and one of our big pushes for this year was more after-hours opportunities. We have some very structured after-hours interactions scheduled because the business doesn’t stop when the exhibit hall closes. So much business goes on after hours, and we want to facilitate that.”
An opening-night party is planned at the Sail Pavilion, and the first floor of the convention center will open at 9 a.m. — an hour before the other two.
Engine manufacturers will take advantage of the increased outdoor space.
“IBEX continues to be one of the most important shows each year for Volvo Penta,” says Marcia Kull, marine sales vice president for Volvo Penta of the Americas. “We capitalize on the technical, engineering and purchasing audience to introduce new integrated products to enhance Volvo Penta’s focus on easy boating for the consumer.
“This year we stretch the easy-boating concept to include easy installation for the OEMs with our new battery management system. The Tampa location offers proven success for Volvo Penta, as we see almost an equal draw between recreational and commercial attendees. The access to docks allows us to demonstrate our products, significantly enhancing the sales experience for both the prospective buyer and our sales team.”
Mercury Marine will staff a booth displaying its current and latest products, and the company will have “three Mercury-powered boats on the water nearby so customers can experience our easy-to-use propulsion systems,” says chief marketing officer Michelle Dauchy. “We get excited any time we have an opportunity to demonstrate … the advantages delivered by Mercury engines and products.”
Evolving but staying focused
The show has always been agile so it can base seminars and sessions on the current needs of the industry, but it has also stayed somewhat the same for 25 years, says Chip Farnham, vice president of sales at Imtra Corp., who began to attend IBEX in the mid-1990s.
“I really like the format,” says Farnham. “The combination of educational seminars and technical product display is an excellent blend for our industry. The show has stayed true to its origins and has continued to stay focused on educating the industry through its seminars.”
One reason for the show’s success is its willingness to listen to the industry, says Dunbar.
“We gather some of the top minds to discuss what’s relevant from a technological perspective and also from a timely perspective. We seek to know what people are talking about so we can get ahead of the curve and address it at IBEX,” she says. “For example, this year we swapped out a seminar very late in the game because of a new court-ordered requirement to conduct a residual risk evaluation and a potential boat-manufacturing regulation similar to the [Maximum Achievable Control Technology] standards in the 1990s. That needs to be addressed at IBEX, and it will be. And that’s just one example of our dynamic content.”
Imtra has participated as a company in almost every IBEX show. “It’s an important show for us because it gets us in front of every major OEM,” Farnham says. “When the show has been located in Florida, we also see a lot of boatyard customers. These are a key customer sector for us, as many of our products are installation-based; we rely on yards and mobile installers for many of our products. IBEX has always been a great venue to introduce the U.S. builder market to the newest equipment from our European partners. The venue is a great size and allows us to see many influential industry associates.”
And of course, product launches abound. “We are hearing from our exhibitors that they are planning lots of new-product launches,” Dunbar says. “Many of these we can’t talk about yet, but I think the industry is going to be very impressed with what they see this year and all the technology and innovation our exhibitors will be showcasing.”
Inroads to the industry
Companies with new products — or even products just new to the boating industry — often see IBEX as the first mandatory show to attend. LaVanture Products Co., a wholesale distributor based in Elkhart, Ind., had served its core RV and cargo trailer markets for a long time before it started to break into the marine sector with its crossover products.
“The products we sell aren’t RV-specific,” says owner Richard LaVanture. “For example, we won’t sell an RV toilet, but we’ll sell the sealant that goes around the floor. We purposely pick lines to go to different markets.”
A few years ago LaVanture decided to make a concerted effort to focus on the marine industry, and “we did that by going to IBEX,” he says. “We’re an OEM supplier primarily, though we do dabble in aftermarket. But our core focus is production-line. IBEX gives us a platform to be seen. We do various levels of sponsorship, which gives exposure.”
The company then became part of Independent Boat Builders Inc. and has added “a solid 50 to 75 boat manufacturers in the last couple years,” LaVanture says. “That’s a pretty good number. We’re probably servicing a couple of hundred, and easily 50 percent more at least than we were prior to making that push.”
LaVanture keeps a 30-foot booth with eight or nine people working it and adds thousands of dollars in sponsorships. “It gives you a way to see people and find out who people are without traveling across country while going through the sales process,” he says. “The show isn’t cheap, but they’re people who we never really would’ve gotten in front of, short of doing cold calls. I’m looking for major OEMs who are producing a lot of boats.”
