Industry shows adapt as marketplace changes

As positive economic news shows itself in occasional flashes, several major industry shows are acknowledging that there is heavy lifting yet to be done and are making changes to help exhibitors and attendees make the most of their time and money. From educational tracks focused on dealership profits to the combining of two shows into one in the heart of boat-building country, visitors will see a focused effort to maximize returns on their show investments.

The 2010 Marine Dealer Conference & Expo expands

On the heels of two years with triple-digit growth, the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo is poised to push forward again. With a move to Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center (and its connecting accommodations at the Rosen Plaza Hotel), the show, which will be held Nov. 14-17, is aimed at improving the practical, take-away tools for attending dealers.

In addition to its sales and marketing and service seminars, the show has added 25 percent more sessions including a third track focused on “Powering Profits,” and designed to appeal to dealer principals through best practices and industry-leading strategies.

“Our educational content is all about helping dealerships move forward and providing a picture of what the business model of tomorrow will look like,” says Matt Gruhn, publisher/editorial director of Boating Industry, which produces the MDCE in cooperation with the Marine Retailers Association of America. “It’s our duty to help the dealers become what they can be. Everything in this show is built around that idea of helping to strengthen the dealer body, those companies that are on the front lines and will ultimately drive the recovery of our industry.”

Gruhn points out that the show, as in the past two years, has been designed based specifically on careful analysis of dealer feedback. Post-event surveys from the 2009 MDCE helped show producers tweak the schedule to better accommodate both dealers and exhibitors, and a pre-event survey helped the convention committee build an educational agenda that addresses the needs of the current market.

“The response we’ve been getting really has been incredible,” says Gruhn. “We got positive feedback from every session last year, from inventory management strategies that were shared, to new business plan development that dealers could take to their banks to help them get the financing they needed. When we can help dealers, in clear, visible ways, to stabilize or grow their business, that’s what it’s all about.”

After several years of finding meaningful information to help his dealership at MDCE, Randy Kelly, owner of Kelly’s Port, registered the first day registration opened and has decided to bring along three additional staff members to this year’s event. Kelly says he realized that he had been sending his technicians to training programs at Mercury or Volvo, but that sales and management team members could benefit from education as well.

“You know, years ago everyone kind of protected their chest and learned lessons through hard work and trial and error,” says Kelly. “What we’re seeing now is a sharing of ideas with the barriers taken down. What used to be top-secret, now is more open, and we’re all working toward helping each other grow the industry in addition to our business. This is a critical piece of the puzzle.”

Kelly explains that he attends shows with an open mind and few prior expectations in order to get the most out of the seminars. The group attending MDCE from Kelly’s Port will break up to attend as many sessions as possible, then review each other’s notes to cull what might work best back at their dealership.

“I wouldn’t be spending the money if I didn’t think it was worthwhile,” Kelly says. “We have taken ideas back to the dealership that have made a big difference, whether it’s improving our lead management, scaling back on boat shows, changing the way we pay our technicians, or increasing our Internet promotions. We are really looking at everything with a different set of lenses than in the past.”

Attracting a variety of dealers from across the country is another key to the recent success of MDCE, according to MRAA Chairman Ed Lofgren, who owns 3A Marine Service in Hingham, Mass. The different challenges and points-of-view that each dealer faces in various regions adds a valuable and interesting dialogue to the show.

“We are always focused on improving the value we are offering to dealers,” says Lofgren. “We want to provide good, solid information they can take back home and implement in their dealerships. The programs offered at this show are all about ideas to help them run their business better, whether it’s taking care of their customers or making an area of their business more profitable.”

With high-energy speakers structuring their sessions with practical ideas for dealer-level implementation, Lofgren says there is a cascade effect where dealers take good ideas home and share their successes with others. And increasing the number of educational tracks to three means that attendees will have the opportunity to maximize what they’re getting out of the show.

“This year will be bigger and better than ever,” says Lofgren, “and it’s going to provide an amazing take-away for both dealers and exhibitors.”

The growth in dealer attendance and educational opportunities has been eclipsed only by the industry’s supplier support of the event. While dealer attendance doubled, total attendance for the 2009 event tripled. And the growth of the exhibit hall is what predicated the event’s move to the OCCC.

In 2010, show producers expect considerable growth over the 2009 event. In fact, as Boating Industry went to print, sponsor and exhibit sales for the 2010 event had already eclipsed the totals for the 2009 event — with five months remaining before the show begins.

The most significant trend, Gruhn says, is that many of the boat builders that may have taken a wait-and-see attitude in 2009, have committed to supporting the show in 2010. Companies that may have taken simply a 10×10 space in 2009 are increasing their footprint on the show floor for 2010 and displaying product. And many of those who displayed a boat or two are also increasing their footprint.

“We’re excited about the growth in support we’ve already seen for this year’s event,” Gruhn says. “It simply demonstrates the industry’s commitment to supporting the dealer body in its quest to begin recovering from the devastating economy of the past few years.”

IBEX on the move

Moving from Miami to Louisville, Ky., The International Boatbuilders Exhibition and Conference has joined forces with the Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show to become the largest marine trade event in North America. The reason for the move, and for combining the two shows, can be summed up in two words: “cost” and “convenience.”

“We’ve had a positive response to the changes with IBEX,” says Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which produces the show?in?conjunction?with Professional BoatBuilder magazine. “By?combining?IBEX?and MAATS, we’ve created a more concentrated, cost-effective experience for attendees and exhibitors.”

One clear benefit that IBEX offers manufacturers, is that they’ll be reaching a larger crowd because the show will now attract a dealership’s parts and accessory staff to see all the new aftermarket products that can enhance their accessory sales.

Because many of the same buyers previously attended both IBEX and MAATS, there is a built-in cost/time savings in combining shows. Plus, moving MAATS from July to the IBEX dates Sept. 28-30, 2010, may result in better timing to see all the new accessories.

Moving the show to the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville was a decision based on several years of exhibitor feedback that Miami was becoming prohibitively expensive. A task force of exhibitors looked at six different cities before landing on Louisville as the new venue.

“If you draw a 750-mile radius around Louisville, you capture 80 percent of the boat-building volume in this country,” says Dammrich. “That just physically makes it easier for manufacturers to get the greatest number of boats there. And when you figure that meals cost 27 percent less, hotels cost 9 percent less, and the labor costs are significantly less, it just made a lot of sense to make the change. It’s not hard to sell cost savings in this economic environment, and it’s not difficult for people to recognize that attending IBEX in 2010 will prepare them for the 2012 model year so they can be ready with the latest products.”

After serving on planning committees for both IBEX and MAATS, and exhibiting at MAATS since its inception, Michele Goldsmith of Mastervolt says combining the shows and moving to a central, smaller city works on a number of different levels.

As Mastervolt’s director of sales, Goldsmith said she is most excited that the show is focusing on the experience for the attendee and the dealer, and that everyone will be staying in Louisville’s relatively small downtown area, which will lend itself to even more of an industry event. The broad appeal of the show will work on the dealer level, but also lend more support to OEMs that are closely tied to accessory companies.

“Our industry has become segmented to the point where we may have lost some of our sense of community,” says Goldsmith. “I think these changes will provide a lot more benefit in the end, and it will be a good thing across the board.”

For more information on IBEX/MAATS, visit For information on MDCE, check out

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