A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

A report from METS

With attendance down only 6 percent from last year’s record, the mood at the 2008 METS show was decidedly upbeat, despite the ominous clouds produced by global economic problems. Some exhibitors, however, did express concern about their economic future and how well their companies would weather what lies ahead.

Many saw the events unfolding in the United States as key to the economic health of Europe. As one exhibitor put it: “We think our market is holding steady right now, but it all depends on the extent to which the American downturn will come to Europe.”

In talking to several other people on the show floor, most were concerned about where the economic shakeup was going and when it was going to end. Sometimes this situation translated into greater caution about making purchases. For example, one buyer from the upper Midwest said he was not sure exactly what his company would buy right now in view of the current slump in the U.S. economy.

Nevertheless, the show exhibited many signs of strength in the marine industry. It had a record number of 1,210 exhibitors, including a much expanded superyacht pavilion, and it was attended by 18,485 visitors. Although that attendance number was down from last year’s 19,764, it was up significantly from 2006 when 16,805 people visited the show.

Irene Dros, the show manager, said that attendance was slightly off, but she thought that most of the attendees were better qualified to make purchases than in previous years. “The people who are coming to the show are the boatyard and boat company people who are actually doing the buying,” she said at the exhibitor party on the first evening. “We are pleased with the mood on the show floor,” she added. “People seem very positive.”

The superyacht pavilion showed that this sector of the market is still strong, even though it has slowed somewhat over the last few months. The buyers who were coming out of Russia in droves a year or two ago have been reined in by the Russian economic downturn, which has caused a few building slots to evaporate. However, these events do not seem to have affected many American companies.

Trinity, in Louisiana, has a backlog of 22 yachts to build, while Palmer Johnson, in Wisconsin, is also still strong, even though its yachts are built largely for the European market. What may be affected more by the Russian downturn in the superyacht market is the styling of the yachts that are being built. Without a traditional yachting background, Russian owners have tended to be far more avant-garde in their tastes than European and American owners, with the result that many incredibly stylish yachts have been built for the Russian market. Whether these styling advances will carry over to other owners remains to be seen.

The future of the entire boating industry will be very interesting to observe over the next several months. As one who is on the judging panels for both the IBEX innovation awards and the DAME awards at the METS show, I have seen more new and innovative products in the last few months than I’ve seen in a long time. It would appear that manufacturers are continuing to develop interesting and useful new products so they can be ready to take advantage of the next economic upturn.

Most future boats, not just superyachts, will be greener, more exciting, and include a larger number of new features than they have in the past. This bodes well for the companies that are able to get through the next year or so of economic challenges.

Roger Marshall
U.S. member of the DAME awards jury at METS


4 comments on “A report from METS

  1. Phil Russo

    In all my years of being in this outgoing business, I’ve never seen an article written any differently than this one. Just reprint it from the previous year and no one will notice.

    “Show attendance down, but mood upbeat, more qualified prospects” – amazing, the first fact can be proven can be, while the other two components stated are the myth of the writer and word processing program.

  2. Arch

    And every show I go to, show organizers (dare I say) say attendence is UP. Different year, same BS.

  3. David Tomen CPYB

    A spokesperson for Show Management told the press the day after the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show a few weeks ago that attendance was only down by 4 percent over last year. Giving Show management the benefit of the doubt (I’m a generous guy) he was likely referring to the number of exhibitors and vendors.

    I spent all five days on the docks from 8 am to 7 pm. In all the years that I have exhibited at that show never before have I been able to park directly across from Bahia Mar unless I got to the show by 6:45 am. This year there was plenty of parking at 8.

    My observations were that visitor attendance was down by at least 50 percent. There were times that you could have shot an arrow down the dock and not hit anyone. Four or five times a day I would take a peak at the main entrance to the show at Bahia Mar. There were no lines as there were in previous years. I have been working the Fort Lauderdale show since 1991.

    It is about time that someone in this industry starting reporting exactly what is going on and provide an honest analysis of what the recreational boating industry will look like at the end of 2009. I predict that it will have a completely different face that what we have been used to for the last twenty years.

    David Tomen CPYB

  4. Tim Robinson

    I have been going to METS for over 10 years now, and my only comment would be what you would expect, US visitors were way down, though if the overall gate numbers are only down 7%, that is truly not too bad, considering, and is news. But it is not wrong to say that there was no real decline in US exhibitors, and that is also news given the situation.
    I don’t know that the commentary is repetitive, the US market is the bellweather as we started this mess and are much further down the crisis road and the lack of credit ramifications. Europe is following now, though that is not always the case, and should not be news to anyone.
    It may be repetitive that METS is a great show, but it is. METS is far and away the most outstanding representation of the global marine equipment industry, and the mood upon leaving is always upbeat as a result. It would be real news if the mood was downbeat, but it was not.
    If anyone knew what this market will look like down the road, they wouldn’t be in this industry. But I am so I’ll take a shot at what I think should be obvious:
    It will be critical to remain upbeat and innovate, and I think there will still be plenty of good business done in the next year, in most sectors of the market – just don’t compare it to previous years.
    We have been in recession for awhile now, and I don’t think we will start finding the bottom of the decline in this industry until next fall earliest, let’s be honest. Analysts are saying the same thing or later, and I’m not sure how an industry like ours will be rallying ahead of any upturn.
    OEMs exposed to the middle of the market will be fewer, likely significantly so, and soon. I don’t see any other way this can play out, the money is just not there to support all the players. Fewer competitors should mean added pressure to make our products better, though providing more opportunities. Will the number of boaters in the pie increase or decline – the price of gas and the level and sophistication of our marketing efforts will decide that.
    Builders and gear manufacturers who can come out with product that hits the right niche; or redefines their current niche; or is marketed well; or is truly a significant change in the “green” direction; or the “value for my money” direction; and of course those in the large yacht sector – these are the people who will come out the other side in good shape. That’s also not news, but you can’t always tell looking at what is presently available.
    And of course all shows will continue to be optimists and spin masters, they would not be doing their job if they weren’t.

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