After the announcement that the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference will alternate between venues in Louisville, Ky., and Tampa, Fla., beginning in 2014, Soundings Trade Only caught up with show manager Anne Dunbar and Thom Dammrich, president of show co-producer National Marine Manufacturers Association, as well as some IBEX mainstays, to discuss the plan.
“Our goal is to be as accessible and easy to get to for as many of our constituents as possible,” Dunbar says.
“We moved IBEX to Louisville at a time that the industry was in severe distress,” Dammrich says. “Louisville is centrally located with much of the production boatbuilding in the United States and is a very, very affordable venue for exhibitors and attendees alike.”
When the announcement was made that the show would move from Miami to Louisville in 2010, “a lot of the international attendees especially thought it was lunatic,” Dunbar says. “But the U.S. attendees quickly got it. It’s central and it’s affordable. The big boys will always come to IBEX because they can’t afford to miss it, but when we left Florida we left a lot of smaller customers and dealers. We’re really happy with Louisville, but we didn’t want to completely leave that group out, so rotating between the two cities allows IBEX to be more accessible to more people.”
Dunbar says her biggest concern is the size of the Tampa Convention Center, which is smaller than the Kentucky Exposition Center. Those who are exhibiting at this year’s show will have first dibs on space in Tampa, she says.
Greg Scholand, business manager at Lighthouse Marine Distributors, says he loves the convenience in Louisville. “You can walk from the airport to the hotel to the Exposition Center,” he says. “But Tampa is not a hard place to get to, either. As long as it’s someplace relatively easy to get to, I don’t see an issue.”
Ken Smaga, who is with the representatives group ComMar Sales and president of the National Marine Representatives Association, thinks alternating between venues is a good move. “No. 1, it’s easy for me because I live in Tampa, so I’m excited about that,” he says. “I think the venue change will bring new exhibitors because there are a lot of manufacturers in Florida that didn’t make it to Louisville. I think we’ll bring in a different selection of builders, and maybe a few of the ones closer to Louisville will drop out. All the manufacturers I’ve talked to have been positive about it.”
Smaga says he went to the first Louisville show, in 2010, with an open mind. “We got back and said, ‘Oh, this is a pretty good venue,’ ” he says. “So I not only think the alternating venue is going to work, I think it’s going to be a positive move.”
International visitors might be happy with the decision because they had to take several planes to get in and out of Louisville, says Dave Wollard, who heads up North American sales for Germany-based Webasto. “I think going to a two-location venue is a good idea because some companies based in Florida were reluctant to send people to Louisville, and Florida might potentially draw some additional international visitors. Either way, we’re committed to attend IBEX,” he says.
Wollard also points out how much he enjoys Louisville. “The accommodations are affordable, the restaurants are fantastic and affordable, and the community is welcoming.” he says. “The city is really keenly aware we’re in town, and whenever we tell people we’re with IBEX they go out of their way to treat us really well. It’s a difficult location for some to get to, but we’re committed to it wherever it is.”
Clients of Fastlane Communications should welcome the alternating venue, as well, says managing director of digital marketing and social media Gaspare Marturano. “I think my clients will be excited because a lot of my clients happen to be in Florida,” he says. “I think it gives more people a chance to attend, and it probably helps the smaller businesses who can’t afford to travel to and set up a booth in Kentucky.”
Kelly Flory, general manager of the communications firm Martin-Flory Group, agrees. “The way I look at it is there is a benefit to being able to move a show regionally as long as you don’t mess with the date too much,” Flory says. “You can draw a slightly different demographic when you can move the show from place to place.”
“The feedback on Louisville has been very positive,” Dammrich says. “We recognize that there is also a large concentration of our industry in the Southeast, and Tampa offers many of the same benefits that Louisville does in terms of affordability and accessibility. Tampa will be easier for our international visitors to attend, with its proximity to Orlando International Airport, and more accessible for many custom boatbuilders. It is not uncommon for shows to rotate venues, and we think Louisville and Tampa have important similarities and enough differences to keep the show fresh year after year.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue.