IBEX organizers optimistic despite declines

BROOKLIN, MAINE — When the 2009 International Boat Builders’ Exposition and Conference (IBEX) came to a close on Oct. 14, organizers from the National Marine Manufacturers Association and Professional BoatBuilder were pleased with the outcome.

While attendance was down 31 percent from 2008 – and almost 50 percent from 2007 – and exhibitors declined from 750 to 500, those numbers were better than organizers seem to have expected.

“We were pleased to see such strong attendance across the board by exhibitors and attendees,” commented Stephen Evans, NMMA director of trade events and meeting services, in an interview.

Perhaps they’re right to be pleased. After all, industry estimates are that unemployment within the boat building sector has been as high as 75 percent this year as the manufacturing community crawled to a near stand-still at times. Despite this devastation, a significant percentage of exhibitors and attendees showed up at IBEX, ready to do business.

While some predict a similar volume of retail boat sales next year, manufacturers are optimistic that lower dealer inventory levels will mean more new boat orders, which will translate into higher sales volume for them. And indeed, feedback from the show floor suggests that boat and accessory production is picking back up, according to NMMA President Thom Dammrich.

“There was a general sense of optimism among exhibitors as they met with qualified buyers,” seconded Carl Cramer, IBEX show co-director and publisher of Professional BoatBuilder magazine, in an interview. “I think many were surprised to see these buyers and hear from other exhibitors that they were seeing buyers too. This certainly contributed to the sense that a rebound is in the distance; although, I think many exhibitors and attendees also realize there is a lot of work to be done and a number of economic stars that need to align before we’ll see real growth.”

Here are some of the comments IBEX show producers collected from exhibitors:

IBEX exhibitor Ron Bailey, vice president of sales and marketing for Turning Point Propellers, reported, “Everyone that matters in the boat building industry was at IBEX. We met with many customers, and as usual, had that one meeting with the right boat builder that made exhibiting all worthwhile. IBEX always delivers.”

“Given the state of the economy and the marine industry, IBEX 2009 exceeded our expectations. We’re looking forward to the opportunities the new venue and addition of more aftermarket exposure will bring in 2010,” said Evan Love of Love & Associates, Inc., a manufacturer representative who hosts a dozen marine manufacturers.

“IBEX 2009 was better than expected. We were able to conduct productive business meetings with more than 60 boat builders. We look forward to Louisville in 2010,” said Matthew Bridgewater, president of GEM Products.

“IBEX 2009 was a very pleasant surprise — matter of fact, it was energizing. Monday and Tuesday (of the show) we were packed. We usually had two to three customers waiting to see us,” noted Bill Watters, president of Syntec Industries. “Our show was a huge success and we are confident that IBEX 2010 will be the best show in many years. We are already preparing for Louisville since we think we will see customers at IBEX we have not seen for years. It is a ‘drive to’ show for many people that have never had this opportunity for IBEX.”

A new location for 2010

IBEX’s move to Louisville in 2010 is, in fact, another source of organizers’ optimism. Of the feedback they have collected concerning the move, 20 to 1 have been in favor of the move, according to Evans.

“As important as the lower cost is the proximity of the large volume of boats produced within a driving distance of Louisville,” commented Dammrich in an interview.

The new location, combined with the addition of the Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show (MAATS), is expected to make IBEX 2010 “much larger than in years past,” said Cramer.

Returning to next year’s event will be two new features added this year: Dealer Development Days – which organizers expect to grow after minimal attendance during its inaugural debut – and the One-on-One program, described as “a new opportunity for individuals and companies to meet with marine industry experts to examine their business and unearth new ways they can improve their business” that “proved beneficial for a number of attendees.”

IBEX 2010 will be held Sept. 28-30 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky. Show information is available at www.ibexshow.com.

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