Record IMBC: ‘A Much More Active Vibe’

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The International Marina and Boatyard Conference ended its 17th edition Jan. 25, with registration up 20 percent compared to 2018. The number of registrations was 10 percent higher than the previous record, set in 2015.

“Besides the record numbers, I haven’t spoken to one exhibitor who didn’t feel like it was a great show,” says Kayce Florio, show organizer. “The educational content was really strong this year, with an entirely new focus.”

The Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center had a positive energy about it as marina operators, boatyard personnel and exhibitors made their ways around the sold-out exhibit hall. The event had two keynote addresses and a new educational track called “Ahead of the Curve.” It included seminars on industry trends and innovation, regional roundtables on hot-button issues and breakout sessions about operations, service and repair, design and engineering, and best industry practices.

The expo hall also had daily public sessions where exhibitors demonstrated new products or discussed new programs.

Steve Ryder of Bellingham Marine was among the exhibitors who said this year’s IMBC was stronger than last year’s show. “We saw a number of potential new clients while we also invited new customers to experience the expo hall,” he says. “There was a much more active vibe this year. We also liked the extended format of the last day.”

Bijoy Jha, vice president of business development at Brunswick’s Boating Services Network, says he was pleased with the exposure that his company’s new boat-club and fleet-rental model received at the show, albeit with a certain type of attendee. “It was great to connect with our vendors and the bigger marinas,” he says, “but having more medium-sized operators would’ve helped us generate more visibility.”

More Decision-makers Wanted

Eric Farley, director of HyPower sales for HydroHoist Boat Lifts, says foot traffic seemed off, though he did meet prospective clients. He praised the ability the show gave him to network with other suppliers, saying it is the only venue where the marina industry comes together.

“Having said that, IMBC has become all about education, with fewer decision-makers in attendance,” Farley says. “As a vendor to the trade, I need this show to bring new business to me, not just be a networking show.”

Ray Fernandez, owner of Bridge Marina on Lake Hopatcong, N.J., says he finds value in IMBC every year. “The show offers a centralized location for resources,” he says. “You never know what exhibitors might have, so I make sure to visit every booth between the seminars.”

Rocko Stojiljkovic, founder of marina management software firm Molo, also was pleased with this year’s event. “But I’d like to see the show move around,” he says, suggesting Northeast or Mid-Atlantic venues. “When it was in New Orleans in 2018, many local marinas were there for the first time. That created opportunities for those businesses and vendors. If IMBC moves around, its impact on the industry would be greater.”

This year’s new regional roundtables helped identify issues that local yards and marinas are facing. In the mid-south Pacific region, marina operators cited public access as a hot-button issue.

“In the San Francisco Bay region, homeless population issues have also become a growing concern for marinas,” says session moderator Eric Kretsch of the Association of Marina Industries.

Kretsch says workforce issues remain a major problem across the country. In the Midwest session, marina operators said they’d like to eliminate low-achieving employees but can’t find replacements. “In the North Atlantic region, they identified major problems with recruiting new employees, specifically mechanics,” he says. “Customer needs are also changing, and marinas are struggling to keep up. The growing number of larger boats are requiring more dredging of inlets and more fuel choices.”

Last year’s red tide also hurt many marine businesses along the Gulf of Mexico. Some say the red tide was worse financially than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Dredging of inlets, particularly in the wake of recent hurricanes, also is a concern. “The hurricanes damaged businesses and waterways across the Southeast,” Kretsch says. “Getting assistance is often a challenge.”

In talks about named storms, some operators said that haulouts before hurricanes had become profit centers, especially long-term haulout memberships. One suggested adding lights to hoists so operators could haul boats at night night before a storm.

Next year’s IMBC is scheduled to take place in January at the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center.

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue.

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