Building with features customers prefer


At every boat show I attend I keep my radar tuned for at least one piece of wisdom or advice or an observation that I didn’t have before the event. The big, sprawling Miami shows that ended Monday were no different, although I’ve come to realize that the bigger the show, the harder it is to actually see and hear through all the rush and push and clamor.

But at a small reception that the AIM Marine Group hosted on the eve of the shows, a veteran of the heydays of boatbuilding (the 450,000-to-500,000-powerboats-a-year days) imparted these words as a light rain started to fall: “You know what the secret to success in boatbuilding is?” he asked rhetorically. “Build exactly what the customer wants and not what you think he wants.”

Bingo. That simple — and that difficult. I used the notion of “customer first” to frame my observations for the next several days as I moved along the docks at the Yacht & Brokerage Show and through the Miami Beach Convention Center, talking to builders and dealers and listening to the questions consumers asked.

I stopped at the Bayliner exhibit and climbed aboard the Element, the new entry-level outboard boat designed for a family of four. The Element is easy to tow, fits in most garages and, with a modest 60-hp Mercury outboard, it will sip fuel rather than guzzle it. And at $11,999, it’s as “affordable” as you’re going to find these days for a new fiberglass boat, outboard and trailer.

The promotional material says that for zero dollars down, the payments are “on par with a cable bill,” or about $150 a month. (That’s as much a commentary on cable television today, I suppose, as it is on the boats, but that’s a different discussion.)

Click play for a video on the making of the 2013 Bayliner Element.

Lord knows we need an injection of new blood in the sport, younger boaters and younger families. Might the Element be the way a new generation of boater rides into our sport? It might well be.

I spoke with Bayliner marketing manager Shelby Deck, who said the company surveyed about 10,000 prospective boaters on their likes and dislikes before designing the new boat. The design and features, she said, “were purely based on customer feedback.”

Safety was one of the issues that potential buyers raised. They wanted a stable boat without a lot of heel or bow rise, Deck told me. Ron Berman, VP of product development and engineering, and his crew responded with the patent-pending “M-Hull,” which has a center hull and two sponsons for stability and flatter turning. More like a car, in that respect, than a boat.

The audience spoke. Bayliner listened. I suspect the veteran boatbuilder, who preached giving your customers what they want, would bless the process.

As is always the case, the proof will be in the pudding.


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