‘Boutique’ MAATS generates some energy

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Lower fuel prices are benefiting the aftermarket segment, exhibitors say

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While organizers didn't expect to break any attendance records, early indications were that this year's Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show was a success. The ninth annual show took place July 15-17 at the Orange Country Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. - the first time it wasn't held in Las Vegas.

"[Exhibitors were] not coming in with doom and gloom," says Ben Wold, executive vice president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which organized the show. "This is an opportunity to do business. ... I think they're being realistic, but with some decent expectations."

MAATS, he notes, is not about getting the highest possible number of attendees but attracting people with buying power. "It's a different beast," he said early in the show. "It's a boutique show."

While boat sales remain down, the aftermarket is stronger, with some exhibitors reporting an uptick in sales of 10 to 15 percent, Wold notes. "The aftermarket segment continues to do well," he says. "Even in tough times there are some growth opportunities."

Tim McDonnell, president of Napa, Calif.-based Marinco Electrical Group, agrees the aftermarket side is holding its own, though the OEM side is struggling. "If you have a boat, you're going to want to invest money in it," he says. "You're going to want to maintain it."

Also, McDonnell notes, lower fuel prices this summer are helping drive sales in this segment. Lower fuel costs mean people are taking out their boats more, which naturally leads to wear and tear. This eventually leads to more sales, he says.

Even in tough times, MAATS is the "one constant that we have every year with the aftermarket channel for our business."

Jack Drasner, vice president of sales for Tampa, Fla.-based Paws Aboard, says trade shows such as MAATS are vital to business. "I do a ton of trade shows, and it's an economical way to see people," he says. "It's cost-effective, and you get to show [potential customers] everything you have. When things get tough, you have to find new revenue sources."

To showcase his company's line of boating-related accessories for dogs, Drasner says his booth featuring a yellow Labrador retriever named Bo was getting a "phenomenal reception."

Ron Resnick, director of U.S. sales for Calgary, Alberta-based Blackline GPS, was exhibiting at MAATS for the first time, and was happy early on with what he saw. "I'm excited - we've got people coming by," he says.

Resnick's company recently moved its GPS-based security and tracking system - Harpoon GPS - into the marine industry, after previously focusing on the auto industry and other markets. "There are people here. That's encouraging," he says, noting that an auto industry show he went to in January was so empty you could have rolled a bowling ball down the show floor without hitting anyone. "We've got an audience here," he says about MAATS.

Blackline was one of 55 new exhibitors this year, according to Stephen Evans, NMMA director of trade events and meeting services. There were 210 exhibitors this year, down from 293 last year. The show drew 319 exhibitors in 2007 and 365 in 2006. "We expected to be down, based upon the economy and the state of the industry," Evans says.

He says attendee preregistration was down about 20 percent going into the show. Final registration numbers were unavailable at press time. In 2008, MAATS had 1,833 attendees, down 7 percent from 2007's 1,950. In 2006, 2,426 attended.

MAATS had been held in Las Vegas since its inception in 2001, and organizers were hopeful the move to Orlando would bring in more dealers, including more walk-up dealer attendance. Evans said about 250 dealer attendees preregistered, compared to 75 last year.

McDonnell says that with so much of the marine industry located east of the Mississippi River, the Orlando venue might be a more reasonable expense for many exhibitors.

In addition, the show's co-location with the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades should help bring additional traffic to the MAATS show floor, Evans says. ICAST this year had 400 exhibitors.

MAATS again was preceded by the National Marine Distributors Association's Sales, Training, Education and Purchasing Conference, held July 13-14. NMDA executive director Nancy Cueroni called her event a success, with about 18 distributors attending, the same number as last year. "The mood was positive," she says. "We were thrilled."

Next year, ICAST returns to Las Vegas, though a venue for MAATS and STEP hasn't been decided.

Innovation awards

Ten marine aftermarket products were honored for innovation at MAATS. The awards are sponsored by the NMMA, and the products are judged by a panel of Boating Writers International members. The awards were given out in nine categories, and there was one Environmental Award. The competition drew 33 entries.

"The recreational boating industry has always been resilient," says NMMA president Thom Dammrich. "We've experienced peaks and valleys, and weak and strong economic conditions in the past. In challenging economic times like these, it's important that we continue to focus on innovation and new technologies to make boating more affordable, efficient and fun."

To qualify for the awards, products had to meet the following criteria: innovative distinction from other currently manufactured products, benefit to the industry or consumer, practicality and cost-effectiveness, and availability to the consumer within 60 days of the show's conclusion.

The winners were:

  • Aftermarket Electronics: Navionics Mobile 2.0
  • Electrical Systems and Equipment: Rule Charge N' Flow portable pump kit by ITT
  • Boat Care, Coatings, Chemicals and Maintenance Tools: Shurhold's dual-action polisher (honorable mention: Star brite's Spider Away)
  • Deck Equipment: Smarte Jack by Smarte Jack Inc.
  • Interior Parts and Equipment: PulseCode Lock by MasterLock Co. (honorable mention: Supersub Smart 650 by Whale Water Systems)
  • Personal Gear and Soft Goods: Nanuk by Plasticase Inc.
  • Safety Products: McMurdo FastFind 210 personal locator beacon (honorable mention: AquaFlare by AquaFlare)
  • Trailers, Trailer Parts and Accessories: Safety 800 trailer tongue weight jack by Unified Marine
  • Propulsion Parts and Propellers: P3 palm pump priming system by BluSkies International (honorable mention: Cruise 4.0 R by Torqeedo)
  • Environmental Award: Kill the Spill Boat Wash by Enviromonde Network

The judging panel was chaired by Zuzana Prochazka, technical editor for Latitudes & Attitudes magazine and contributing editor to Mad Mariner and Circumnavigator magazine.

Judges were Alan Jones, executive editor of Boating World magazine; Alan Wendt, editor of Marine CEO magazine; David Seidman, editor-at-large for Boating magazine; Robert Buller, equipment editor for Pacific Yachting magazine; Frank Lanier, surveyor and contributing editor to Southern Boating, Practical Sailor and Australian Yachting magazines; and Ben Ellison, senior electronics editor for Bonnier Marine Group and editor of Panbo Marine Electronics blog.

This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue.

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