Organizers say ‘charged’ agenda makes the marina conference more dynamic and more relevant
The International Marina & Boatyard Conference is changing. Organizers decided the show needed “a new charge,” so they are ramping up their investment in speakers and content in their effort to breathe new life into the event, which takes place Jan. 29-31 at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.
“I think the show is diversifying,” says Gary Groenewold of Westrec Marinas, who chairs the show’s organizing body, the Association of Marina Industries. “We’re not just talking about wet slips and dry storage anymore, which I think is helping. Attendance and sponsorship are going up ever so slightly, and also the number of exhibitors is going up.”
IMBC’s keynote address will focus on how you can get things right by first getting them wrong. Motivational speaker, bestselling author, and former comedian Steve Donahue will discuss how to develop a stronger business sense by learning from mistakes and motivate participants to find the heart of their company’s story in order to communicate better with their customers and offer superior service and sales. A graphic recorder will create a visual display from the presentation to encourage further discussion and networking. Donahue will follow up his keynote presentation with an interactive roundtable in which participants will break into groups to work on their company stories and hone their company messages.
The show also has beefed up its focus on engineering, adding a full-day marina design course on Wednesday, Jan. 29. The course will be presented by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which will offer case studies to demonstrate the application of highly integrated planning and design approaches to small craft harbor development.
IMBC planners also are including a full engineering track — one of four tracks at the show — that will focus on the design, construction and maintenance of marinas, according to Jim Frye, the IMBC’s master of ceremonies and vice president of Westrec Marinas.
“IMBC has historically been the time and the place that the entire marina industry is welcome to come together and learn from experts, as well as from one another,” Frye says. “The role of the marina operator is constantly evolving, and IMBC’s content and format continue to evolve as well. We’re constantly seeking feedback from our audience and redesigning our product to meet their needs.”
Charging things up
“We felt the show needed a new charge, so that’s what we’ve done and it’s paid off,” Groenewold says. “We’re spending some money and getting some good people in there to talk about the economy, for instance. It’s not necessarily a marina subject, but it is pertinent to everyone … so we’re having someone who can speak to trends.”
Groenewold says his speaking appearances have shown him that social media is almost always a topic of interest, both in the United States and abroad. “A lot of us old-timers in the business don’t do that, or if we do we don’t know enough about it,” he says. “I think those are the things that people find useful. In Australia at one event, they had a great speaker on social media. It had nothing to do with boats, and she was excellent. I bought two of her books while I was there, and I bought them for my guys here — I have seven marinas in Florida — I told them to read it, dig into it because we’re going to start doing this.”
In response to the demand for such content, Carl Schellbach, of BoaterRated LLC, and Josh Chiles, of Engaged, will be co-hosting a social media workshop at IMBC. “We’re focused on the digital marketing aspect of any business, but in particular the marina and boatyard business,” Schellbach says. Chiles will focus on “outbound” marketing and Schellbach will concentrate on the “inbound” side. (Outbound would include tweets or buying ads, for example, and inbound is more focused on how your business is doing and what customers are saying about you online.)
“The two play off each other extremely well,” Schellbach says. “The fact is that we know people are talking about you and we know our online presence is necessary because of the huge number of people who do research online before they buy something. For Josh to have agreed to take part gives members a much bigger picture of what’s going on with digital marketing. He looks at it as a huge extension of his visibility because he’s been focused on the dealership side. The whole online marketing concept is more efficient than almost anything else you can possibly do.”
Schellbach says the presentation will be interactive, letting the audience tell the presenters what they want to learn more about.
Frye says he’s most excited about the new delivery styles at IMBC this year. “People learn differently and presentation style plays a significant role in what resonates with them,” he says. “This year, we’ve organized the content by presentation style and we’re helping participants choose not just the topics that will interest them, but the presentation style, as well.”
The conference will offer several ways of presenting information, he said.
Informational sessions will have a speaker in a one-way delivery format. Panel presentations also will feature speakers and will include a chance for questions and answers.
A “learning story” format will split the time 50/50 between a presenter with a case study and the audience, allowing for more peer-to-peer learning. The “discussion” format will take that a step further, with presenters acting more as facilitators, “leading the entire group in a discussion of a particular topic or issue,” Frye says.