The venue also allows people to get a real sense of the repairs and standards training that the American Boat & Yacht Council provides at the show, says ABYC president John Adey.
“We had to turn away crowds two years ago in Tampa because the on-water demonstrations were so popular, and we’re trying to make sure we can achieve that level of interest again.”
The group did live demonstrations on an 18-foot boat in the water.
“MarineMax does a great job of finding us a fantastic boat to work on,” Adey says. “It’s easy to show this stuff in a classroom, but when you get on the boat and work in that confined space it really is a different type of experience.”
Last year ABYC did Onboard I, focused on electrical troubleshooting — this year will be more DC versus AC — and Onboard II, focused on installing an auxiliary battery. “Everybody loved them,” Adey says. “The first year [in 2014], because it was new for them, we got all the slips we wanted. This year’s been a little tough. There’s a lot of demand for that in-water real estate.”
This year ABYC is planning sessions on lithium batteries, electronic diagnostic tools and techniques, compliance and liability testing on new builds and major refits, grounding and galvanic corrosion and “Standards Gone Wild.”
The prospects for meeting with current or prospective customers are limitless. “IBEX Tampa is the best opportunity in the U.S. to network with B2B for both the domestic and international boating business,” says Cheryl Joyce, CEO of Ameritool Mfg., a Central Square, N.Y., manufacturer of gas springs and dampers.
What does she most look forward to? “Placing a face with a name,” she says. “We try to work closely with all of our customers, but it is always by email or phone. It is really nice to be up close and personal with the people who you speak with on a weekly basis.”
Joyce says Ameritool has been attending IBEX for more than 10 years, and she welcomes the decision to locate permanently in Tampa. The waterfront venue, she says, “can be a great way to showcase your product.” She calls the in-water boat displays an “amazing” addition. “It allows people to see how all of the different products come together and interact in one beautiful final display.”
Some say the seminars are reason enough to attend IBEX. There are Ted Talk-style Tech Talk workshops, during which an expert will address something timely and new every hour on the hour. Super Sessions are conducted all day long and are sponsored by ABYC and the National Marine Electronics Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the American Boat Builders & Repairers Association. Then there is the traditional IBEX seminar program. All of it combines to offer 80 sessions.
This is the first year with new education director Sarah Devlin, who’s “done a great job of creating an amazing seminar series,” says Dunbar.
Professional BoatBuilder magazine will offer courses that include Marine Sanitation Systems; Corrosion Prevention; Inspection; Techniques for Boatyards and Surveyors; Avoiding Paint; Failure in Aluminum Structures; Solar Panels and Cold Beer; Solving the Energy Equation, and Surveying Metal Boats — just a sampling of the variety.
ABBRA will offer sessions on HR in the Small Yard; Subcontractors and DIYers: the Risk and Benefit; Workforce Development; and Brush Coatings: Best Practices in Paint and Varnish.
The NMEA will offer courses on Wireless Electronics; Digital Switching and System Integration; Installing Modern Audio Controls; and Automatic Identification Systems.
The NMMA will offer courses on ISO 12217: Stability; EPA Boatbuilder Residual Risk Regulations: What it Means for Your Business; Evaporative Emission Regulations; Onboard Diagnostics; and Don’t Kill Your Golden Goose, a seminar dedicated to ensuring the future of business.
Pre-conference Super Sessions will include the NMEA Marine Electronic Installer Course, Fiberglass Boat Repair; and Digital Switching Control and Monitoring.
“In terms of a dynamic program that evolves with the times and learning styles, we offer multiple methods for people to absorb information about new processes and products with our Tech Talk workshops, Super Sessions and traditional IBEX seminar program,” says Dunbar. “Whether you want to learn more about specific materials or new designs, we have training and education happening the entire three days of the conference, all day long and in various locations.”
“We don’t create the content for IBEX,” Dunbar adds. “We rely on the industry to create the content, and we act as the conduit. For the past 25 years IBEX has played a critical role in advancing the marine industry. The show is dedicated to building better boats. It is the industry’s event for change and advancement in boatbuilding. This show is where change begins, and where innovators and leaders discover the products and technologies to build the boat of the future.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue.