Thoughts about two marine industry trade events

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Is the coming Black Friday frenzy going too far? According to New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford it just may be. This year, more big name retailers seem set to take on each other in a race to get into consumers’ wallets and credit cards first. They’re backing up their Black Friday openings into Thanksgiving Day.

Toys “R” Us was among the first to start doing it last year. Now, Kohls, Best Buy, Target and Macys have announced they’ll open at midnight on Thanksgiving. Not to be out paced, Wal-Mart will open at 10 p.m. on turkey night for deals on some merchandise, Clifford reported. She also noted the early openings are drawing criticism in social media like Twitter and Facebook from people who apparently think it has gone over the top!

But the point of this blog is not these retailers squeezing Thanksgiving Day. Rather, it’s that it reminds me of how similar this is to events in the marine industry that doomed the industry’s once mighty trade show, the International Marine Trade Exhibit & Conference.

For decades, all levels of the industry gathered in Chicago in September for IMTEC where manufacturers introduced their new model boats and engines, and dealers placed their annual orders. But things changed. First, one boat manufacturer held a “dealer meeting” in August to get orders early. That triggered a race between major boat manufacturers to get to the dealers’ available credit lines first. Moreover, the dates for these dealer meetings kept creeping back, into July and, then, some even in June. IMTEC eventually died.

A short-lived “Boat Week” notwithstanding, many years passed without a major industry trade show. However, in recent years two industry trade events have grown in stature. One is the International BoatBuilders' Exhibition & Conference in Louisville, Ky., produced by NMMA and Professional BoatBuilder magazine in October. The other follows in November in Orlando, the MRAA and Boating Industry magazine's Marine Dealer Conference and Expo.

While the major focus of IBEX is on the engineering and production of boats, there are exhibits addressing dealer services and supplies. Moreover, this year IBEX featured some 91 educational seminars and clinics, including an expanded dealer development track sponsored by Soundings Trade Only.

At MDCE, the spotlight is solely on dealers, albeit there’s a large exposition that includes some boat lines looking for dealers as well as many displays by service and accessory suppliers. The heart of the MDCE is a strong list of dealer educational sessions, awards programs and industry association meetings like the National Marine Trades Council.

Clearly, both IBEX and MDCE have now become the largest trade-only events in the industry. And the fact that they have many overlapping interests, and are so close in dates, raises an interesting question: Would there be an industry advantage, particularly for dealers, in having these events run side-by-side (still independently produced) in Louisville or Orlando? Could these two events, held in the same city at the same time, become the new “IMTEC” of our industry that has already been reshaped in many ways by the great recession?

Both events are already booked for their respective locations and dates in 2012. But looking forward, does the idea of moving them together make any sense?


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