Attendance was down 14 percent, but some say the principal decision-makers were there
Exhibitors’ reactions to this year’s International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference ranged from complete satisfaction to pleasant surprise to displeasure at the number of attendees and the state of the show.
Organizers say preliminary attendance figures show a drop of about 14 percent from last year. Estimated verified attendance, as of press time, was 3,924. That’s down from 4,570 in 2007 and 4,509 in 2006.
“We’ve heard a lot of good reviews from our exhibitors, because although the floor was lighter [there were] more-qualified attendees,” says Kathleen Clickett, National Marine Manufacturers Association manger of trade events and co-director of the show.
Although fewer buyers showed up, “It was the higher-level decision makers that were able to come,” she says. “We did hear that everyone still did have a really great show who put the extra effort in.”
IBEX brought about 800 exhibitors to Miami Beach — some 95 percent of the show’s capacity, organizers said.
People who attended could choose from a lineup of more than 50 seminars.
“It’s slower than last year, but the quality is still there,” said Phil Fram of Marinco Electrical Group on the first day of the show.
MEG was showing off, among other products, its new Contour Zone, from its BEP Marine brand. CZone is a state-of-the-art, networked power control and monitoring system for a boat’s electrical and mechanical systems.
Fram said the system is designed to enhance the boating experience through simplification, something manufacturers are looking for. A down economy, he said, is the time to introduce innovative products, and IBEX is an important show for the company.
Others, however, said the show was a disappointment.
“It’s terrible; traffic is down,” said Steven Slicker from Kracor. “I think Miami Beach has run its course. They’re just not coming anymore.”
Slicker said he didn’t see many boatbuilders in attendance, and many who were there were local builders. He’d rather see the show rotate regions of the country to ensure a broader attendance, and also would like to see the show start on a day other than Monday.
Dale Clouser of Southco Marine said the show was slower than in past years, “but we’re getting better leads than we did in the past. I think there are more serious people here than in the past.”
Southco displayed new products available for purchase, as well as some in the development stage on which it was soliciting feedback. Its products on display included the MP Polar Magnetic Deadbolt Latch, the Troller Removable Handle Latch and the TM Swim Door Latch.
“More than ever, it’s important to produce new innovations,” said Leif Anderson, general manager, Southco Marine Europe. “After a down market, you need to be prepared.”
Southco’s products make up about 3 percent of a total boat, but “this is where quality products make the difference,” he said.
David Leif, president of Dowco Marine, said he thought show traffic was about the same as last year, calling the event “pretty valuable because I get a better sense of the players in the industry.”
Dowco was on hand to introduce its Quick Release stainless steel boat and pontoon top hardware.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive response,” Leif said, on the second day of the show.
Bruce Essig of EnerSys said he thought traffic was down about 45 percent on day one, but it had picked up by day two.
“We were very encouraged by the traffic flow today,” he said. “The interest in our product continues to escalate.”
EnerSys exhibited its Odyssey long-lasting marine batteries.
Not surprisingly, the economy was a big topic of conversation throughout the show.
Some 50 people attended a special forum called “Surviving the Storm,” in which a panel of industry veterans talked about how to weather the economic downturn that many describe as the worst they’ve ever seen in the boatbuilding business.
Bob Johnson of Island Packet Yachts, outlined seven suggestions for survival:
• Review operating expenses to see what can be cut.
• Do not scale back on advertising, but get your message out in the most cost-effective way to reach the most people.
• Ensure a strong Web presence.
• If you are a manufacturer, support your dealers to help keep them afloat.
• Expand your market base to other areas of the world, such as Europe.
• Have innovative products and brainstorming sessions with employees on ways to diversify your products and differentiate them from others.
• Decide who you want to be and focus on that goal.
“Once you make a commitment, you’ll own that section of the market,” Johnson said. “Have a clear image of who you are.”
Slim Sommerville of the Sommerwind Group had many suggestions for surviving the storm, including communicating with your bank so there are no financial surprises, and letting your employees and business partners know your goals.
Also, he said, “Make your business simple. Don’t do it if it doesn’t add value.”
He stressed the importance of good bookkeeping and knowing your inventory levels and budget at all times, as well as diversifying, if necessary, to maintain a positive cash flow.
No matter who wins the upcoming election, Sommerville predicted, there will be money earmarked for the middle class, so now is the time to focus on that segment of the population and make boating affordable for them.
Boat shows are still an important venue, he said, as well as owners’ clubs.
“Anyplace the public gathers with a credit card in their pocket, you’d better be there,” Sommerville advised.
Augusto “Kiko” Villalon, from Ancon Marine Consultants, discussed the need to change the kinds of boats the industry builds, as well as to push the idea of slowing down boats to help with fuel economy.
The industry needs to sell cruising at 16 knots and four miles per gallon, rather than four gallons per mile, he said.
He also said boats needed to have longer keels, flatter bottoms and straighter stems to help gain efficiency. Current boaters, Villalon said, will either adapt to conditions, abandon boating or continue with gas guzzlers.
The industry should concentrate on those who are looking to adapt, because it can’t control the other two groups, he said. What’s needed, he said, is “a new freshman class” of boaters.
“The movement is there,” he said. “I can already smell the seawater.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue.