MAATS stands at a crossroads

CHICAGO, Ill. – Given the state of the economy and the boating market, it’s no surprise that preliminary indications suggest participation in this year’s Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show was down. However, the event, held July 15-17 in Orlando, seems to have exceeded exhibitors’ and organizers’ expectations.

National Marine Manufacturers Association President Thom Dammrich said in an interview this morning that “most of the news coming out of the boating industry these days isn’t positive” so he went into the show with “fairly low expectations.” However, he found the show to be upbeat and energizing.

“Companies that are serving the existing boater are doing pretty well,” he said. “Many of the aftermarket manufacturers were reporting that their sales were up this year. Even those with both OEM and aftermarket lines, while their OEM business is down dramatically, the aftermarket is holding its own.”

Despite that good news, Dammrich also said that the 10-year-old show’s future beyond 2010 “remains to be seen.” While show organizer NMMA told attendees on Friday that MAATS would return to Las Vegas to be held once again in conjunction with the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades in 2010, NMMA also plans to hold a MAATS Pavilion at the International Boatbuilder Exhibition & Conference in Miami, Oct. 12-14.

“Over time, we’ve had some people on the MAATS planning committee that have said, ‘I’d love to do both shows,’” he explained. “Others say we have too many shows. Over the coming months and years, it’s going to have to sort itself out.”

Dammrich said that between 25 and 50 percent of MAATS exhibitors are involved in the OEM sector, and many distributors and retailers already attend IBEX. However, timing is a consideration. MAATS takes place in July because that’s when the distributors and retailers are finalizing their catalogs for the next year. However, there’s nothing to stop companies from introducing aftermarket products at IBEX, Dammrich said, and the longer lead time may, in fact, benefit those companies trying to get new products into the catalog.

“Unless it’s the hottest thing since sliced bread, it probably won’t make it into the new catalog [in July] anyway,” he said.

Dammrich also indicated that regardless of MAATS’ future, the National Marine Distributors Association’s S.T.E.P. Conference, which again co-located with MAATS this year, will likely continue to be held in July or August.

With all the change happening in the industry as a result of the downturn, it’s difficult to predict what it – and the shows that serve it – will look like in a few years, he suggested.

“We want to provide opportunities to bring buyers and sellers together, whether that’s in July at MAATS or in October at IBEX,” Dammrich said. “Different companies have different needs. The issue will be, as more and more companies decide to move to the pavilion at IBEX, will we have enough critical mass to continue to hold MAATS. That remains to be seen. At this point, we’re planning to go forward on the assumption that there will be a critical mass, at least for next year.”

The numbers

While final numbers have yet to be released, preliminary indications are that MAATS attendance was at about 1,700 attendees. If accurate, that marks the third year of decline after a peak in 2006 with 2,426 attendees, 372 exhibitors and 517 qualified buyers.

This year’s event featured 210 exhibitors, including 55 first timers, and 282 buyers. Almost 800 buyer/suppliers meetings were held, down from about 1,000 last year. Attendance at the S.T.E.P. Conference was flat at 268 participants.

Dammrich said it’s normal for 50 to 75 newcomers to exhibit at MAATS each year as they develop a product and bring it to market.

“Lots of new products don’t make it, but if they are going to make it, MAATS is a wonderful entre for those companies to meet with the entire universe of aftermarket buyers,” he commented.

One segment that NMMA hoped to see better represented this year was dealers, particularly given the show’s move to Orlando from Las Vegas. And in fact, NMMA’s efforts to market to them appeared to be a success based on pre-registration. About 250 dealers signed up to attend. But only a little over 100 showed up to walk the floor, according to preliminary numbers, which left organizers disappointed.

“When you’re fighting for survival, I guess a trade show doesn’t come as a high priority,” he said. New boat sales are being hit hard right now, Dammrich said, but those serving existing boaters, whether that’s a marina, an accessories retailer or those servicing boats, are faring much better.

“The aftermarket, compared to the rest of the boating industry, is very healthy,” he concluded. “People are boating as much as ever. In fact, some companies are telling us they’re seeing more boaters out on the water than they’ve seen in a long time. And if people are using their boat, they’re going to use accessories.”

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