Why METS is a must

For U.S. companies with an eye on global markets, the big Amsterdam trade show can open many doors
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Companies from all over the globe show their newest and most innovative products in Amsterdam.

Companies from all over the globe show their newest and most innovative products in Amsterdam.

Sustainability.

That is the theme of this year’s Marine Equipment Trade Show at the RAI Convention Center in Amsterdam, where an estimated 1,380-plus exhibitors will gather Nov. 17-19 to showcase new products and innovations in and around the industry.

The sustainability theme will be integrated throughout the show, says Sigrid van der Wel, marketing and communications manager. “With an estimated 6 million recreational craft in Europe alone, the yachting industry faces economic and environmental challenges,” she says. “Large numbers of these yachts were mass-produced from long-life composite construction materials and are currently at the end of their life cycle. A study by ICOMIA — the International Council of Marine Industry Associations — reveals that, historically, disposal methods have been crude and generally involve chopping up composite structures into fragments for landfill.”

To address the issues in dismantling and recycling boats in an environmentally sensitive way, RAI Amsterdam will hold the first “Future Yacht Recycling” conference the day before METS opens.

During the show the recycling theme also will be covered in the InnovationLAB in the Material Xperience exhibit with more than 100 raw materials and in several sessions in the InnovationLAB on stage. Along with that, the METS show is working to get the European sustainability certification for the exhibition industry, hopefully in 2016, van der Wel says. Other initiatives, such as banning printed tickets and separating waste, will be implemented.

The Superyacht Pavilion was sold out weeks ahead of the event and will be 10 percent larger than last year’s show, with 220 exhibitors, she says. “We also expect to welcome 51 exhibitors at the Marina and Yard Pavilion, a 5 percent increase over last year,” van der Wel says. “This amount of exhibitors is the maximum possible on the current location.”

The sheer size of the RAI Convention Center makes for a mammoth show that at times can seem overwhelming.

The sheer size of the RAI Convention Center makes for a mammoth show that at times can seem overwhelming.

Innovation

Some 80 nominations for the Boat Builder Awards for Business Achievement have been entered by the industry. An international jury will select the winners, and they will be presented during the show at a gala dinner Nov. 18 at the National Maritime Museum.

3D printing will be another area of focus, van der Wel says. Breakfast briefing keynote speaker Peter Sander, manager of emerging technologies and concepts at Airbus Industries, will share insights on the subject of 3D printing in a talk titled “Additive Layer Manufacturing.”

Sander will draw from his experience in the aviation industry and reflect on the marine industry. “3D printing will conquer the world, without any doubts, in a very short time frame,” van der Wel says. “This year’s METS trade show is the perfect occasion for the industry to get inspired and share ideas about this revolution.”

The show is ideal for those playing in niche markets, says Jorge Lang of Fort Lauderdale-based DeAngelo Marine Exhaust. “There are strong players in Europe … and we want to give them a bit of competition,” he says. “Another reason to go to METS is that we launched a new product — the SeaClean Soot Filtration system — which has had great success, and we want some more exposure.

“What we are looking to gain at METS is a better exposure to the European market,” Lang adds. “We have a product that is better than anything else out there. These builders need it. We want them to know we’ve got it.”

Products are grouped by country of origin rather than by similarity of function, as they are at most of the U.S. shows.

Products are grouped by country of origin rather than by similarity of function, as they are at most of the U.S. shows.

Everything but boats

The 25th edition of the DAME design awards has 110 competitors for the top prizes in innovation. “Innovation has always been a crucial theme at the METS trade show in Amsterdam, since its first edition in 1988, and is named as the No. 1 reason why people visit the event,” van der Wel says.

Edward Winder says his company, Win-Tron Electronics of Spring Lake Heights, N.J., has been exhibiting at METS on and off for 20 years. He did his first scouting expedition in 1995, and he says it was invaluable before he began to exhibit in 1996. “It’s mind-boggling, so that initial visit was a real eye-opener,” Winder says. “It was completely different from anything we’ve seen in the U.S.” For example, people dress up for the show, and there are places to sit and drink coffee.

“There is value in going to METS just because of the extraordinary range of products,” says Winder. “And the people from all walks of life, people from all over the world showing their goods. Just going to visit has tremendous value. It’s the largest boat show in the world, though it doesn’t have any boats. It has everything for boats — motors, engines, props, lights, anything for boats except the boats.”

The show is mammoth, but organizers do a “great job of keeping it relevant and fresh, especially given the magnitude of the show,” says Julie Balzano, export director for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “We never hear from U.S. exhibitors that they see the same people year after year. For a business to go back year after year, obviously they’re getting new contacts out of it. I think that’s why it’s picking up traction.”

The innovation component will be even more compelling than usual this year because of all the research and development dollars being invested. “Companies are doing better, so there are more marketing dollars to focus on international business,” Balzano says. “I tell companies, if you can only do one international show and you’re an accessory or equipment manager, it should be METS, hands down.”

Jim Self of Bell-Ray, the Farmingdale, N.J.-based lubricants manufacturer, says that if a U.S. company wants to have any significant export business, METS is crucial. “I have been attending METS every year since 2000” — for part of that time with another company — “and I have yet to attend a show that didn’t result in new business and new leads that we would not have discovered without attending the show,” Self says. “With my last company we had grown our export sales to nearly 40 percent of our revenue, and it helps having the diversification when the U.S. economy has a hiccup.”

Knowing the ropes

But the show comes at a significant time and cost investment — not in the show itself so much as in the commitment to a long-term strategy, many vets say. “Exhibiting at METS is a substantial investment with booth cost, shipping, transportation, hotels, food, etc., and a full week of your time, but if you are committed to making export a significant part of your business, you will see a good return on your investment,” Self says.

“Getting established in the European market can be a challenge for the inexperienced — you must make sure all of your products, packaging and documentation are compliant with local regulations and your product fits these markets,” Self says. “You also must know what you are facing in local competition. You will see competitors in Europe and other parts that do not have a presence in the U.S.”

More recently, currency exchange rates have become another challenge. U.S. manufacturers have enjoyed favorable rates for export against the euro for the past several years, but with the dollar strengthening it becomes more difficult to compete with local suppliers.

Reps of U.S. companies also must understand some cultural differences. “I’ve sat down with a potential customer two or three times, in the early days — taken them out to dinner, talked about family and soccer,” Self says. “With one prospect, I said I would like to get an order, and he said, ‘This is how we do it here. First we get to know you, then we do business.’ That’s very true for Europeans.”

And it can be easy to make a faux pas. One company exhibiting at METS two years ago at the USA pavilion had a name that “did not resonate well in Europe because it had too much similarity to a negative connotation to the Holocaust,” Balzano says. “It’s something that, here in the U.S., people wouldn’t pick up at all.”

In that case a commercial service specialist from Germany advised the company to change its name if it was serious about branching out into Europe. And it did.

“That was a perfect example of how picking a company name that does very well in the U.S. might not be good elsewhere,” Balzano says. “That’s a very honest and innocent mistake any company that is new to international trade could make. That comes out of networking and talking. It’s not something you would find in books.”

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USA pavilion

METS is organized by country rather than by product grouping, setting it apart from other shows. The USA pavilion is where American companies can display, if they choose, along with the NMMA branding and promotional materials.

“We have 81 companies exhibiting under the USA pavilion, about a 5 percent increase over last year, and that pretty much puts us at capacity,” Balzano says. “We got to the point this year where demand outweighed supply. We had to turn some companies away from the USA pavilion, and I believe they went on their own,” many choosing to exhibit with their European distributors.

The pavilion, which will have all-new branding this year, has a 95 percent retention rate, with only four companies that opted not to return, and those were companies that had opted to skip METS this year, Balzano says. “I like to believe that we’ve developed a solid reputation for providing a comprehensive and effective turnkey package. We try to keep it affordable. Rates in 2015 went down slightly because we were able to leverage the stronger buying power of the dollar.”

Balzano continues: “And we roll this into this fairly substantial promo campaign. We take ads in the show catalog. We hold events like the annual USA networking cocktail reception, which is quite popular. We have a hot dog cart and offer all-American hot dogs to leverage that American theme. That’s become very popular. We also run ads leading up to the show, and this year for the first time are doing a big stair advertisement. When you enter the RAI and go upstairs, we have that branding on the staircase.”

That branding message is: “Buy quality. Buy experience. Buy American. Navigate your way to the USA pavilion.”

For a show with so much to offer, advertising and branding are crucial, Balzano says. “We put much more of a hospitality flair to it to foster networking. All are value-added components that require no extra effort on the exhibitors’ part,” she says.

Self says his former company exhibited outside the USA pavilion before moving back the following year. “Working through the NMMA and exhibiting in the USA pavilion has many benefits,” he says. “They help coordinate the booth setup, keep you on time for deadlines, assist with shipping. I also believe the USA pavilion draws more traffic than any other area. I think that is because of the strong global brands that are offered in the marine market by U.S.-based companies.”

George Jenkins of JL Marine agrees. “Last year … we were in the British pavilion. We are an American brand with full manufacturing facilities at our headquarters in Miramar, Fla. It is extremely important for us to be in the U.S. pavilion and stress that the manufacturing base is still strong in our country.”

A truly global show

This is the only venue at which Winder can meet not only with European customers, but also those from New Zealand, Argentina, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere. “For me to travel to all these places would take a year and $100,000 and never happen,” Winder says. “Here it’s all in one spot. It’s a big B2B networking event for us.”

Winder has one group from Dubai that works primarily on commercial ships, and even though there’s little at the show for them, they come to meet with the Win-Tron team.

“METS is not just about Europe,” Self says. “We see customers from Australia, New Zealand, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America, as well as some of our North American customers. It’s truly a global marine trade show and without a doubt the best in our industry.”

The old-fashioned way

If a company plans to attend METS only once, it might want to rethink that strategy, Balzano counsels. “It’s all about relationship building. You can’t do it justice by going once, especially a show the size of METS. Start small. Go back, build on those relationships and build more. Companies like to know that the companies they’re doing business with are committed to their market.”

“The Internet has shrunk the universe, and so much of our daily communication and contact is done by email, text and, yes, an occasional fax,” says Winder. “Win-Tron was built on a firm handshake and being able to look our business partners in the eyes and say, ‘Thank you.’ METS gives me back this opportunity. We are excited … just to do business the old-fashioned way — look someone in the face and say we appreciate them.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.

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