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Newport panel tackles changing consumer tastes

From left, Tom Sutherland, Sarah Fawle, William Sisson and Daren Cole.

From left, Tom Sutherland, Sarah Fawle, William Sisson and Daren Cole.

NEWPORT, R.I. — The Newport International Boat Show resumed Friday morning with a panel discussion on the state of the industry before an audience of about 50 industry players.

Soundings Trade Only editor-in-chief William Sisson was the emcee and prompted five panelists who represented industry segments to offer their insights on where the industry is and where it is headed.

Sarah Fawle, vice president of marketing for USWatercraft, which introduced its True North 34 Outboard Express at the show, said Down East boatbuilders are responding to the increasingly time-strapped consumer's demand for a "flawless experience" on the water.

"People are busy, time is of the essence and there's less time for that extended cruise, so they're looking for fun day trips," Fawle said.

Consumers are responding with their checkbooks to manufacturers that incorporate technologies such as integrated systems, joystick steering and docking, she said.

Daren Cole, marketing director for electronics manufacturer Navico, parent company of the Simrad, Lowrance and B&G brands, also spoke of meeting consumer demand, noting that Navico had created this year a Digital Marine Division, where engineers focus on putting "big data" features (the rapid processing of massive and diverse amounts of data) into its products.

Westerbeke director of sales and marketing Tom Sutherland discussed "mind-boggling" advances in engine technology, including those in the auxiliary diesel generators his company manufactures.

"Everything is becoming more compact, more powerful, greener and more reliable," he said.

Sutherland sees further integration of auxiliary engines with onboard electrical and electronic systems in the near future.

Beneteau America sailboat sales manager Chris Doscher discussed how the sail industry is responding to the consumer by shifting design and engineering from racing-centric to cruising-centric products.

"Everyone [in the sail industry] is working more toward the customer and getting them on the water and having fun," he said.

Edson International president Will Keene noted that the short boating season in Northern states makes reliability essential to product success.

"We have to keep [our customers] safe, keep them sailing and keep them on the water," he said.

Sisson summed up the discussion this way: "The shift to consumer focus from product focus is clearly a move in the right direction."

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