MAATS hitting its stride

The Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show doesn’t fit the mold. And many first-time exhibitors and attendees misjudge it for that reason.
The three-day event offers limited show hours — only four or five per day — and the show floor doesn’t get as full as most shows, even at its busiest.
While at a traditional trade show, there are five to 10 attendees per exhibitor booth, there is only about one per booth at MAATS, according to National Marine Manufacturers Association President Thom Dammrich.
“Traffic is light,” he explains. “But it’s all the right people.”
In fact, organizers claim buyers representing 90 to 95 percent of the buying power in the marine aftermarket currently attend MAATS.
With the show in its fourth year, those who have made an effort to understand the show’s purpose and take advantage of what it does offer are now in the majority. And they tend to be the show’s biggest supporters.
For that reason, it doesn’t seem an exaggeration when Dammrich describes MAATS as having “hit its stride.”
Meetings and attendance grow
Over 300 buyers attended the 2004 event, which took place July 9-11 in Las Vegas. This represents a 20-percent increase over last year’s show. In addition, the number of buyer/supplier meetings grew from 1,070 last year to 1,128. With the National Marine Distributors Association’s S.T.E.P. Conference held directly before MAATS, the combined events featured 1,783 total meetings.
More than 70 percent of exhibitors now participate in the buyer/supplier meetings, and as that percentage rises, so too does exhibitors’ satisfaction it seems.
Blue Sea Systems, for example, participated in 50-percent more meetings this year than last, and David C. Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing, says the show was much better for the Bellingham, Wash.-based company this year. In addition to a stronger understanding of the show, he cited improvement in the economy and his company’s standing as reasons behind his success.
Attendance at this year’s MAATS was up 5 percent, not nearly as much of an increase as last year. Organizers and exhibitors alike attributed this to less-than-ideal dates for the show, which took place over the weekend, something that is expected to change in the future.
Some exhibitors also suggested that the more meetings buyers attend, the less important it is for them to spend time on the show floor. But with only one-third of the buyers in attendance participating in the official MAATS meetings, the show floor is likely to continue to be an important part of the event.
Dealers to be invited
Because such a high percentage of buyers already attend MAATS, future attendance numbers aren’t likely to grow significantly unless a new attendee base is targeted. Currently, organizers target distributors and retailers at the event, but not dealers.
Many exhibitors commenting on the low-quantity, high-quality attendee base suggested NMMA should invite dealers to MAATS as a way to boost attendance.
Steven J. Tilders, ITT Industries’ (Foothill Ranch, Calif.) director of marine marketing, and Blue Water Marine Paint President (North Brunswick, N.J.) Don Schnurr say the addition of dealers among the attendees would improve the event. They also acknowledge, though, the timing of the show wouldn’t appeal to most dealers, who would be in the middle of their peak season.
Schnurr points out that after attending MAATS for several years and participating in buyer/supplier meetings, an exhibitor might run out of new buyers to pitch to. Being able to target dealers would help the show retain its value over time, he suggests.
NMMA appears to be open to this idea, though it doesn’t expect to draw large numbers of dealers due to the show’s summer dates.
Later is better?
NMMA organizers admit that the 2004 dates for MAATS were “less than ideal,” but the 2005, 2006 and 2007 events are scheduled to take place two weeks later, during the third week in July. This change was made in response to the requests of accessory manufacturers and distributors, according to organizers.
The shows also will take place in a Wednesday to Friday time slot instead of the Friday to Sunday slot of this year’s show, something all MAATS participants agree is an improvement.
While Tilders is “thrilled with MAATS,” he says the show is too early. Though he’d like to see the event held in August, “two weeks later is a start,” he says.
Johnson, however, feels July is the right time, because it gives distributors enough time to put together their catalogs in August and September. He wasn’t pleased with the timing of this year’s event, though. The weekend wasn’t an ideal time, and having the show continue into Sunday “wasn’t to anyone’s advantage.”
In addition to the changes in timing, the next three shows will be held in the Las Vegas Convention Center, rather than at the Las Vegas Hilton. This will allow space for 150 additional booths.
The 2004 event was the first to have a waiting list for space on the show floor, which accommodated 295 exhibitors.
NMMA develops new products
NMMA has launched new products to help attendees and exhibitors get more out of the show.
Dammrich explains that buyers are looking for marine manufacturers to come into the meetings prepared with product information, pricing and promotional plans.
“We have a lot of small companies in this industry that lack the sophistication the large buyers are looking for,” he says.
As a result, MAATS organizers provided 2004 exhibitors with a video that provides guidelines on how exhibitors can have more successful meetings, and a Preparedness Kit that helps manufacturers develop an effective plan for the show. This includes preparation for meetings and presentation of product in exhibit booths, as well as information specific to international exhibitors, tips for getting to know the buying audience, opportunities for promoting new products and instructions for using the MAATS Web site.
For the first time, the buyers will evaluate all of the presentations given by manufacturers at the show, according to Dammrich. Manufacturers can use this feedback to improve their presentations in the future.
NMMA also brought in a consultant to critique each booth at the show. That feedback will be shared with exhibitors as well, to help foster improvement.
In addition, NMMA launched its Electronic Marine Aftermarket Resource Tool in preparation for the 2004 show. E-MART, which was distributed as a multiple-CD set to attending buyers, includes product literature and brochures from participating exhibitors. Buyers can then go online during the year to check out updated product lines from MAATS exhibitors, who have the opportunity to enhance their electronic “product catalogs.”
All exhibitors received a free basic listing on the E-MART CD, and in its first year, about 25 percent purchased a deeper listing offering more information.
The broader vision behind this product extends to NMMA’s involvement in consumer shows. Dammrich says there are fewer accessory manufacturers exhibiting at consumer boat shows, and the CD could potentially be distributed to attendees. In addition, NMMA may create an accessories pavilion where products could be displayed at a lower cost than if each company had its own booth.
Schnurr suggests another tool that might help MAATS exhibitors connect with buyers, dealers and boat yards during the year – an electronic exchange. He imagines an online forum where retailers could choose to invite aftermarket accessories manufacturers to provide them with information. For example, if a boat dealer wanted to add a line of waterskis to his accessory offerings, he could invite waterski manufacturers and distributors to e-mail him information.
All of these tools could potentially help accessory manufacturers and buyers work together and prepare for MAATS. Ultimately, like any other show, the more exhibitors prepare for MAATS, the more likely they’ll have a successful show.
“To reap the benefits of the show, you have to work,” says Johnson. “Those who invest [the time and energy], reap the results.” — Liz Walz

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