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BOSTON — Boston Whaler has been increasing its market share across the board, seeing a 25 percent increase in the 23- to 32-foot segment for the last six quarters in a row.
That’s according to Boston Whaler president Huw Bower, who told Trade Only Today last week that the trend was one factor in the company’s decision to introduce the 420 Outrage — the brand’s biggest model ever — in the 2015 model year.
“It’s a huge focus for us to continue to deliver innovative products with versatile, functional interior spaces,” Bower told Trade Only at the New England Boat Show. “For four of the last five years we’ve won Innovation Awards at the Miami [International] Boat Show for smart use of interior spaces. We were thrilled to win this year” for the 345 Conquest.
It’s not just the larger models that have performed well, he said.
“The larger boats are harder to track, but the small boats continue to be strong,” Bower said. “The fact that Boston Whaler has 26 percent share in the 11- to 17-foot range is just extraordinary. It speaks volumes to the fact that Boston Whaler is a premium brand.”
Bower, who took the helm about a year ago, said past president Tim Schiek, who left to head the Sea Ray brand, left behind a brand “that was in great shape and a product that’s been winning in the market.”
Prior to his role at Whaler, Bower had been at Lowe Boats and then Triton, two of Brunswick’s aluminum brands that performed well during and post-recession. (Before that, Bower served in the British Navy.)
Because aluminum fishing and pontoon boats outperformed the rest of the overall market, Bower said the group came charging out of the gate in terms of new product introduction post-recession. “It was all about bringing new product to the market that was practical and versatile,” he said.
Despite the transition to fiberglass, he said the mission remains the same.
Bower thinks the versatility of the Whaler and the saltwater fishing segment in general have increased its appeal among today’s boat buyers. “Even if the boat is full of water and all sandy, you’re still sitting and enjoying yourself. All you have to do is hose it down, and you’re never buying a different boat” to meet additional needs because one vessel is able to meet them all, he said.
That trend, combined with Whaler’s brand loyalty, continues to give the brand an edge in the marketplace, Bower said.
“As I’ve met owners, I’ve met so many who say they started boating when they were 13 on a 15-foot Super Sport,” Bower said. “And they’ve stayed with us ever since.”
Large fiberglass boat sales were up 20 percent in 2013 from the previous year, but not across the board.
That’s according to Info-Link managing director Jack Ellis, who says 2013 was the first year that the 30-foot and above category has shown a sales gain since 2009 for the 12 months that ended in December.
“One clear trend is that outboards are being put on bigger and bigger boats every year,” Ellis said. “At the Miami show I saw a huge Intrepid with quad Yamahas on the back. It’s just incredible.”
However, if you look at what the industry typically classifies as yachts and cruisers, and “toss out fishing boats, it’s a slightly different story,” Ellis told Trade Only Today.
“It shows that last year, in 2012 versus 2011, the market was flat after declining for many years,” Ellis said. “This year, as of January 2014, it’s up slightly, around 7 percent.”
Ellis speculates that one reason the segment has yet to rebound is the time of use versus the expense of the boats. “Do people have the time? [Taking it out a few weekends a year] makes it difficult for people to justify that type of boat.”
Interestingly, New England has seen a rebound in larger boats this year, despite having one of the shortest boating seasons in the country.
“It’s interesting because economically this is a different group of people,” Ellis said. “In some regions of the Northeast it’s still a rough place to be.”
Several dealers at the New England Boat Show confirmed the statistics, telling Trade Only that larger boats were finally getting back on track.
“People got out of big boats for a while, but now, with the economy coming back, we’re seeing people buying boats,” Tim Bassett told Trade Only Today last week at the show. “We’ve already gotten two people on the Merry Fisher 855,” which happens to also come equipped with Yamaha outboards.