SARASOTA, Fla. — It has been just over two years since Groupe Beneteau bought the four American brands that Rec Boat Holdings previously owned — Glastron, Four Winns, Scarab and Wellcraft.
At the group’s dealer meeting this week, I roamed the docks at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and asked a handful of those dealers to rate the performance of the group as it heads into its third year of ownership.
Tom and Knatalie Stolt, owners of Eagle Marine Sales & Service in Boyne City, Mich., took on the Glastron brand this year.
“We’ve had a few other boat lines, but this company listens to the dealers better than any other company I have been a dealer for,” said Tom Stolt. “Sometimes manufacturers are unreceptive to design ideas from dealers, like fishing features.”
Stolt carries Glastron and may add Wellcraft to his lineup, which also includes Manitou Pontoons, he said. The Stolts were impressed with the Wellcraft 222 Fisherman center console because it includes a lot of equipment found on costlier boats, such as an enclosed head.
“The large opening to the head gives you easy access,” Stolt said. “The [hatch] swings up and opens up a large space for you to get in and out. That was really nice.”
“We also like the fact that these boats are American-built,” Knatalie Stolt added.
Dan Bursey, owner of Harper Powersports and Marine in Haliburton, Ontario, said the group has been improving quality control, which is important for a dealer in northern climes.
“We have such a short season here — we need the boats ready to go when they arrive. They do bend over backward to get you the parts quickly,” Bursey said.
Bursey was impressed with the Scarab center console with waterjet power.
“I think it will be a big hit,” he said. “You’re talking about a center console that can go into a foot of water.”
I caught up with Garett Solberg as he inspected a Glastron GS 259, calling out to him: “How’s the fit and finish on that Glastron?”
“Good — they make a great product,” said Solberg, of Rapid Marine in Ham Lake, Minn. “They have been doing a good job of drawing in younger buyers with body lines, colors and the simplicity of the boats and the price point. They are simple to drive. They make it easy for the first-time buyer.” (Rapid Marine also has three other locations in the Minneapolis area.)
Groupe Beneteau acquired Rec Boat Holdings in June of 2014. Solberg believes the group is in this for the long haul.
“It’s a boat company with a pedigree and heritage,” he said. The future looks good if Groupe Beneteau “can keep design changes and models fresh enough to continue gaining market share,” he said. “Christophe Lavigne has done a good job,” Solberg said, referring to the vice president of engineering for the group’s four American brands.
Gary Tennefoss has been associated with Glastron for 25 years and has owned Ravenna Marine in Ravenna, Ohio, for 11 years.
“So far I am pleased with their attention to detail and willingness to learn and understand our markets,” said Tennefoss. “They have their own experience, but they’re looking at how they can apply that [experience] to our boats and brands. Having a strong financial backing with the understanding of the industry is a win-win, too. There are lots of people with money who don’t get it. I believe Groupe Beneteau gets it.”
Tennefoss said Groupe Beneteau is embracing the design skills of the teams in place. “That has been a big positive with the Beneteau Group,” he said.
Hudson’s Outboard Inc., of Salisbury Mass., just became a dealer for one of Groupe Beneteau’s Jeanneau brands — the Merry Fisher, pilothouse boats from 22 to 28 feet that are now called the “NC” (New Concept) in North American markets.
“We know there are no [NC dealers] in close proximity to us,” said Steve Tobin, who manages the business’s ship and tackle store. “Some of the popular lines are already taken in our territory. We are an outboard dealership, and this is strictly an outboard boat. We believe we can grow the line in our area.”
Salisbury is on the state’s northern coast, bordering New Hampshire. Hudson’s also sells Key West and World Cat boats.
Tobin has been in the marine industry for several decades. He said he previously worked as a manufacturer’s representative for a handful of boat companies, including Wellcraft, Larson and Aquasport.
“[Groupe Beneteau] is a good company, from what I can see from a dealership point of view,” he said. “It seems to be a well-run company, and they’re growing. I like that. [The NC] is a Jeanneau brand — and people know that name.”