Organizers hope change will limit the recession's impact on attendance
Producers of the Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show are hoping a move from Las Vegas to Orlando, Fla., will help hold the line on this year's attendance even in the current down market.
"This [move] is a really big deal," says Stephen Evans, director of trade events and meeting services for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
MAATS had been held in Las Vegas since its inception in 2001. This year, all of the July 15-17 show's exhibits and receptions will be at Orlando's Orange County Convention Center. The buyer/supplier meetings will be at the Westin Imagine Hotel. Evans says the motivation for the move is twofold.
"When you're in one location for that many years you have a certain percentage of exhibitors and attendee base that would like to try something new," he says. "Also, we wanted a location that would allow us to market to dealers, and it's a lot easier to get to Orlando for that population.
"We wanted higher attendance," he continues. "It brings another market into it. It provides dealers with an opportunity to see what's new out there, and it's also an opportunity to pick up more manufacturers. It provides another dynamic to the mix. We're doing everything we can to ensure the show will be a success."
Evans says MAATS is much more than a typical trade show. It's a highly productive business-building event, he says, that offers accessory manufacturers and buyers the opportunity to connect one-on-one through a combination of trade show exhibits, private buyer/supplier meetings, new product introductions, awards programs, and networking opportunities.
"MAATS is very unique," he says. "There are two main components: the buyer/supplier meetings and the exhibit hall. One doesn't compete with the other. The meetings are in the morning, and the hall is open in the afternoon. You don't dilute one in favor of the other."
One new feature at this year's show will be a "Green Zone" for products that qualify as environmentally friendly. Each company can display up to five products in the Green Zone.
"We expect 2009 to be a pivotal year for MAATS, with exhibitors bringing extremely fresh, innovative products to help our industry and the boater adapt to the shifting boating environment, focusing on everything from the eco-friendly to the affordable," says Ben Wold, NMMA executive vice president.
Some of those new products will be recognized with NMMA's Innovation Awards. Awards will be presented during the July 15 welcome reception in the following categories: interior parts; boat care, coatings, chemicals and maintenance tools; water sports and equipment; aftermarket electronics, electrical equipment, instrumentation and navigation equipment; deck equipment; safety products; and propulsion parts and propellers.
The judging panel comprises Boating Writers International members who perform product testing throughout the year and have specific expertise in marine accessories. This year's judges are: awards chairman Zuzana Prochazka, technical editor of Latitudes & Attitudes/Seafaring magazine, and contributor to Mad Mariner; Frank Lanier, marine surveyor and contributor to Practical Sailor, Southern Boating, Chesapeake Bay, and Northeast Boating magazines; Ben Elison, senior electronics editor for Bonnier Marine Group and editor and owner of Panbo Marine Electronics Blog; Alan Wendt, editor of Marine CEO magazine; Robert Buller, equipment editor for Pacific Yachting magazine; David Seidman, former executive editor at Boating magazine and an author; and Alan Jones, executive editor of Boating World magazine
"We selected a group of individuals that will bring a unique perspective and expertise to this year's MAATS Innovation Awards," said Prochazka, who serves as the MAATS Innovation Awards chair. "Our panel represents a well balanced mix of boating journalists skilled in the evaluation of marine accessories."
The National Marine Distributors Association also is moving its July 13-14 Sales, Training, Education and Purchasing conference to Orlando, where it will announce its Supplier of the Year award recipient. STEP is a 20-year-old tradition that has been held in various locations throughout the country. The NMDA moved the conference to Las Vegas in 2001, when it decided to co-locate with MAATS, and the NMDA board decided to continue that practice with the move to Orlando.
"We went with MAATS because about 80 percent of our members did both STEP and MAATS," says Nancy Cueroni, NMDA executive director. "It was logical for us to co-locate. I think it has worked well for the industry. It was a decision we made for the good of the industry."
Another co-location partner is the American Sportfishing Association, which is moving its July 15-17 International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades to Orlando. Attendees need only buy one badge to get into both MAATS and ICAST.
"It helps attendees maximize their trip," says Mary Jane Williamson, communications director for ASA. "They can get into two shows for the price of one badge."
NMMA's Evans says co-locating with ICAST worked out well last year. "There is so much synergy between the shows," he says. "A large portion of our buyer base also attends ICAST. There is a lot of crossover product."
As for the mood going into these events, Evans says people are trying to remain positive, despite the economy. "People are going into this with the attitude that the glass is half full," he says. "New-boat sales are down, so boaters are electing to maintain what they have. The aftermarket is down but not to the extent that new-boat sales are down."
Cueroni describes the mood among aftermarket distributors as "cautious." A recent NMDA member survey, with 17 of 24 distributors reporting, found that business in this segment of the industry was down 17 percent in March, compared to March 2008. And for the fiscal year to date, Oct. 1 through March 31, sales are down 17.6 percent, compared to the same period a year ago. That's still better than the 35 to 50 percent declines being reported among boatbuilders for the same period, she notes.
"I think in a lot of cases the aftermarket saw what was happening in the OEM market and were a little more conscious of what was going to happen to them," she says. "They were able to make inventory adjustments earlier."
This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue.