Four months ago, tensions were rising as controversy over the two competing boat builder trade shows was beginning to polarize the industry.
Accusations were thrown around callously, often with no basis in fact. And one insider, Dave Blackburn, president of Thomas G. Faria Corp., Faria Marine Instruments, admitted there were a great many hard feelings beginning to surface.
“Tempers were starting to flare whenever a discussion developed concerning the two shows,” said Blackburn, whose company was one of the first suppliers to push for the establishment of the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s BoatBuilding show.
At issue was competition between the International BoatBuilders Exposition and Conference (IBEX), which was launched by Professional BoatBuilder (PBB) magazine in 1992, and the NMMA’s BoatBuilding trade show, created in 2001.
Those loyal to NMMA’s show said IBEX organizers didn’t respond to requests by exhibitors and attendees that the show be moved to the fall to better accommodate boat builders’ model year schedule. NMMA created BoatBuilding in response to those requests, they said, and the association believed it would ultimately persevere, putting IBEX out of business.
The segment of the industry loyal to IBEX argued that NMMA was
sabotaging an already successful show to boost its own coffers, taking advantage of the loyalty of its members to win support for its own event and bullying those who continued to support IBEX. They also pointed out some of NMMA’s trade show failures, such as IMTEC and Boating Week, questioning both the association’s skills as a trade show organizer and whether producing shows should even be part of its role.
Meanwhile, IBEX organizers began to feel the impact of the controversy during its February show when a few large boat builders failed to send representatives to the event. NMMA also was feeling the pressure, however. Accessory manufacturers assembled a petition at IBEX 2003 asking for the two show organizers to come together for one boat building show, which IBEX Show Director Carl Cramer signed.
Then suddenly, NMMA President Thom Dammrich and Cramer went silent about their trade show negotiations.
The majority of the industry didn’t want to wait for the two shows to battle it out. It already was costing them too much, as they struggled with the decision of paying for participation in both events or risking the loss of customers by choosing one show over the other.
They said they wanted NMMA and PBB to unite to produce one show. And, ultimately and somewhat unexpectedly, the two show organizers listened.
When they did, the industry “breathed a sigh of relief,” according
Ending The Silence
When Dammrich and Cramer emerged from their silence on Monday, May 5, they not only offered Boating Industry magazine an exclusive inside look at how the merger went down, but they also invited us in to discuss the agreement in-depth and witness the monumental event as they signed the merger paperwork.
Just a few hours earlier, Dammrich had received final approval from the NMMA Board of Directors to cancel BoatBuilding 2003 and join Professional BoatBuilder in producing a new IBEX this fall.
“When I talked to the board today, I said, ‘The hardest part for Carl was that he had to give up complete control, and the hardest part for NMMA was that it had to give up complete control,’” Dammrich said. “It’s now shared control.”
Imagining Dammrich and Cramer sharing even a smile a few months beforehand was difficult. The show organizers appeared to be feeling the stress of the increasing controversy, which was showing itself in debate taking place in the media.
However, Dammrich and Cramer say there was never any tension between the two of them and that negotiations did not involve yelling or bickering.
“The tension was in the marketplace,” Dammrich explained, “in the exhibitor base.”
The two leaders said they established the beginnings of the relationship on which they now base their joint management efforts when they first met in Portland, Maine, shortly after Dammrich became NMMA president.
“I was new to the industry, and Carl was an icon,” Dammrich said with a grin. “I wanted to meet him.”
Now, the two industry leaders are striking out to create a new show together in a relatively short period of time. “Now, the hard part begins,” commented Dammrich. The combined show will retain the IBEX brand, but will be held October 27-29 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, the dates and location of the former BoatBuilding. And while the show organizers say they each have their own strengths, they will be making the decisions together.
“Part of the agreement is that the NMMA committees that contributed their ideas to what programs should be at BoatBuilding, they are going to contribute ideas along with [Carl’s] editors,” explained the NMMA president. “Carl and his staff, along with NMMA staff, will attend board and committee meetings where IBEX is being discussed and participate as if they are all staff together.”
Both Dammrich and Cramer expressed optimism about their joint leadership; however, they have agreed to a process for settling disagreements.
