The International BoatBuilders' Exhibition & Conference (IBEX) wrapped up its Tampa run last week. Organisers said there was about a 4% increase in attendance over last year.

NMMA president Thom Dammrich said that pre-registration numbers for attendees had been up 10%, so it was possible that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma had some impact. “There were probably a few people who didn’t make it because of the storms,” said Dammrich. “But overall, the hurricane impact was fairly minimal. We had 12 companies that backed out at the last minute.”

Until just days before the show’s opening, Hurricane Irma had been seen as a possible threat to the Tampa Convention Center since it was in the direct path of the storm. The area, however, was largely left undamaged compared to other parts of Florida.

“The exhibitors seemed happy with the show,” said Dammrich. “Everyone I spoke with said that it beat their expectations.”

A random sampling of about a dozen exhibitors by IBI found generally upbeat responses to this year’s event. Several on the lower floor complained that the show was decent, but that foot traffic was “spotty” on the first and third days. Most exhibitors seemed to think that the traffic on the second show day was strongest. Nobody complained to IBI about the quality of the show.

“It was excellent,” says Mei Reading, global marketing director of Griffin Group International, a Singapore-based watermaker manufacturer. “We came to look for distributors and came away with 100 business cards.” Reading also finalised an agreement with a distributor in Finland and met with other potential US distributors. “I expect there will be more business down the road,” she said.

Scott Smiles came to IBEX from Australia as a first-time exhibitor to find distributors for his Life Cell safety kits. Smiles said he was looking for OEMs at the show. “We’ve met a few boatbuilders and those meetings were highly productive,” said Smiles. During IBEX, Smiles also met with mass retailers like West Marine and distributors like Land ‘N’ Sea. IBEX is just part of a long-term campaign for Life Cell Marine to break into the US market with its marine safety kits. “This has been my ninth trip in 10 months, “ said Smiles. “You only need a few good things to happen to make a show like this worthwhile. And they happened.”

Other exhibitors were more than pleased with this year’s IBEX. “This year’s show was fantastic,” said Jason Pajonk-Taylor, president and COO of the Taylor Made Group. “Most builders brought their tech teams and designers with them this year. We saw a lot of people not just from Florida, but from the Midwest and Southeast too. This is as good a show as we’ve seen.”

Taylor Made’s booth was near the main floor’s entrance, filled with concept products like a windshield with built-in stereo speakers and windshield for a Smokercraft pontoon boat. The booth was busy with attendees and Taylor Made staff. “Our team has been really pleased with the quality of the attendees,” said Pajonk-Taylor. “We really didn’t know coming into the show what would happen this year.”

Ray Martinez, who handles Dometic’s distribution to Latin America and the Caribbean, said that many distributors from the hard-hit islands in the Caribbean did not attend this year’s show. “Islands like St Martin will probably need a year or better to rebuild their infrastructure,” he said. “And after Maria, we don’t know if our dealers in Puerto Rico survived. Nobody has been able to contact them. In St Thomas, we still haven’t heard from our dealer.”

Ernie Ellis is a director at Global Tec, an importer of select European products into the US market. Ellis says that IBEX was a strong show for his clients because they were able to show their products face to face with US builders. “We had a good response with many of the builders,” said Ellis.

A number of other exhibitors said that IBEX seemed stronger than last year. Dammrich said that IBEX is scheduled to return to Tampa in the next two years, with the possibility of staying in 2020. “Florida is going to be its home for the foreseeable future,” said Dammrich. “There’s a lot of boatbuilding that goes on in the Southeast.”