Dealer Outlook

Trade Only Dealer Outlook Blog

Is it time for a new national meeting?

Last week’s MRAA Convention fell short. I don’t mean in content, subject matter and quality speakers. I’m talking about attendance that fell short. Yes, there were several hundred dealers, trade association executives, manufacturers and others present, but there should have been thousands!

Duane Spader,  founder of Spader Business Management, spoke out about what he labeled “a mediocre turnout” during the Dealer Issues Forum near the close of the Convention. Being involved in both the marine and RV industries (previously a successful RV Dealer), Spader observed that when he goes to the RVDA annual convention the rooms are packed with RV dealers. “RV dealers recognize the importance and value of their annual convention and they don’t miss it,” Spader explained. But it was not that way at MRAA in Las Vegas.

There was a time and place that drew thousands of dealers and manufacturers together. In fact, it drew virtually all segments of the industry – including accessories, finance, insurance, anything marine related — together at one time. It was IMTEC in Chicago, now gone for many years.

Eventually, the only major conference left in the industry was the MRAA Convention, primarily designed for retailers and not for whole industry. As one dealer put it last week: “I think Duane just issued a wake up call.” 

With all the changes we’re now making to the very foundation of our industry –dealership certification, certified boats, increasing access, the Discover Boating media campaign, and much more – perhaps this is also the time for another change.

As NMMA President Thom Dammrich recently observed, unlike the RV industry, we don’t have a central gathering place for our industry. Instead, dealers go to many small meetings with boat and engine builders and distributors.

Moreover, we undoubtedly expend more time and money on all that and we don’t even benefit from the kind of industry unity that would result if we could all be together in one place, at least, annually.

So is it time right for MRAA and NMMA,  the industry’s two leading national associations, to seriously explore any concepts that could become a future central gathering place for the whole marine industry?


39 comments on “Is it time for a new national meeting?

  1. Doug Reimel

    Norm, you are absolutely right. It is time that everyone gets on the same page. The MBA’s and Accountants are not able to get it done. The industry needs a leader. Long term thinking not short term.Who is going to step up?

  2. David Morgan

    You guys just don’t get it. Very few are interested in these pow-wows as the marine industry is a maverick driven mom and pop operation. While most industries have integrated upward, this one hasn’t. I gave this trade association stuff up years ago simply because it’s the same old same old, and the industry doesn’t have the money for any serious lobbying or promotion.

    Run your business accordingly and reap the capitalistic rewards of success and failure.

    Guys like Keeter and Dammrich just keep thinking of ways to justify their jobs.

  3. Joe DiMaria

    Since IBEX began, I have urged the promoters to add 2 days on the front end for dealers and distributors. Or, two “TRADE” days can be added to the Miami Boat Show since so much of our industry is down there visiting or attending at that time. Also, since it is winter for most of us, business slows down and it’s a good time to head south, and the part of the market that is active (South Florida) is only a short drive away.
    It is my opinion that nothing new can be initiated if we don’t cut some of the other not-so-successful shows out of our budgets.

  4. Jamie Gaskins

    I do believe we need a central gathering place/show. If not, the marine industry will continue to remain segmented and change will continue to be slow painful process for most. None of us need more travel, however this could be the critical link to further bring all aspects of this industry together. It would also help create a better awareness of the issues at hand, and what Tom Dammrich and his team on Capitol Hill are doing for the industry. As a supplier to many boat builders and 700 or so dealers, having 100 dealers in a room, “that are not the problem in the first place” as Larry Russo has said in the past is a “joke”. Phil and his team do a great job and the MRAA Show has been extremely educational for me, but I must say that I agreed with most of what Duane said at the meeting. Anything we can do to create more cohesiveness is a must.

  5. Brad Nysether

    I think this is a very good topic of discussion. However, one national association that should have been mentioned is the NMDA. Also, what is need is not another show but the combining/modification of existing shows. I don’t think we will see another show like IMTEC but I do think MAATS could test the waters with a more dealer friendly trade show atmosphere.

  6. JR

    in my 25+ years in the boat business, I looked forward to IMTEC every year, regardless of what was going on, it was the must attend show. I would be 1st in line to sign up


  7. Craig Cummins

    We attended and had a booth at the recent MRAA event in Las Vegas, our very first convention. We also agree the attendance was very disappointing, but even worse our conversations with delars and colleagues confirmed our feeling of major industry dissention. We got to do something to get our industry unified, and I beleive IMTEC or something close to it could help.
    We, at Caravelle Powerboats, feel very strongly that a unified front and forumn is desperately needed in the marine industry. IMTEC, in the successful days, was good on so many levels. It brought the the industry together. Manufacturers, Suppliers, distributors, and reps had an international venue to show off their goods to prospective dealers, receive valuable feedback, and look at what the competition was doing. Dealers could look for additional or new boat lines along with accessories and attend seminars, gaining valuable info. Not to mention the press exposure, fince contacts and other valuable aspects of the business were in one venue. And, that’s just the great business side of it. The greatest value I took away from an event like IMTEC was the commradery (sp?) and unified feeling I got from being there. Whether colleague or competitor, I formed many long standing personal and business relationships from people who attended IMTEC. Yes, attenance started to drop in the later years in Chicago and even weaker in Orlando, but it’s a new day. There isn’t a month that goes by when someone I’m speaking with or even someone I overhear, that IMTEC is not mentioned. I am convinced that an IMTEC style convention would be welcomed again if promoted and coordinated correctly. I beleive it would take combining IBEX, the after market shows, the MRAA convention, NMMA, and others together. I would get the independent boat manufacturer groups like ABA, IBBI, and UMMI to join first. I guarantee the big boys like Brunswick and Genmar would then follow. This time I would privatize the show so no real group has an advantage like NMMA had in the past. Heck, we’ll hire Norm Schultz as our event director and do it right. So, yes I beleive we need an IMTEC, and yes I think it’s time to do it, and yes I think it would be good for all of the marine industry. As a former independent boat sales rep, in house regional sales manager, and now in managemnt/ownership, I don’t think we can even measure the value of such an event.

    Thanks for letting us speak our minds and we wish you all the best in semi-retirement.

    Craig Cummins
    VP, Sales – Caravelle Powerboats

  8. Ben H. Sherwood


    I don’t expect you to print this and that is OK. But good job on the IMTEC issue. I have written about this in numerous columns but it is like being the lone voice in the forest. Boat builders basically killed IMTEC by most of them having dealer meetings in the summer. I ask builders, “What would you rather have your dealers do – sell your boats during the height of the season – or spend weekends going to builder meetings?”

    Years ago new products were introduced at the New York Boat show in January. Then the big industry trade show that became known as IMTEC brought new product introductions to that great fall event – usually held in September or October. Sadly it died when dealers quit coming because of all the summer meetings. And aftermarket distributors had big accessory shows regionally in the fall.



  10. G B James

    CHICAGO IMTEC, NOT ORLANDO..YESYESYES…The Marine Industry needs to get back to its ROOTS>
    Start the marine year in september and do IMTEC in mid September, get rid of all the JULY dealer meetings.
    Dealers need July and August to help clear inventory, not having to take in 08,s on top of a yard full of 07,s.
    This plan would also generate larger orders in the fall with more up floor plan $$$$ available.

  11. Jim

    I agree with much of the above and especially what Doug Smith said. Chicago as a venue should be one of our last choices if and when we proceed with a new “Imtec”. Much of the reason Imtec went away was the extreme space cost. Many dealers are looking at the New York show with the same jaundiced eye for the same reasons. But wherever we go, go we must; and I agree we must learn from the RV dealers. We either all work together to make our industry better or we go the way of dinosaurs. It’s up to all of us.

  12. Cameron McIntyre

    I recently returned from METS and practically every American I ran into mentioned IMTEC and what it used to mean to the American marine industry. We certainly do not have any show that even comes close to METS and I think that type of annual industry event where business is done is sorely missed in the American marine industry.

  13. Anonymous Bob

    A single, once-a-year meeting would appeal to many, many dealers. The volume of individual builder meetings, as noted by many above, wears out the dealers and pulls them away from their businesses. And usually during a peak time of the season. Of course, no one time or place will appeal to everyone, but if the anticipation is built around one very important meeting, dealers (and manufacturers) will make the time to attend. Travel costs will be kept to a minimum with one meeting. Business interruptions will be minimized with one meeting. Spread the meeting over a week to ensure plenty of face to face conversations, and I can assure you dealers will be eager to attend. Throw in a few, and just a few, training or info seminars and the meeting will be a great success.

    Having been to the Louisville RV show a few times in the past as an exhibitor, I can honestly say the enthusiasm present at that show far exceeds New York, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, or any other show the boating industry holds. With over 500 boat builders, the time and money spent to put on those individual meetings could be used much more wisely if used to fund a single, industry-wide meeting.

    The marine industry is still too fragmented with too many big egos to realistically think an IMTEC style meeting will work again. Sad to say.

  14. David Elderkin

    It was very sad when we lost IMTEC, it was the one place where we get to see everything. I am part of a large distributer group in France and IMTEC gave us the chance to get to see all that we needed in one place. For us the multiple trips to the US at the moment are very expensive and also time consuming. We have in Europe the best replacement for IMTEC, METS in Amsterdam every November but there we missout on the smaller American companies who either can’t get to METS or don’t even know about it. We as a company and part of a group would be glad to see IMTEC back especially if it is late September or early October, it has got to be better than MAATS in the middle of our busiest month and in Las vegas.

  15. Randy Wattenbarger

    Norm –
    Judging from the response to this issue, there is obviously a great deal of interest in a comprehensive industry meeting. We could conduct the majority of a year’s business and gather invaluable information on new product as well as meet personally with key personnel of the various manufacturers we dealt with in the course of one long weekend. Under current industry operating parameters, we spend two to three days each on four to five “Dealer Meetings” a year, in, as Ben Sherwood pointed out, our sellig season, just to conduct necessary business with our suppliers. Add to these interruptions times spent for training, service seminars, and other business meetings e.g. 20 group meetings, certification meetings, plant trips etc., dealers spend a lot of time away from their businesses.

    I believe this is a huge contributing factor to sparse attendance at the recent MRAA meeting.

    It is my opinion that our industry has been negatively impacted by the de facto “divide and conquer” policies that require dealers to attend various and assorted “dealer meeting functions” in order to qualify for “buying programs”. These “programs” have the effect of establishing different classes of dealers based primarily on buying volume. And this results in wide price differential in same product that in turn creates considerable cynicism in our industry’s customer base.

    There are frequent comparisons of our industry to the RV industry. It is my understanding, based on information from dealers currently in the RV business that RV manufacturers do not offer multi-step buyiing programs like are common in the marine industry. Other differences include dealers frequently carry only one or two lines, and, (like many Marine Manufacturers often did at IMTEC), annual dealer meetings are tied in with the nationsl convention.

    For what it’s worth, I feel a National Marine Convention on the scale of IMTEC would benefit our industry and believe it would be widely embraced by dealers especially if manufacturers would dovetail at least some of their dealer meeting activities with this event. The MRAA convention could also be coordinated with this event and get more much needed dealer participation. It is apparent from others comments that an event like this would be unifying for our industry and should be held in late September or early October.

  16. Brandon Flack

    Agreed that the IMTEC format was conducive for the industry to get the job done the way things used to be. However, it made sense that the major boat manufacturers eventually pulled out due to high costs and the “why pay to send my dealer to see other brands, when I can pay the same to show him just mine?”

    From an accessory side the MAATS show seems to be losing some of its effectiveness, it’s still the best we have in the US, but I hear support for it dwindling every year. There is just not enough participation to warrant the time and cost of that show from a manufacturers point of view. The common complaints are that we see the same key customers. These same key customers also demand that we have more lengthy one on one meeting every year anyhow… so why be here?

    Moving MAATS around on a semiannual multi region schedule is an idea I have heard lately and support. The show is not that big that we need to be in Las Vegas or Orlando. Move it around into cities like Providence, Nashville, San Diego and Seattle. Invite the dealers so that once every few years the regional dealers can attend the national accessory show and interact with the factories. A format like this would add some real value to current MAATS show for accessory manufactures and dealers alike.

  17. John Ulrich

    I agree with the comments of Craig Cummins, Ben Sherwood and Doug Smith. We need a central, unified trade show again. I’m a rep selling boats, on the front line daily and I constantly hear about IMTEC and how sorely it is missed. Almost all dealers I speak with want later model year introductions, don’t want to attend summertime dealer meetings and feel a late fall IMTEC style show/conference would be beneficial to their businesses. We are a fragmented industry consisting of large multi store dealerships as well as smaller family owned and managed ones. Most boat companies fall into the small to medium size and have limited budgets to fund dealer meetings. IMTEC brought everyone together, allowed for educational seminars, line shopping, accessory purchases and most importantly a building of excitement at the end of a season that usually carried over to the winter shows. Manufacturers introduced new models/products and still had time to fill orders prior to the winter and spring shows. We all complain about the number of smaller builder meetings, smaller boat shows and the cost associated with putting them on. Look at our competition, the RV industry. They have a central show, don’t have as many “local” shows, have a dealer network similar to the marine industry, have built consumer awareness, have real entry level affordable product. What’s wrong with us? Do we have the wrong “leaders” trying to justify their existence? Are we really too fragmented? I’m just an independent boat rep trying to make a living in an industry I love. I don’t have the answers to these questions but I think a revitalized IMTEC is worthy of discussion and I give the idea my support.

  18. johnny craig

    So many of us remember the great times at our trade shows.Chicago , Dallas , Orlando ,New Orleans ,Jacksonville and even Jerry Tates short lived Charlotte.We saw each one of these die because of the cost associated with the return.Lack of dealer attendance did not justify the manufacture to display their products.I do not think anyone who displayed products at any of these shows would not try it again if we thought we might have an audience.I agree we must work to get it together.Lets remember our past history.Lets start with a smaller town with less expenses and a 10×10 booth.I’m getting to old to lay carpet.

  19. Blaine Schwarzel

    Norm, 2 things need to be done. First: Roll the model year back to September or October Later is better. HAVE ALL MOTORS AND BOATS START THE MODEL YEAR AT THE SAME TIME!
    second: Have a BIG KICK OFF SHOW. Chicago show was a great show. You went to see all of the newest things, to see what the competers had and to look for money making things. Do this and things will get better.

  20. Pete Peterson

    I agree that IMTEK was great during its run and maybe the Miami Show should be the new venue. NMMA take the initiative and let’s have serious discussions with dealers on how we can work together to make this industry a viable business venture. Now more than ever when manufacturers and dealers are falling by the wayside, we may need a joint effort to forge the future of boating.

  21. Mike Aguiar

    Great Idea for a updated IMTEC annual meeting, September sounds right for all of the reasons mentioned. Have it where the cost is low and the climate is mild in a city with great on water venues available for demos and to showcase the spirit and excitement of the industry!

  22. Roger Cross

    As a dealer of 24 years, I find that not having an IMTEC like meeting makes it more difficult to keep in the loop. Also the number of dealer meetings has been declining in recent years. We also need to form a dealer association in Wisconsin much the same as the auto and truck dealers have.

  23. Gary Smith

    Norm, right on! As a board member on the MAATS Planning Committee I (and most everyone I have talked to) would like to see a return to a combined event, in Chicago, in September. Let’s bring MAATS and IBEX together, we don’t need the time lost and expense of two shows, and the synergies of a combined event would be good for the industry. The dealers shouldn’t be pulled out of their marinas and stores in the peak of the season to attend MAATS in July. Let’s build the critical mass with a combined event again ala IMTEC. Dealers, Distributors, Manufacturer’s/ aftermarket/ OEM all under one roof! Why not!

    Gary Smith
    Director of Sales
    Garelick Mfg. Co.

  24. Donna, retired in Florida

    Looks like you can’t stay in retirement!! Seriously, back when my parents had Parma Marine, we all dropped what we were doing and went the IMTEC. Never missed it. Not only did it allow dealers to ‘shop’ under 1 (or2) roofs, as I recall, it was later in the season so we had the actual ability to go somewhere, not like the current Dealer meetings in the middle of Summer!!!! Most of us have several lines of boats, if not motor lines as well, and that’s A LOT of dealer meetings in the Summer when we should be selling our product!!!!Also, it was the ‘kick-off’ of the new model year, unlike now where some inventory becomes non-current shortly after our winter boat shows!!!! At IMTEC Dealers and Manufactures alike seemed to benefit. You had your meetings and placed your orders with you boat and motor companies, review the latest accessories, had various ’roundtable’ discussions with other dealers, took certification courses, listened to keynote speakers, like yourself, about the future of the Boating Industry, etc….after IMTEC, it all seemed to stray in different directions.
    I haven’t seen the entire Industry focused, for the benefit of all, since IMTEC.

