The huge Oct. 25-29 show is streamlining itself into themed segments to ease access
The term “theme park” might not spring to mind when reflecting on the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, but that’s a model producers are trying to emulate in their efforts to make the mammoth show more accessible: They’re creating “villages” themed around certain types of boats and lifestyles.
In addition to grouping like products together, the villages will offer entertainment and food to make the show more enjoyable, says Kristina Hebert, president of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns the event.
The huge show, with $3 billion in boats and products on display, takes place Oct. 25-29, spread over six locations in Fort Lauderdale — the Bahia Mar Yachting Center, Hall of Fame Marina, Las Olas Municipal Marina, Fort Lauderdale Hilton Marina, Greater Fort Lauderdale/ Broward County Convention Center and the Sails Marina.
“We have always tried to keep it organized, but it really is massive, so those who come and just want to see superyachts or experience family boating or sportfishing boats, for example, [can] have their own experience,” Hebert says. “That will morph over time [into] almost like a Disney World-type experience, where it is massive, but yet you can go to a village and see what you want to see.”
It’s all about fun
The approach is just one way organizers say they are trying to elevate the fun quotient.
“The No. 1 reason people participate in all of these is to have fun,” says Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, CEO of Active Interest Media, the company that owns show producer Show Management and numerous niche publications, including Soundings Trade Only.
“Everybody has their own definition of fun,” Zimbalist says. “For some, it’s looking at 23 different kinds of fishfinders. For others, it’s people-watching or seeing big boats, and for others it’s entertainment and music. There are a lot of boat buyers there, and most of the people who buy a boat go to a show to do research and maybe buy one there, but also to have fun. We’re trying to increase the fun quotient.”
Exhibitors who believe there is an advantage to being apart from competitors have a choice about whether they stick with pavilions, Zimbalist says.
“We don’t force people into villages. We don’t ask them to be there if they don’t want to,” Zimbalist says. “Most people, but not all, seem to choose the village. I think if you have a couple of holdouts in the beginning, a great majority of people will see the benefit of going that way because the customers are going to love having kind of an anchor and a logic to where things are located.”
The Superyacht Builders Association pavilion that debuted last year was a huge success, Zimbalist says. It consisted of a 16,000-square-foot pavilion built out on the water.
“We used to have it in a tent, and now we have it on the water adjacent to the boats,” Zimbalist says. “It creates a more festive, more nautical experience where you’re out on the water, looking at the boats.”
The success of the Superyacht Pavilion led promoters to offer a sportfish ing-themed village this year and another focusing on high-performance boats.
“It had a very positive impact on the show, and I think the other groups had a largely positive reaction,” Zimbalist says. “The thing that everyone considers is, ‘If I have to move locations to be part of a village, are my old-time clients going to able to find me or will they go to the old location and miss me?’ And we thought of that. The response has been a lot of publicity and communication about the villages.”
TrawlerPort, which became part of the show last year after Zimbalist’s Active Interest Media purchased PassageMaker magazine, will continue this year as a themed village, as well.
“So there are a lot of clusters in the show where there will be entertainment, food, a lot of places to sit down and talk, signage, banners, as well as lectures, seminars, subject matter available on that type of boat,” Zimbalist says.
A ‘gotta-be-there’ show
The Fort Lauderdale show’s constant evolution is part of what makes it a mainstay for the international boating industry.
Each year, Nashua, N.H.-based Navico America looks for ways to maximize marketing dollars, says chief operating officer Louis Chemi, who has attended most FLIBS events for the last 15 years.
“Considering which shows we might be able to drop is always a topic,” Chemi said in an email from Athens. “The FLIBS event has never been one that we considered dropping. We have cut back the number of employees attending in the lean years, but we all consider this to be a ‘must-go’ show.”
Bentley Collins, vice president of sales and marketing at Sabre Yachts, says he’s been attending for about 20 years.
“It’s one of those gotta-be-there shows, there’s no question about that,” Collins says. “It’s ‘gotta-be-there’ because so many people from the northern tier and Canada have just gotten everything tucked away by then, and dealers are going to go down and start looking for new product lines and consumers are going to be looking for new boats. It’s not cutting into their boating season, so a lot of people like to get down there that time of year and enjoy the fine weather in South Florida.”
