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Early mood is upbeat at MAATS

ORLANDO, Fla. - The mood among exhibitors seemed generally positive Wednesday on the opening day of the Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show, held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., for the first time since the show's inception in 2001.

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There was a "more upbeat and optimistic mood on the floor than I expected," National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich said at the event's opening reception.

Tim McDonnell, president of Marinco Electrical Group, noted that the aftermarket side is holding its own in these challenging times, though the OEM side of the business is struggling.

"If you have a boat, you're going to want to invest money in it," he said. "You're going to want to maintain it."

While it was too early to judge the show, McDonnell said it seemed that the majority of his customers were at MAATS, perhaps with fewer people than in previous years.

Ron Resnick, director of U.S. sales for Calgary, Alberta-based Blackline GPS, said it was his first time exhibiting at MAATS, and he was happy early on with what he saw. His company recently moved its GPS-based security and tracking system - Harpoon GPS - into the marine industry, previously focusing primarily on the auto industry and other markets.

"I'm excited - we've got people coming by," Resnick said, noting that an auto industry show he went to in January was so empty you could roll a bowling ball down the show floor without hitting anyone. "There's people here. That's encouraging. We've got an audience here."

Resnick said Harpoon GPS - which he said is less expensive yet more technologically advanced than comparative products - will begin shipping in September.

Blackline is one of 55 new exhibitors this year, according to Stephen Evans, director of trade events and meeting services for the NMMA. There are a total of 210 exhibitors this year, down from 293 at the 2008 show.

"We expected to be down, based upon the economy and the state of the industry," Evans said, adding that attendee preregistration was down about 20 percent going into the show.

In 2008, MAATS had 1,833 attendees, which was down 7 percent from the previous year.

Organizers were hopeful that the move from Las Vegas to Orlando would bring more dealers to the show. Evans said about 250 dealer attendees had preregistered for the show, as opposed to 75 in 2008. He also anticipated more walk-up dealer attendance because of the Florida venue.

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

NMMA executive vice president Ben Wold noted that while the boating market is down dramatically, the accessories market is stronger, with some companies reporting an uptick in sales of 10 15 percent.

"The aftermarket segment continues to do well," he said. "Even in tough times, there are some growth opportunities. This is an opportunity to do business. ... I think they're being realistic but with some decent expectations."

MAATS also features new product previews each morning, as well as buyer-supplier meetings. This year's event also includes three free seminars on sales issues, a new product showcase and a green product zone.

MAATS runs through Friday.

— Beth Rosenberg

b.rosenberg@tradeonlytoday.com

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