Break from the pack

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Creativity and ingenuity are attributes accessory makers need to push products in today’s business climate

Thinking outside the box can be critical to keeping customers and gaining market share, and at no time is this approach more important than in a soft economy when people and companies question the need for any spending.

Accessories manufacturers need to get creative, and it’s about more than just updating a pamphlet or adding a feature to a Web site. They need to find a way to separate themselves from the pack.

While examples of accessory makers coming up with successful and creative ideas are limitless, here are a few illustrations of what some in the industry are doing to stand out in the crowd.

Delta “T” Systems
Delta “T” Systems, based in Riviera Beach, Fla., literally takes its show on the road.

Rather than waiting for customers to come to them at trade shows throughout the country, the company brings its trade show to the manufacturers. Trailers, fitted with their products and designed to allow for demonstrations, have traveled the highways, with a more extensive tour of America planned for 2009.

“It’s the best way to communicate, especially when you have to show people things and talk about different things,” says marketing manager Michael Gabriel. “It builds alliances. It builds relationships.”

Delta “T” Systems manufactures a range of ventilation products, including fans, blowers, moisture eliminators, vents and other related ventilation components and accessories for pleasure, commercial and military vessels.

While the company has done small tours with its custom trailers, next year it plans to embark on a trip that will take it to the Florida Panhandle, across the Gulf Coast states through Texas, up toward Seattle, over to the Great Lakes and down the Eastern seaboard.

It’s also possible, Gabriel said, the company will choose to leave one trailer in the Seattle area for six months or so and fly back and forth, doing the tour in pieces.

In addition to stopping at manufacturers’ doorstops, Delta “T” will incorporate trade shows in its schedule, to make the most of the miles.

While specific details and a start date are being worked out, Gabriel said the tour, in addition to trade shows, is the best way to show customers what’s new and how their products work.

“We’re not going to lighten up on our trade show schedule, but this is above and beyond that, and it gets right down to the heart of the people who truly, truly need our products and that’s the designers, the engineers and the naval architects,” he says.

Those people rarely go to the trade shows, Gabriel notes, so by Delta “T” coming to them, all their questions can easily be answered and any kinks can be worked out on site.

It’s not an inexpensive undertaking, however, with fuel alone costing major dollars.

“We don’t recoup our costs in the short term,” Gabriel says. “We may not recoup the costs this year or next year, but this is us building good future will, this is us giving back a little bit.”

Delta “T” Systems prides itself on innovation, no matter what the economic climate, Gabriel said, but in this market, such endeavors are even more important.

“These economic times are going to weed out some of the lesser competitors,” he says. “This is not the time to retract, this is a time to move forward very strongly. These times are tough, a lot of companies are now contracting, but we’re building, we’re growing.”

Marinco Electrical Group
When Marinco was looking at how to grab customers’ attention for their various brands, they decided on easy-to-read, in-store displays and guides.

The colorful charts are designed to showcase their products and also help consumers choose what’s best for their specific needs.

When they did their first guide about two years ago for Shore Power Systems’ adaptors, sales went up and returns went down.

“The idea is, there’s so many choices within a very small industry … we, as users, have to find ways to select the right product, but we have to find it easily,” says Phil Fram, vice president of marketing for Marinco.

The brightly colored charts and displays help the boater quickly see a performance level, a price point and which products go best with which other products.

For example, with AFI’s horns, a chart clearly shows which are the loudest, and each horn’s decibel level. A wiper compatibility chart has colored boxes next to each product so the consumer can clearly see which arms and blades are compatible.

“We want to make it so each store and each owner can get exactly what their needs are, versus what we think they need to have,” Fram said.

“We can’t change the economy, but we can take this economy and take advantage of our power in the marketplace to make it easier for dealers to select our products and easier for the end user to select our products,” he added.

Marinco Electrical Group manufactures electrical products and engineered solutions for multiple harsh-environment industries, including the marine sector. Its brands include AFI, Ancor, BEP Marine, Guest, Marinco and Nicro. MEG corporate offices are located in Napa, Calif., with sales offices worldwide. Marinco Electrical Group is owned by Actuant Corp.

Taylor Made Products
With thousands of products in its catalog, Gloversville, N.Y.-based Taylor Made is one of the largest suppliers of marine aftermarket products, with items ranging from buoys to dock products to flags.
Still, company officials say innovation is what’s kept them around for 100 years.

“Every year we’ve developed a couple of hundred new skews … and at least a dozen different little categories or products that we think are not just addition for addition sake, but really innovative and different to keep the line fresh,” says David Karpinski, vice president of sales and marketing.

This year, it introduced a kit, allowing boaters to custom-design their own snap-in replacement carpets.

Taylor Made provides the template kit so consumers can measure and trace the area to be carpeted. The template, along with color and carpet choice, is sent to the company and Taylor Made responds with a price quote within 48 hours.

The consumer receives a completed, custom-made carpet, along with a snap fastener kit within two to three weeks. No additional trimming is necessary, and carpets are constructed with tough, rubber backing.

“We looked at the category, we saw that there was a lot of rolled goods available, there were some suppliers that were doing a fair job in that, but one strength Taylor brings to the industry is our ability to a) get distribution for a product and b) innovate a way to get it to market,” Karpinski said.

“It wasn’t that much different from our core, it just takes a lot of logistics and it takes a company with the ability to get the distribution and visibility to it,” he added.

The product was introduced nationwide in July at the Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show in Las Vegas, and should receive a lot of exposure in the next six months as distributors launch it in their catalogs and create visibility for the product.

While introducing new products has always been crucial to Taylor Made, Karpinski said it is even more imperative in today’s weak economic climate.

“This is the time that you should be really looking at retrenching your base, solidifying your core customers and taking market share where you can,” he said. “In tough economic times is where you set yourself up for when the rebound happens.

“You do everything you can to expand your offerings, expand your base, become stronger at what you’re good at, and then when the bounce-back comes, hopefully you can come back two or three times stronger,” Karpinski said.

Unified Marine
Bill Hess, vice president of sales for Unified Marine, lives on a small lake in northern Georgia. He and his neighbors, he said, often talk about how people aren’t getting into boating anymore and the need to get kids involved in the pastime.

So they came up with an event they dubbed “Build It, Paint It, Ride It.”

The concept is simple: invite kids out to build and paint their own boards and then take them out on the water to use them. It gets kids interested in boating, and if the kids are interested, their parents might become interested, too.

It wasn’t expensive, either — scrap plywood was donated for the boards and he and others donated their time and boats to take the kids out on the water.

Events such as these, Hess said, will benefit everyone in the marine industry, from Unified Marine to boat makers and dealers. Unified Marine manufactures boating accessories and hardware, including trailer components, LED lighting, pumps and accessories, sold under the SeaSense brand.

“I’m not saying we sold a bunch of boats that day, but we got a bunch of kids out on the water, we had a good time, it didn’t cost a lot of money and the parents saw the kids were having a great time and we introduced some people to boating,” Hess said.

Many of the 20 kids who took part in the event at Lake Arrowhead had never been on a water board. He overheard many parents making comments such as, “You know, it looks like they’re having a great time, maybe we need to get a boat.’ ”

Hess said he and his neighbors plan to make this an annual event, with companies such as Unified Marine and others helping out. He also hopes others will produce similar events in their areas of the country.

“Unified (Marine), we’re going to continue to do this and support things like this,” he said, adding it’s important as an industry to do anything it can to promote boating. That, he said, will eventually lead to more business for everyone.

This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue.

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