Interactive sessions will be best suited to product demonstrations and hands-on experiences, he says. “Deep-dive” sessions will allow participants to explore an area of interest, learning new skills or developing new strategies through brainstorming or theorizing. Lastly, “step-by-step” workshops will provide the tools and building blocks for learning new processes, techniques and practices.
“Each session will include the presentation style in the description so participants can choose style as well as content,” Frye says. “We implemented this change in a small way last year with great success, so we’re rolling it out to the entire program this year. We’ll put our best foot forward in the opening sessions, as always, but make sure to stay to the end because we’ve saved some of the best for last.”
Last year more than 700 people, representing 12 nations, attended IMBC, says Rachel LaMarre, director of events for the Association of Marina Industries. The conference also featured 130 booths staffed by representatives from 110 companies.
To get a better sense of its audience, AMI asked conferees to qualify their roles at the marinas. In 2013, 51 percent were the final decision-makers at their marinas, 22 percent had some buying authority, 21 percent made recommendations and 6 percent played a small role.
For 2014, the conference is tracking ahead in exhibit sales, LaMarre says. “There is excitement after last year’s small-group workshops, new breakout tracks, a casino night reception and beer tasting at the opening reception,” she says. “We’re keeping these events and adding a marina design and engineering track, a marina design course, new-product demos and more.”
Organizers also tried to arrange the program in a way that enables exhibitors to see attendees more frequently. “There are more breaks and better networking times,” Groenewold says. “Exhibitors were saying they needed more time with attendees.”
“This year we’re having a ‘gambling night,’ ” he says. “We did try this once before on the exhibit floor, and it didn’t work out quite as well. This time, it’s going to be in the hotel where most folks are staying, so we think it’ll work out better. Those types of things give people an opportunity to network. During the conference, they want to be … listening to speakers. But at night, when everyone can get together and have cocktails or play blackjack, that seems to be something people want. And that’s important because these things are learning experiences, but they’re also networking experiences.”
The existing three IMBC tracks — coastal, inland and boatyard service — did not leave enough room to address engineering in the in-depth way participants were asking for, says IMBC content coordinator Sarah Devlin. “On the technical side of our audience, there are more special engineers that work within the marine industry.”
Another session will focus on wind speeds and marina pile anchorage. The increase in storms means more marina owners and managers are faced with determining the wind-load capacity of facilities, how vessel occupancy affects their anchor loads and when boats should pull out.
Fluctuation in temperatures and increasing numbers of storms, combined with the lingering challenges of a sluggish economy, make smart designing and engineering a hotter topic than ever, so it will be the focus of another session.
The pre-conference American Society of Civil Engineers marina design course is based on the recently published ASCE Manual 50, Devlin says. It will be presented by the primary authors of the manual and will use case studies to demonstrate how to apply highly integrated planning and design to small-craft harbor development, including breakwaters, inner harbor structures and land-based support facilities.
The age of value
The old adage that the only true constant is change has never been truer, Frye says. “Today’s world is full of challenge. Those who seek constant improvement for themselves and their businesses are the ones who will persevere and thrive. The marina industry hasn’t always been a paradigm buster, but we’ll need new ideas, techniques and technologies to compete for discretionary spending. The information sharing that is the hallmark of IMBC will help participants to compete today and tomorrow.
“The recent downturn in the economy has made everyone focus a little harder, and those who will be most successful are focused on delivering value,” Frye adds. “Participants are looking for an opportunity to interact and to a small degree commiserate, but across the board they are looking for ways to add value to their business and to their lifestyles. IMBC is focused on delivering tools for growth and that growth is both personal and professional. IMBC participants are investing in themselves, as well as their businesses; the two go hand in hand.”
Frye still thinks the overall marina and boatyard industry is “pretty healthy.” But, he says, “to stay that way we’ll need to continue delivering on the promise of boating. People choose to go boating for the freedom it inspires. Marina operators play host to the boating experience; we need to keep it simple, easy and affordable. And affordability is defined by the value proposition that we create and deliver. If a customer is having a good experience at their marina, chances are pretty good that they are enjoying boating overall.”
Providing evolving content to match the times is crucial to maintaining the industry’s health, Groenewold says.
“We decided we need some new blood, and we need to pay some high-profile folks to come in there. We very rarely did that in the past, and the show needed that. For the past two years we’ve been doing that, and it’s helped the show a lot. I think we’ve done a good job of shaking it up, and I think the response has been good.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue.