MAATS no longer a gamble

A mere five years ago, the Marine Aftermarket Accessory Trade Show was but a gleam in its organizer’s eyes. NMMA’s brainchild was designed to compete with the new Marine Equipment Trade Show USA, introduced the same year by Netherlands-based RAI Group and Professional BoatBuilder magazine. NMMA’s Thom Dammrich cautiously predicted that in contrast to METS USA, his association’s inaugural event would be “intimate,” featuring only several hundred participants.

Timing was key. Both shows were scheduled for June — MAATS in Las Vegas and METS USA in Chicago, so that major catalog retailers, such as West Marine, BoatU.S. and Overton’s, could select products and buy for their coming-year catalogs.

Entering this new frontier of trade shows, and with a few vocal skeptics, Dammrich took a “what me worry?” attitude and forged ahead with the association’s experiment, backed by many industry leaders. The Las Vegas gamble paid off, with the ordinarily fractious marine industry rallying to the cause. Two hundred buyers and sellers descended on Caesar’s Palace to man nearly 300 booths in MAATS’ first year.

Meanwhile, the new METS USA at Chicago’s Navy Pier did not live up to either the industry’s or the organizers’ expectations, summed up by one exhibitor as “high quality, low quantity.”

Hardly intimate anymore

Now, five years later, METS USA has gone away, and MAATS is going gangbusters. Last year, more than 300 buyers and 295 exhibitors attended, participating in 1,128 buyer/supplier meetings. It’s estimated that 90 to 95 percent of the buying power in this market segment currently attends MAATS.

And the NMMA is expecting even more growth this year.

“Because we have increased exhibit space at the Las Vegas Hilton and Convention Center by roughly 130 units,” says newly appointed NMMA Manager of Trade Events Kathleen Clickett, “we are expecting attendance to be the highest yet.”

She points out that it’s particularly effective to host the show simultaneously with the International Convention of Allied Sportsfishing Trades which brings 6,000 executives to the Las Vegas Conference Center, adjacent to the MAATS’ host hotel. (MAATS and ICAST overlapped in 2003, but there was no joint promotion, and badges were not honored at each other’s venues.)

“We still are promoting the event to the same market,” Clickett continues, “but expect to see more sporting goods, fishing and outdoor lifestyle buyers visiting the show due to the ‘co-location’ with ICAST.

“MAATS is not the usual trade show. It combines exhibit hours, product introductions, awards programs, networking time and about 1,500 private buyer/seller meetings.” (Buyers include mass retailers, cataloguers, U.S. and international distributors and accessory buyers from marine dealerships.)

New this year — in addition to the larger exhibit space and ICAST’s presence — will be the MAATS Buyer Preview Night (Tuesday, July 19), when buyers will get an advance look at the wares.

“It’s different from show hours,” Clickett explains, “in that buyers can leisurely walk the floor without the distraction of all the reps, exhibitors, media and so on. We hoped to allow only buyers, but realized we had to have at least one exhibitor per booth for informational/security purposes. We will strongly encourage and enforce this limit.”

Awards help launch products

New products will be previewed at breakfast and luncheons each day. Manufacturers will present five-minute PowerPoint overviews of products, which are then automatically entered into the Innovation Award program, assuming the product adheres to the Innovation Award Rules.

Judges will evaluate nine product categories and choose winners based on innovation, specific benefits to the marine industry and/or consumer, practicality and cost-effectiveness.

The companies and individuals who are so honored will, no doubt, be spurred on to future achievement. So it is with MAATS. As it becomes more successful through the years, it proves that despite the bold endeavor, the bet has paid off.

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