All aboard the trade show train

As the busy fall trade show season approaches, it’s full steam ahead for most event producers. Despite the market downturn, many of the industry’s central shows are growing — not shrinking.

The International BoatBuilders’ Exposition & Conference, for example, will take up all four halls of the Miami Convention Center for the first time this year, totaling 33 percent more show space than in 2006. The additional square footage will go toward the expansion of current exhibitors’ booths, booths for new exhibitors — many of which will likely consist of overseas companies — as well as attendee lounges on the floor, two main show aisles and increased seating, according to IBEX organizers. The show, co-produced by the National Marine Manufacturers Association and Professional BoatBuilder magazine, is scheduled to take place Oct. 10-12.

Whether this additional space — and the event’s earlier than normal dates — will translate into increased attendance remains to be seen. Certainly, many boating businesses have been cutting their marketing, advertising and travel expenses this year due to the downturn. However, trade shows are can’t miss events for many companies, which may try to cut expenses elsewhere, choosing to shorten their stay or bring fewer people rather than miss the event altogether.

Registration figures indicate that 6,404 marine industry tradespeople from more than 60 countries attended IBEX 2006. The attendance figure does not include the 3,926 exhibitors, making total attendance 10,330.

Another NMMA trade show, the Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show, didn’t fare quite as well this year as in the past.

“People will take a little less space during downturns, but they still need to be there,” comments NMMA President Thom Dammrich. “MAATS was down a little bit this year, not in the number of companies but the amount of space they took up. MAATS is a small show to begin with, and it will fluctuate from year to year.”

The Marine Retailers Association of America Annual Convention has been growing for the past four or five years, according to MRAA President Phil Keeter, but he’s not sure what to expect this year. He says he’s heard dealer attendance has been down at other meetings this year due to cost-cutting measures. The Las Vegas event, scheduled for Nov. 26-28, will be held at the Rio Hotel for the second year in a row.

The International Marina and Boatyard Conference, to be held Jan. 19-22 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, remains on a growth track, according to organizers.

“We have not experienced a decline in attendance. In fact, IMBC is currently enjoying significant growth,” says Sarah Devlin, coordinator of the event, co-produced by the Association of Marina Industries, its International Marina Institute division and the American Boat Builders and Repairers Association.

This, like many of the niche shows that have sprung up in the wake of the demise of the International Marine Trades Exhibition and Conference eight years ago, continues to grow.

“The marine industry is part of a larger trend in which trade shows are becoming more segmented,” said Ben Wold, NMMA executive vice president, in early 2001. “The decline of IMTEC was indicative of a shift in demand from ‘one show fits all’ to niche shows serving very segmented needs, targeted customer bases and different production and sales cycles.”

Despite this growth, however, the industry continues to yearn for IMTEC, an all-industry event whose 40-year run ended in 1999, and rumors of show consolidation occasionally spring up, especially as companies look to cut their expenses.

“I think most people recognize that things have changed, we’re not going back to that era,” says Dammrich. “But they still miss a central gathering and rallying point for the whole industry, like IMTEC used to be.

“When we cancelled IMTEC, I think we made a mistake. I think that only part of IMTEC was broken. Ultimately, however, whatever brings the most people together and creates the most business is the answer. What we have today may be the answer. Or what we may have in the future — IBEX, MAATS, marinas and everything else all in one place — may be the answer. I don’t know.”
Name: International Marina & Boatyard Conference (IMBC)

Location: Moves annually (Atlanta in 2008)
Number of days: 3
Square feet of exhibit space: 15,000
Number of exhibitors: 130 (projected for 2008)
Status: Growing
Number of years held: 5 years
Time of year: Winter
Target audience: Marina and boatyard owners, operators and personnel. Marine repair and service facility owners, operators and personnel
Name: International BoatBuilders’ Exposition & Conference (IBEX)

Location: Miami Beach Convention Center, Miami Beach
Number of days: 3
Square feet of exhibit space: 162,900
Number of exhibitors: 820 (2006)
Number of attendees: 10,330 (2006)
Status: Growing
Number of years held: 16
Time of year: Fall
Target audience: Boatbuilders and OEM
Name: Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade show (MAATS)

Location: Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas
Number of days: 3
Square feet of exhibit space: 41,520
Number of exhibitors: 319 (2007)
Number of attendees: 1,950 (2007)
Status: Maintaining
Number of years held: 7
Time of year: Summer
Target audience: Marine accessory buyers
(distributors, retailers) and suppliers
Name: Marine Retailers Association of America Annual Convention

Location: Rio Hotel and Convention Center,
Las Vegas
Number of days: 3
Square feet of exhibit space: 10,000
Number of exhibitors: 50 (projected for 2007)
Number of attendees: 475
Status: Growing
Number of years held: 35
Time of year: Fall
Target audience: Marine retailers
Name: International Marine Trades Exhibit & Conference (IMTEC – cancelled in 1999)

Location: McCormick Place, Chicago
Number of days: 4
Square feet of exhibit space: Peak – 550,000 net square feet
Number of exhibitors: Peak – 1,400
Number of attendees: Peak – 30,000 plus
Number of years held: 40
Time of year: September
Target audience: Entire marine trade
— Liz Walz

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