“We have run IBEX in the past with partners, though certainly not of the caliber of NMMA,” said Cramer. “Because both parties know what we want to achieve, I don’t expect any problems in working together.”
Though Dammrich admitted that it’s always easier not to have a partner, he said both groups are committed to working together in the best interests of the industry, and for that reason, he doesn’t anticipate many disagreements. Cramer agreed, pointing out that though there would be twice as many people making decisions, there would be twice as many ideas and twice as much input.
“Keep in mind NMMA’s members contribute a great deal to shaping their trade shows,” he said. “One combined show will be greater than … the sum of its parts.”
IBEX: The new IMTEC?
In fact, Dammrich said that together the two groups will produce “the largest, most complete marketplace for the boating trades.” You might compare it to “an IMTEC without boats,” he suggested.
Like The International Marine Trades Exhibit and Conference once was, the new event is intended to serve as an industry gathering place, though it isn’t expected to draw the variety or number of attendees that IMTEC had. It currently is targeted at a wider audience than the BoatBuilding trade show, but not wider than the former IBEX. For the groups it targets, it will be the place to be, Dammrich added.
“There’s a mantra that’s been around for quite a few years — Uniting the Industry for Growth,” said Blackburn, a supporter of the new combined event. “To unite an industry, you need to have all segments of the industry in some way involved with one another. I think the new show will assist in hopefully getting more cohesion in the industry.”
Blackburn is one of many industry executives who misses the opportunity to gather the many pieces of the industry once a year.
“What I personally would like to see … is an event that brings people in the industry together on more of a social basis,” he explained. He said it could be like the former NatCon, with a fishing or golf tournament that could take place before or after the new IBEX.
Since IMTEC’s decline, NMMA has struggled to create another event that would bring the industry together. One such attempt – Boating Week – was canceled after its second year.
“If we had done Boating Week without boats, or even IMTEC without boats, if probably would have succeeded,” Dammrich said.
IMTEC, considered the place to be for the industry each year, was a major revenue source for NMMA at its peak, helping to fund industry advocacy and other association programs. The new IBEX will fulfill the objectives set in place for BoatBuilding, according to Dammrich, some of which were created to fill holes left by the cancellation of IMTEC. The event is expected to provide funding for industry advocacy and other NMMA programs; a forum for NMMA committees and boards to meet and discuss industry issues; and a venue for NMMA education and training efforts focused on boat builders. In addition, it increases the value of NMMA membership.
Both Dammrich and Cramer also said they expect the decision to work together on one event to have a positive effect on the images of their respective organizations.
While Blackburn expressed hope that the new IBEX will be a small step toward bringing the industry together, it is not intended to fill IMTEC’s shoes.
For one, while organizers will continue to target designers, repairers, marina operators and surveyors, the show’s main focus is the boat building sector rather than the industry as a whole.
Two, it lacks the product and educational seminars that would be necessary to attract the dealers who attended IMTEC. The Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA) is not involved in the new show, focusing instead on its annual event, scheduled to take place November 10–13 in Las Vegas.
MRAA may, however, participate in the upcoming National Marina and Boatyard Conference and Expo, organized by the Marina Operators Association of America (MOAA), the American Boat Builders and Repairers Association and the International Marina Institute.
The national marina and boatyard event attracted 220 participants in its first year, and Jim Frye, executive director of MOAA, predicted during the event that attendance at the next conference may double. With the participation of MRAA, organizers may even exceed that forecast.
In 2002, the event’s first year, organizers of the marina and boatyard event were praised for bringing together the memberships of the three groups for one annual event, and like the new IBEX, it has the potential for becoming an annual gathering place for the sectors it targets. However, while NMMA was courting organizers of the National Marina and Boatyard Conference and Expo to join BoatBuilding this year, Frye says the marina and boatyard event will be held separately from the combined boat building trade show this year.
Despite this, he added, “… we’re going to be as supportive and helpful to the organizers of the new IBEX, including offering some marina and boatyard training if they desire it.”
