Beleaguered economy led to fewer attendees, but those who were there positioned themselves for 2012
With an increased number of exhibitors and a record amount of seminars, the 2011 International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference settled into its Kentucky home and brought out some of the newest and most innovative products the marine industry has to offer.
Many exhibitors say they were pleased with the quality of the attendees as well as the business they conducted at the show, although it seemed slower than last year’s event.
“We’ve had people in the booth all the time — not packed, but we’re talking to people all day long, the whole show, and it’s been good, quality conversations and quality customers,” said Greg Duncan, marketing and product development supervisor for Sea-Dog Line, on the final day of the Oct. 17-19 event in Louisville. “It hasn’t been as good as it was last year, which is kind of surprising because I felt that last year, being as good of a show as it was, the word of mouth would get more people in there this year, and it hasn’t happened.”
Organizers say 4,672 people attended IBEX 2011, a decrease of 9 percent from the 5,161 who were at last year’s show, the first in Louisville after years in South Florida. The National Marine Manufacturers Association, which owns and co-produces IBEX with Professional BoatBuilder magazine, attributed the drop largely to the show’s mid-October dates, which put it in close proximity to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
Organizers have made a 10-year commitment to hold IBEX in Louisville at the Kentucky Exposition Center, but plan to move it back to its Tuesday-Thursday format. In 2012 the show will be held Oct. 2-4; after that, it moves to mid-September.
NMMA president Thom Dammrich says the economy also played a part in the attendance drop.
“I think it’s economy-driven,” he says. “I sent out a personal note to every manufacturer who didn’t register, and I got notes back from many of them, some saying, ‘I thought we were registered. If not, we’ll get it taken care of.’ Others wrote back and said, ‘You know what, we were there last year; we’ll be there next year. We just can’t afford it this year.’ I don’t think it’s a concern. I think when the economy picks up and sales pick up, attendance will pick up.”
Gus Blakely, manager of Suzuki’s Boat Builder Business Group, says IBEX was a success. “I think we had a good show,” he says. “We’ve seen quite a few of our customers; we’ve seen a few new customers. I think we’re right-sized for the show. We’re not spending tons of money to come here.
“I like Louisville. I’m not sure I’d like to come here permanently, but I think the change has been good,” he adds. “I do think we don’t get as many of the Florida, Georgia and Carolina builders that we have in the past, and that’s a big block of builders and a big block of business. But it’s a good show, and we’re coming back next year for sure.”
Carl Cramer, co-director of the show and publisher of Professional BoatBuilder magazine, says he understands that not everyone is going to be happy with the decision to stay in Louisville, although for most attendees and exhibitors it works well.
“Nothing gets unanimous approval,” he says, “but people still love Louisville, including me. It’s been, once again, a great IBEX. I can’t wait to be back here a year from now.”
Chris Berry, joint marketing director for Wilks, a U.K.-based company that provides PVC, rubber, aluminum and stainless-steel fendering to the marine industry, says IBEX 2011 was the company’s first foray into the North American marketplace.
“It’s been excellent,” Berry says. “This show has been our first presence in North America and the response has been amazing — mainly with the synthetic teak, also the accessories manufactured from the same material. The quality [of attendees] has been superb and we picked up, we hope, quite a few distributors around the country and up in Canada. It’s just what we wanted.”
Wilks was one of more than 60 first-time exhibitors. The show had 557 exhibitors from more than 11 countries and the exhibit hall was 103,900 square feet, up from 95,700 in 2010. Pavilions and specialty routes included the aftermarket pavilion — sponsored by Soundings Trade Only — an international pavilion area, a composites pavilion, a standards and compliance pavilion, a green marine route, a yacht building trade route and an evaporative emissions solutions route.
IBEX also featured more than 90 seminars in 14 tracks. Subject areas included design and engineering, on-board systems and marina operations and dealer development. Soundings Trade Only sponsored the dealer track. About 150 speakers participated in the seminars and 12 free workshops were offered.
Many exhibitors who spoke with Soundings Trade Only say business this year was up from 2010 and they expect the trend of slow but steady growth to continue into 2012. “Our business is up, both wholesale and retail,” Suzuki’s Blakely says. “It’s not up substantially, but it’s up, so we’re moving in the right direction.”
Suzuki is a bit behind in getting new product out because of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan earlier this year. Blakely says the company had planned to show new product at IBEX, but pushed it back to next year’s Miami International Boat Show. “We’re going to do some things that no one else has done before,” he says.
John Altom, OEM sales manager for marine seating manufacturer Wise, says business has been steady this year. He says it’s hard to say what 2012 will bring, noting that an election year means there’s already some uncertainty. “Consumer confidence is going to tell the story,” Altom says.
Sea-Dog Line is having a productive 2011, Duncan says, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue.
“I think it has a lot to do with the service that we offer,” he says. “We have added a number of new products and I think that will continue to add to [the growth in business] as well. We have product availability, which I think has been significant over the last couple of years. We have a real strength in the aftermarket through distribution and distributors, especially the two-step guys, who seem to be doing very well.
“We’re seeing a rise in strength of the mom-and-pop dealers and that’s a very strong base for us, so that’s contributed a lot to the increases we’ve seen. We don’t really have any reason to not see it continue,” Duncan says.
Dammrich, during his speech at the opening breakfast, noted a small uptick in sales in August. One data point does not make a trend, but he’s confident that we’ll see continued improvement in retail sales in the coming months.
“Part of that is just because [sales] got so low, so we’re talking about small increases on very low numbers,” he says. “But I think we’re going to continue to see steady growth for the next few years. I think we’re going to see slow growth in 2012. I think we’ll be up in 2012, but it will be in the low single digits. There will probably be some individual companies here and there that continue to fall out because they just can’t make it at this level of industry sales. But, for the most part, I think that the people who are in business today are the survivors who are going to be here for the duration.”
13 manufacturers receive Innovation Awards
An awards ceremony is part of the IBEX program, and that includes recognition of the Innovation Award winners and other honorees. Thirteen marine manufacturers were honored for innovative achievement by the NMMA and Boating Writers International:
• Electrical Systems: Charles Industries (www.charlesindustries.com), Intelligent Marine Charger.
• Furnishing & Interior Parts: Thetford Corp. (www.thetford.com), Curve Porta Potti.
• Inboard Engines: Indmar Marine Engines (www.indmar.com), 5.7L Assault 345.
• Inboard Mechanical Systems: Attwood Corp. (www.attwoodmarine.com), universal sprayless connector.
• OEM Electronics: Raymarine (www.raymarine.com), e7D multifunction display.
• Outboard Engines: Honda BF 250 (www.marine.honda.com) and Mercury 150 FourStroke (www.mercury marine.com).
• Propulsion Parts, Propellers: PowerTech Propellers (www.ptprop.com), Power Stop propeller. Honorable mention: Livorsi Marine (www.livorsi.com), raw water flow system.
• Safety Equipment: Protomet Corp. (www.protomet.com), panoramic mirror system.
• Environmental: US Marine Products (www.usmarineproducts.com), EFOY fuel cell.
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue.