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Keep boaters happy: That’s what IBEX teaches us to do

I was cleaning up my desk recently and I found an envelope on which I’d scribbled: “A boat that works properly is a great luxury.”

What was I thinking? Reliability and functionality should be the norm, not the exception.

It’s with that thought that I’d like to frame this report on IBEX. The International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) is the place where the industry’s standard-bearers for quality, reliability and technology gather and pitch their tents for three days. The show draws like-minded professionals who have the water gene and who like nothing better than to talk and muse and cogitate about everything to do with boats.

We come to both display and discover what’s new in products, services and ideas across a host of categories. And we attend IBEX for knowledge — for the seminars, for information on how to build things better and more efficiently. How to put together the proverbially better mousetrap — or at least how to make it lighter, stronger, longer-lasting.

Directly or indirectly, the endgame is to improve the customer experience because it’s from there that so many good things follow. Behind every happy boater is a good boat, one that’s trouble-free and runs well. That’s the virtuous circle.

Today’s consumers are more tech-oriented and gadget-savvy than ever before. They’re used to living and working in a fast, connected world, and they increasingly expect that same level of product performance and system reliability on and around their boats. That’s our challenge.

“Technology is changing so rapidly,” says IBEX show director Anne Dunbar. It’s not the “change or die” mantra that you see in some industries, but change in our world continues at a good clip — and it’s accelerating.

The new Tampa venue, including in-water displays and demonstrations, has generated a nice sense of anticipation. But Dunbar is quick to point out that the real draw is the event, not the geography. “If people are only going to Tampa, I don’t think they’re in it to win it,” she says. “They don’t understand the value of the show. They need to come to IBEX.”

Imtra Marine Products president Eric Braitmayer says his company is looking forward to both the consumer fall shows and to IBEX. “We’re thrilled about IBEX. We’re big believers,” says Braitmayer. “It’s great to have a show where you’re working trade to trade. It’s still the show where boatbuilders learn about new product.”

Braitmayer, too, spoke of the pace of change post-recession. “Before, you depended on your boatyard to know everything,” he says. “Well, they can’t anymore. Things are changing too quickly.”

The interactive materials library that Material ConneXion will display at Tampa is a good example of an innovative company that is keeping pace with change across a host of industries. Samples of about 50 of the more than 7,500 advanced, sustainable materials in the company’s library will be shown at IBEX. The goal is the cross-pollination of advanced fabrics and coatings between related and adjacent industries, which for marine would mean automotive and aerospace.

“There’s so much innovation happening all the time,” says Sarah Hoit, an in-house materials scientist for the consulting company, which is based in New York City. “We’re trying to keep a lot of balls in the air at a high level so we can share that information across industries.”

As an example, Hoit says her company looked at the technology in high-tech racing sails to demonstrate to Nike an example of selective reinforcement that could be used in its shoes.

Hoit will give two presentations a day at IBEX in which she’ll introduce 10 innovative materials, including surfaces, coatings and fabrics. “People like to touch things, even as we become more digital,” she says.

Speaking of materials, Oceanmat of Clearwater, Fla., is a new company that is showing a new product at IBEX — a non-skid mat made from closed-cell EVA foam designed for swim platforms and cockpit soles. The material is similar to what you would find in flip-flops or tennis shoes, says John Salvatore, general manager of the company, which is affiliated with SBT Inc., the large supplier of aftermarket PWC parts.

“The traction is fantastic,” says Salvatore, who notes that Oceanmat is not the first with a product in the category. “This gives a better look than a snap-in carpet with none of the maintenance.”

An industry veteran, Salvatore is looking forward to this year’s show. “We’re displaying at IBEX because that’s where the builders go to source parts to build boats,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue.


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