The timing and location of the 2003 National Marina and Boatyard Conference and Expo had not been released as of
Meanwhile, organizers of the new IBEX are working to attract as many boat builders and suppliers as possible. The American Boatbuilders Association and the Independent Boat Builders, Inc., both of which were planning to hold their annual meetings at BoatBuilding, are likely to hold them in conjunction with the new IBEX this year, and Dammrich said organizers are hoping that the United Marine Manufacturers Association (UMMA) and United Marine Suppliers Association (UMSA) will decide to hold their annual event in conjunction with the new IBEX.
As the new IBEX and the National Marina and Boatyard Conference and Expo grow, the industry may find the two events, while separate, fill many of the holes left by IMTEC, each bringing together different sectors of the industry to conduct business, network and share ideas, and each serving as the place to be for the markets they target.
As NMMA and PBB plan for the future of their new show, the question remains of what developed between early March, when many in the industry doubted they would come to an agreement, to early May, when they signed up to work together on a new show, and what led to the changes that ensued.
Discussions between NMMA and IBEX organizers about working together on one show actually began in 1993, according to a letter Jon Wilson, chairman of IBEX, sent to the industry and the media this winter detailing the history of negotiations between PBB and NMMA.
The letter stated that Jeff Napier, then NMMA president, indicated in 1997 that
the NMMA board supported the concept
of NMMA buying 50 percent of IBEX. However, before Napier left later that year, he returned to IBEX organizers, stating that the board had changed its mind.
Since then, NMMA and IBEX organizers have had many discussions on working together on one boat building trade show, according to the letter.
Wilson also provided a history of the terms of negotiations between the groups.
In 2002, IBEX suggested that NMMA drop the BoatBuilding show and become a sponsor of IBEX in return for 10 percent of exhibitor gross revenues and 20 percent of the revenues from seminars they co-produced — which would have added up to about $250,000 at the time, according to Wilson.
In its counter-offer in December, NMMA asked for 50-percent ownership in IBEX, offering in return to merge BoatBuilding with IBEX. Wilson said this offer was “totally unacceptable.”
The distribution of this letter was one of several key events that occurred during February and March that some argue led up to the decision to merge IBEX and BoatBuilding into one event.
The petition supporting a combined show, signed by Cramer at this year’s IBEX show; and the meeting that took place in Nashville between Dammrich and several major accessory manufacturers shortly after the 2003 IBEX show are two of the others.
While neither party is releasing the terms of their agreement and both Dammrich and Cramer said they are focusing on the future, not the past, they briefly explained the events that led to the merger, from their perspective.
Dammrich highlighted in particular the mid-March meeting with accessories manufacturers in Nashville as strengthening NMMA’s commitment to negotiations with IBEX organizers.
“Accessories manufacturers kept saying to us: ‘We understand you don’t have to work together, but we’re going to end up spending a lot of money we don’t have if you don’t work together. You are our association. We have a problem. We want you to help us with this problem,’” said Dammrich. “They got involved, and they made a difference.”
This same group was delivering a similar message to IBEX organizers. Cramer said in the past, IBEX organizers had heard from about a half dozen people about a fall timing for the show. After the IBEX this past February, “there was no question that it was not a minority, not a half a dozen companies.”
“The accessory manufacturers were loud about what they wanted to see happen,” Dammrich added. “Our inability to work together caused them pain.”
Negotiations then reached a new level during a meeting on March 24 in Chicago during which Wilson, Jim Miller, owner of Wooden Boat Publications, which owns PBB, Cramer and the NMMA executive committee came to an agreement on “the big issues.” At this point, the group gave themselves a month to work out the details, according to Dammrich.
The next meeting took place in Boston, April 7 and 8. “When we left Boston, we thought we had agreement on 99 percent, but then it remained to get it all into writing,” Dammrich explained.
In fact, when they left Boston, they said they had already begun work to secure space to accommodate a show the size of IBEX in Miami in October.
The two groups didn’t involve any independent third parties in their negotiations, Cramer and Dammrich confirmed. The lawyers for NMMA and Professional BoatBuilder drafted an initial version of the agreement, which evolved into the version signed on the evening of May 5, right before the announcement at the American Boating Congress awards ceremony.