Martin Meissner, marketing manager for ZF Marine LLC, says his company considers FLIBS the “really big boat show.” “There are only a couple of shows in North America that really bring the industry together in the way that it does,” Meissner says. “There are a lot of regional shows in North America that serve their retail markets very well, but Fort Lauderdale and Miami are the big industry shows for us because there are so many executive teams from big builders who make plans to be there so they can come talk to suppliers and introduce new boats.”
Meissner compares Fort Lauderdale to the auto industry’s Detroit show. “For us, as a tier one supplier to the pleasure craft market and one that is certainly very active in the yacht and sportfishing markets … we can’t not be there,” Meissner says.
Life cycle of boating
Though the industry sometimes focuses on the large vessels at the show, Hebert says it is the one show that truly gives attendees complete access to “the full life cycle” of the boating industry.
From a prospective boater who is coming to look at the latest fishing gear to the center console owner who wants to trade up, to the person looking to accessorize or modify a boat to the person looking at some of the new superyachts, there is plenty for everyone, Hebert says.
“Everything you need for wherever you are in boating, for whatever size you are in the life cycle of boating, is there,” Hebert says. “The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is the only show in the world that feeds that life cycle.”
Some accessories exhibitors make 40 percent of their annual sales at the show, Hebert says. “When 40 percent of their sales occur at this boat show, it can make or break the year.”
FLIBS is like the Cannes Boat Show of North America, says Beneteau marketing director Maryline O’Shea.
“It’s window shopping for not just U.S. and Canadian customers, but also for Central and South America,” O’Shea says. “For a brand like Beneteau, which is trying to increase the awareness of the powerboat lines that we’ve launched, when people go and shop for a Sea Ray they will see Beneteau because we’re right next to them. It’s definitely creating awareness for us, and that’s a must. You can’t not do that show.”
This year Beneteau is bringing eight powerboats to the show, ranging from 26 to 50 feet, including its Swift 50, the third generation in a line of trawlers that features IPS.
Beneteau also will use the show to launch its Barracuda 9 outboard-powered boat. “It’s truly a first for us and Fort Lauderdale will be a good kickoff for that,” O’Shea says.
The shift by builders toward fall model year introductions in 2008 and 2009 has helped benefit the Fort Lauderdale show, Zimbalist says.
“One of the things that makes it unique today is that there are new-model introductions that take place at Fort Lauderdale that used to take place earlier in the year — in the spring,” Zimbalist says. “As a result, we’ve seen new-model introductions — both in boats and electronics and accessories — really skyrocket in the last three or four years.”
Viking Yachts will premiere a new 55 Convertible this year. It will be one in a 13-boat fleet ranging from 42 to 82 feet, says communications director Pete Frederiksen.
“The Fort Lauderdale show is the beginning of the main thrust for a buying season that stretches through our private VIP event and the Miami boat show in February, followed by the Palm Beach Boat Show in March,” Frederiksen says.
“I always enjoy seeing the latest innovations in boat designs and accessories that make boating easier and more fun,” Chemi says. “I am biased to this area, as I strongly believe we need to ensure our sport is embraced by its participants and that we welcome newcomers. Great innovation drives new participants in boating, as well as ensures the current boaters are having fun.”
As the show nears, ZF Marine’s Meissner gets word back from his sales teams about new key customers such as Viking or Hatteras and what products they will launch at the show. “We’re always happy to be part of that when it’s got our new joystick maneuvering system, for example,” he says.
Life after hours
There’s another change designed to raise the fun quotient. Show Management has “liberalized the ability of exhibitors to use their stands as entertainment vehicles,” Zimbalist says.
“It used to be that when the show closed at 7, everybody would leave the premises,” Zimbalist says. “We’ve really opened it up now and encouraged exhibitors to entertain their VIPs on the docks and at the show after hours, and we pay for increased security and keep transportation running after hours to make that possible.”
The result is a more festive atmosphere, plus the perk of exhibitors not having to increase their expense by renting space to do entertaining.
“If you go out on any night, you’ll find half a dozen parties going on by the docks with exhibitors,” Zimbalist says. “They may have a couple of hundred people, music and catering, and it really helps their return on investment because rather than going out and renting a club or restaurant and do it all over again, they’ve already paid for the exhibit.”
Meissner says it’s details such as these that give the show its edge.
“What’s been interesting is that even through all of the economic downturn they never failed to put on a first-class event,” Meissner says.
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue.