For the Record: Liberty brands report ramped-up production

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Liberty Associates' boat brands - Donzi Marine, Fountain Powerboats and Pro-Line Boats - are seeing increases in sales and overall brand growth, the company says.


"The adjustments we've made, combined with the sales and marketing efforts at each of our companies, has made a real significant impact on the overall health of our organization," Liberty boat companies president and CEO John Walker said in a statement.

Liberty, he says, is focused on ramping up production to meet demand.

"We've been hiring and training. We need to produce more boats and shorten our lead times," Walker says. "We knew that with such a diverse product line there would be a learning curve, which is why we started this process last fall. Today we've got 20 boats in production. We've got 120 full-time employees and we expect to grow that number to 200 by the end of March."

A key for Fountain, he says, was eliminating factory-direct sales, which restored dealer confidence.

"Since Jan. 1, we have signed four new Fountain dealers and we are working with several others," Walker says. "All told, we have grown our order backlog from essentially zero in November to a two-month backlog today for Fountain product."

Unlike Fountain, the Donzi and Pro-Line brands had order backlogs at the end of the year. However, they, too, have seen substantial growth, he added.

"Today the Donzi backlog approaches three to four months and it consists of mainly retail-sold boats," Walker says. "On the Pro-Line side, thanks to our commitment to dealer support and, in turn, our dealers' confidence in us, we've got nearly 100 units to build."

Walker says an effort is under way to bring the Baja line back and a new-look 26-foot prototype is in development, with a planned debut in April.

SBA extends floorplan lending program

The Small Business Administration has relaunched its Dealer Floor Plan Program, which was piloted in July 2009 for boat, auto, RV and other dealerships that use floorplan financing loans.

The new program is to continue until at least Sept. 30, 2013, and it raises loan caps from $2 million to $5 million and provides a loan guarantee of 75 percent on floorplan lines of credit with a 100 percent advance rate.

"This new and improved SBA DFP Program will improve the flow of credit to the responsible marine businesses that really need it," National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich says in a statement. "We hope the program will attract a greater number and variety of lenders looking to create relationships with marine dealerships."

The SBA's revamped Dealer Floor Plan Program is much improved and has more support among the lending community, SBA program specialist Patrick Kelley said during a webinar shortly after the announcement.

"We think we have something in place that's not going to deter large lenders from participating," Kelley says. The increase from $2 million to $5 million makes the program much more attractive to larger lenders, Kelley explains.

Kelley says that about 90 loans of approximately $90 million in volume were originated under the original pilot program, but only five or six were for marine dealers. These changes, and others, should reverse that trend.

Another big difference is that lenders, if they qualify, can become delegated authorities for the program. After their first loan under the program, banks can make subsequent loans mostly using their own policies and procedures without pre-approval from the SBA. To qualify, lenders must have at least $1 billion in their floorplan portfolios in all of their inventory lines, not just marine.

GE Capital staying in marine lending

Jeff Malehorn, president and CEO of GE Capital's Commercial Distribution Finance division, didn't mince words when talking about his company's dedication to the marine industry.

"Look at our actions," he told an audience at the Miami International Boat Show in February. "We are completely committed. We're putting our money where our mouth is, and we're completely committed to this industry."

Malehorn was part of a panel that spoke about "moving forward." Malehorn acknowledged the challenges the industry has faced in the last few years, calling those in the room "resilient," "dynamic" and "action-oriented." But he says "the year of the crisis is officially dead," and it's time to move forward and grow.

GE financed $300 million in new credit lines in 2010, he says. Although retail sales of boats were down 14 to 17 percent last year, he estimated that sales will rise 11 percent this year. The marine industry is positioned for market growth, Malehorn says, citing increasing dealer turns and aged inventory being back in line with more "normal times" as positive indicators.

- Beth Rosenberg starts non-profit foundation is setting up a foundation to further the knowledge and protection of the world's oceans. The beneficiaries of the YachtWorld Foundation are non-profits and people who support the mission of promoting awareness and protection of the world's oceans.

The 2011 beneficiary is The International Seakeepers Society, which was founded in 1998 by a small group of yacht owners who were horrified by the deteriorating conditions of the seas.

"When I founded YachtWorld and BoatWizard in the mid-'90s, we added a personal hidden tagline we would see every morning when we logged in, reminding us of our responsibility to boaters and yacht brokers who came to rely on our services; it read 'Use your powers to do good,' " publisher emeritus Jessica Muffett says in a statement.

"I did not dream we would develop the powerful global services we offer today, but I did dream I could someday start a non-profit foundation for YachtWorld, promoting social responsibility for protecting the essential habitat we all love and share, the world's oceans," she says. and Soundings Trade Only are divisions of Dominion Enterprises.

Pearson undergoes a name change

Pearson Composites changed its name to Pearson Marine Group.

The change is intended to draw attention to Pearson's "long and remarkable history of innovation, its emergence from the marine industry's downturn and its focus on the smart luxury brands of boats the company is building and selling," the company says in a statement.

A new website was launched to unite Alerion sailing yachts, True North expedition powerboats and North Rip sportfishing boats and demonstrate the advantages of their shared corporate origin. The site also links to the separate sites for each brand.

Dealership experience spurs new boat sales

Dealership experience ranks as the highest contributor to new-boat sales influence, according to findings from a new report released by Foresight Research.

The 2010 Boating Industry Dealership Experience Influence Report was commissioned by marine industry organizations led by the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Boat buyers in the national study rated 11 forms of marketing on how much each contributed to their purchase. They included all types of advertising, print and electronic editorials; brochures; experiential events, such as shows and seminars; the dealership experience; Internet searches; social media; and TV programming about boating.

Across all of the marketing channels that were studied, the calculated share of sales influence from the dealership experience ranked highest overall. The Internet, boat shows, print articles and brochures round out the top five sources of sales influence.

The top five sources provide 59.6 percent of the total sales influence from marketing communications, according to the report.

The study found that female buyers and prior boat owners express more influence from their dealership experience than men and first-time buyers. Female buyers also show a much higher degree of loyalty to a dealership.

"Based on the data from recent buying experiences of thousands of buyers, it is clear that the dealership is a lot more than a distribution point for boats," Foresight Research executive vice president Ron Hein says in a statement. "The dealership experience provides a great deal of rational and emotional input, which buyers need to formulate or finalize their purchase decision."

Missouri builder is up for sale

The owner of Black Thunder Powerboats is selling the company and hoping that some "young blood" can come in and keep the nearly 25-year-old manufacturer going.

"It's just age, more than anything. It's going to take a fight to get it going again," says Don Jenkins, 78. "I was at the Miami show, and it seemed that there were a lot of people there and everybody still wants a boat and it looks like it's going to turn around now and start going back the other way.

"It's really disappointing," he says of the decision to sell. "If you could take 20 years off my life, there'd be no way I'd sell it. Sometimes age gets you, and there's nothing you can do about that."

Jenkins says the Hannibal, Mo.-based, family-owned company shipped its last boat and is no longer in production. At one time, he says, Black Thunder Powerboats did more than $6 million in sales annually.

- Beth Rosenberg

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue.


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