The Right Time
The industry asked for a fall timing and it got one, but some people are asking whether the new dates are ideal.
The merged show has taken the dates and location of the 2003 BoatBuilding show, October 27–29 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, and closes the day before the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show opens, which will challenge the many manufacturers exhibiting at both events.
Mike Oathout, vice president of marketing and sales for Taylor Made Systems, says exhibiting at both shows this year will be a logistical “nightmare.” Though the company has two different booth styles, some of the product will need to be transported directly from IBEX to the Fort Lauderdale show, he explains. And if organizers don’t add a few days between the two events, it will continue to be a challenge in the future, Oathout asserts.
Some in the industry have suggested that November would be a better month for the show, as business slows down after the first of the month, while others believe a week before or after the Fort Lauderdale event would be ideal.
There isn’t much dispute over holding the show in the fall, however. Over 95 percent of participants in the two shows believe the fall is the appropriate time frame for boat builders to make their purchasing decisions in time for the next model year, said Blackburn.
While Taylor Made, and other manufacturers who typically have introduced their new product at IBEX, will have to scramble this year to get their new products ready in time for the new October dates, Oathout says the show merger is good news for his company. Not only does Taylor Made see a financial benefit from paying for only one show, he says he hopes the new event brings more of a sense of camaraderie to the industry.
Dammrich and Cramer said they recognize that the timing wouldn’t satisfy everyone.
“I don’t think it’s going to alienate any segment,” stated Dammrich. “I also am quite sure that there will be some people unhappy.”
He pointed out that the dates were developed because NMMA members recommended them.
“People need to wait and see how this works,” he said. “As always, we will listen to our members, and if it is determined at some point that it would be best to change the date or location, then of course we will do so. But it is far too early to make that determination.”
A New and Improved IBEX
The new IBEX can’t help but be a larger and better show than either of the shows it is replacing, many in the industry believe. To begin with, it will bring together the exhibitor bases from both the former IBEX, which totaled almost 700 in 2003, and BoatBuilding, which attracted 300 exhibitors in 2002 and was expected to grow this year.
Though there is overlap between the two lists, it is likely that many companies will want to expand their booths to a size beyond that of either previous show.
Dave Blackburn, president of Thomas G. Faria Corp., Faria Marine Instruments, says it is easy to spend $10,000 to $20,000 per show. With the savings of attending only one show, it isn’t difficult to imagine many companies investing part of their savings in expanding their presence at the new event.
“I think a large percentage of exhibitors who had been shifting sizes of booths at the two shows will now want to further expand their booth size at IBEX,” he explains. “We’re certainly one of them.”
There also are the intangible savings to consider, he adds. “With two shows, you have your sales staff out of the office for twice as much time,” which he says has an impact on customers’ satisfaction and support.
Now that there is only one annual boat builders’ show, the two leaders also expect the new IBEX to attract a much stronger international contingent than either show drew in the past, which will add to the show’s potential for growth.
Dammrich and Cramer say they plan to combine the best of both of their trade shows. Though they were still discussing the agenda as of press time, Dammrich said the new show will likely continue the new product breakfasts, innovation awards, NMMA board and committee meetings, and best practices sessions previously held at BoatBuilding.
“We’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” explained Cramer. While he said they probably won’t retain 100 percent of the conference offerings of the IBEX of the past, the new event will retain the majority of seminars previously featured.
Cramer said IBEX has always been conference driven, though only 20 to 22 percent of attendees took seminars. Through the merger, the conference portion of the event will only grow.
The two plan to add more management sessions than were offered at BoatBuilding, according to Dammrich, and they are discussing developing a special CEO forum for manufacturers, “kind of a mini-NatCon,” he explained. Sessions for the purchasing sector of the industry also will be available.
Dammrich and Cramer both said that the new IBEX also will have more of a focus on production boat building than the IBEX of old.
“The combined show is going to be a broad show with a little more focus on production boat builders than in the past,” explained Dammrich. However, “that’s not to say we won’t include other key niches within it,” added Cramer. “We will continue to welcome repairers and designers.”
Dammrich also said the synergy between the seminar program and Professional BoatBuilder magazine will continue.