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IBEX forum: Be smarter, leaner in tough times

MIAMI BEACH — A panel of industry veterans last night said the keys to getting through the current economic conditions include building more fuel-efficient boats, bringing new people into boating, and streamlining business operations.

The discussion took place at a “Surviving the Storm” forum during the International BoatBuilders' Exhibition and Conference, which runs through today at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Bob Johnson, president of Largo, Fla.-based Island Packet Yachts, outlined seven suggestions for surviving in a down market:

• review operating expenses
• advertise smarter, but don't forgo it completely
• maintain a strong Web presence
• work with your dealers and help them do business
• expand your market base
• develop innovative products
• decide what you want your company to be and go after that vision

"Once you make a commitment, you'll own that section of the market," Johnson said. "Have a clear image of who you are."

In addition to gaining efficiency through changes in hull design and engine technology — for example, flatter bottoms and straighter sterns — the industry needs to sell cruising at 16 knots and 4 miles per gallon, rather than 4 gallons per mile, said Augusto “Kiko” Villalon, of Ancon Marine Consultants.

Villalon also stressed the idea of building a new "freshman" class of boaters and bringing new people into the industry.

"The movement is there. I can already smell the sea water," he said.

The final speaker, Slim Sommerville, of the Sommerwind Group, suggested we are going through a "reset" right now and that businesspeople also need to reset their way of thinking.

His suggestions include keeping your bank updated on your plans so there are no surprises, keeping business simple and "don't do it if it doesn't add value," and staying up to date on your budget and inventory.

Sommerville also stressed the need to diversify business and make sure lobbyists are letting Congress know the marine industry needs help.

"Everyone else is getting loans, why not us?" he said. "You have to tell your story."

— Beth Rosenberg
b.rosenberg@tradeonlytoday.com

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