The challenge: Keep prices low as costs rise

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Fiberglass sales may not have reached their bottom yet, but Boston Whaler president Tim Schiek feels “comfortable.”

“It certainly feels much better than it has in the past,” Schiek said in late July at Nauset Marine’s 50th anniversary celebration. “The season has been good. We believe we’re picking up market share.” The New York, Miami and New England boat shows were particularly successful for Whaler, Schiek says.

Overall, fiberglass sales haven’t been as dismal this year as they have been in prior years, Schiek says. “We’re not declining like we had been for the last several years,” Schiek says. “And this segment, saltwater center console fishing, is doing a little better than others.”

Overall, Schiek says, he’s feeling better about the economy and industry. “Coming out of this recession, we’re excited to have one of the best distribution networks,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of good new product, a fantastic dealer base, and we’re honored to be a part of Nauset Marine’s 50-year legacy.”

Ron Berman, vice president, product development and engineering at the Brunswick Boat Group, didn’t offer specifics about new products on the horizon, but he did talk about the challenges of designing new models during a lingering recession. “There’s a balance between making a boat to attract customers during a recession and giving people what they want,” Berman says. “Some have tried to build a recession boat and it has not worked.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not focused on price, but we’re not doing it at the cost of features customers want,” he says. “We won’t compromise quality for the sake of price.”

Also, oil prices have driven up the cost of the raw materials used for boatbuilding, many of which are petroleum products, Berman says. Many suppliers hadn’t raised prices for a year or two because of the industry’s struggles, so now they’re catching up.

“We’ve had near record inflation on raw materials in the last six months, and we also have new EPA mandates on engine emissions,” Berman says. “Trying to design a boat to offset that is a real challenge.”

Any time there is a price increase, builders work to minimize the effect on consumers, Berman says. Whaler’s parent, Brunswick Corp., has slashed overhead in the last few years, and that has helped. But new expenses and consumers looking for even more features and value than in the past still creates a challenge. Berman seems confident the challenge will be met.

“We’re finding new ways to come out with new boats that have features customers want,” he says. “The boats we’re going to introduce are not going to compromise features.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.

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