  25. David Darmstadter

    The marine industry is never going to be happy. I went to IMTEC for many years and the complaint on the aftermarket side of things was that it was too late in the year and the boatbuilders complained that it was too early for new boats. Chicago was too expensive or too far away. It is a very fragmented industry with a lot of competing needs that just may not ever be able to be met in one show.




  27. Harold L. Baltes

    As an owner/operator the past 30 years, I started attending IMTEC in 1979 – until it ended. Since then, I have not been able to attend whatever shows are going on… mainly because of the expense to do so.
    IMTEC was a show where you could at least keep up on everything that was new – whether you went there to buy, or not. We did get tired of being robbed downtown, especially for rooms… but eventually figured out to drive out a little further making it feasible to stay for 3 or 4 days. I was not surprised when IMTEC ended, because to me – Chicago priced themselves right out of the market! Vendors told of the cost of plugging in some of the signs cost more than the signs themselves! Still, I would go back to another ‘IMTEC’ in a minute!…even if it was back in Chicago – which seemed like the place to have it for everyone concerned… it appeared more centralized… September/October was a better date than any other time of year…especially for an owner/operator.

  28. Greg Scholand

    Having attended IMTEC for many years and watching it die for all the reasons mentioned, I would support its return as long as the manufacturers agreed not to hold meetings at other times of the year. If EVERYTHING could be centralized in one event I think it would be a no-brainer. Yes, Chicago was expensive, but one trip there could replace many other trips. The September/October timeframe also seemd to fit the industry well. I guess we’ll see if common sense & long term planning will prevail over short term greed.

  29. Dave Boso

    I knew IMTEC was done when they started lettin the public in the last day or two. I don’t care how loyal a company is to it’s dealers a sale is a sale, and I’m sure boats were sold to the piblic.
    I liked the show because I could get a little better deal on the show boats, and just have them dropped off after the show at my place.
    We all know the biggies don’t want a national show, too much compitition, and it’s hard for the little guys to pay the union fees in Chicago. So as much as we wish, It ain’t gonna happen until we dealers realize we hold the key, KEY; you just don’t buy until you’ve seen them all, but that means that we have to use a little restraint when the rep shows up with an invitation to a fancy show in whipped cream lagoon all expenses paid. “just say no” and see you in Chicago, (or some other place).
    I do it all the time , it really ain’t hard.
    Now where to get up front money, most citys have visitors and convention depts. If the right tactic is used they will kick in money just to sell the space and hotel rooms, it takes work.
    Maybe the boat tax we pay to Grow Boating could be used for that……naw, thats controled by the biggies. oh well i have to get bct to sorting parts, If you all need some help call me.

  30. Ken Anderson

    IMTEC was the focal point of the year, something to work toward. Seeing ALL the new products at a time that allowed prep for the winter shows (and the following season) to the public was a great strategy. Since the demise of IMTEC, I’ve felt little incentive to make the trek to the “other shows” in part because it was unclear who they served. IMTEC was for everyone! As has been noted above, learning that you can stay cheap just outside of town and commute into the show (go west and ride the El in) made it a very affordable and productive time just when the season’s work gave a break. I WOULD start attending an IMTEC type show if it were to reappear.
    Thanks for the thought!

  31. Jim Glus

    Like I’ve been saying for some time now. “..WE HAVE TO GET BACK TO BASICS..” and going back to an IMTEC style show/meeting/gathering or whatever you wish to call it is a start in the right direction. The only real problem I see is will the bit corporate dealerships go for it and support or fight it?, GOD forbid if “Mom and Pop” get back together again and find out they did it right and better years ago without the big corporations and someone else telling them where they were going wrong.

  32. Chris Gaige

    IMTEC yes! We never missed an IMTEC show – we’ve never gone to a summer dealer show (it’s our busy season). Model year should start in October. It would reduce inventory carrying costs for dealers. Consumers who buy at boat shows wouldn’t have a model that is superceded after one month’s use. And maybe the manufacturers could could get their catalogs out before the model year is half over. Manufacturers should also get closer to “make to order.” Multi tier pricing based on volume usually puts the on water dealers that are providing access, servicing the product where it is used, and often introducing people to boating through rental programs at a disadvantage.

  33. dave boso

    I just recived an “invite” to a dealer show June 22, Like I’m doing that. They keep getting earlier every year what’s next an ’10 show in September, wait that’s what we want.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments Policy.