More than 300 dealers from North America and worldwide attended a Groupe Beneteau dealer meeting this fall and heard the French company reiterate its commitment to the U.S. market. Beneteau in 2014 acquired the American boat brands Glastron, Four Winns, Scarab and Wellcraft.
“My particular mission here is to firmly convey the message that … the full resources and power of the group are available to the American brands and will be exerted here in North America,” George Armendariz, who recently was appointed Groupe Beneteau Americas CEO (a new position), tells Trade Only. “We want the ownership to be visible. We want the dealer body to feel confident that there is a committed ownership here.”
Thirty Group Beneteau powerboats — representing six boat brands and ranging from 16 to 60 feet — were available for testing and inspection at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Sarasota, Fla., in late September. In addition to the U.S. brands, Beneteau brought boats from Beneteau Power and Jeanneau Power.
“It’s good to be owned by a boat company rather than a bank — an owner that cares about marine,” says Steve St. Onge, owner of St. Onge Recreation in Ontario, a Scarab dealer for 13 years.
Groupe Beneteau announced in June 2014 its purchase of Rec Boat Holdings, a group of U.S. brands owned by Platinum Equity Group, including Michigan-based Four Winns, Glastron, Wellcraft and Scarab.
Journalists from about 15 news organizations — both print and Web — were also invited to Sarasota. Groupe Beneteau wants to leverage its distribution channels, which include more than 1,000 points of sale around the world, and there will be more synergies and collaboration among the sales networks, Armendariz says.
Armendariz says he has a clear mandate: “To coalesce our activities in the Americas and integrate the brands and use that power of Groupe Beneteau for the benefit of the brands,” he says. “Up until now they have operated pretty much as independent companies. The integration includes manufacturing footprint, marketing initiatives, product planning and development.”
Armendariz will manage Groupe Beneteau as a unified business, with each brand maintaining its identity, he says. “We are not going to mess with the brands’ DNA,” he says. “We are fortunate that all of the brands have strong brand equity in the marketplace.”
The numbers illustrate the importance of the American market to Groupe Beneteau.
The United States accounts for a third of the group’s total revenue of about $1.2 billion, putting the U.S. between $350 million and $400 million, according to Armendariz. “It’s a significant business, and we need to run it as a significant business,” he says.
Armendariz, 62, joins Beneteau from Nordic Tugs, a builder of recreational trawlers in Burlington, Wash., where he was president. Prior to that he spent 21 years in positions at Brunswick Corp., the most recent of which was vice president and general manager of Brunswick Marine Europe, based in Belgium.
Groupe Beneteau has a capital expenditure plan of $100 million globally across all 10 of its brands in the next 12 months, he says. “About half of that is for product development — that’s big.”
The large North American recreational boating market provides ample opportunity for growth, according to Mirna Cieniewicz, Groupe Beneteau director of corporate communications and public affairs.
“Our brands have plenty of space to grow in the U.S. market,” she says. “This is why North America is so important to the group’s strategy.” She also says American brands have a great future beyond American borders.
“We are fairly confident the group will be back to the prerecession levels,” she says. “We are looking at the future with confidence.”
Groupe Beneteau has 10 brands. In addition to the six represented at the dealer meeting, they include Prestige Yachts, CNB Yacht Builders, Lagoon Motor Yachts and Monte Carlo Yachts.
Other executives on hand were Laurent Fabre, president of Scarab, Beneteau powerboats and Four Winns; Andy Lindsay, vice president of sales for Groupe Beneteau of the Americas; and Nicolas Harvey, president of Jeanneau.
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.
On the docks
I asked a handful of 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,” says 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 says. 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.
Dan Bursey, owner of Harper Powersports and Marine in Haliburton, Ontario, says the group has been improving its 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,” says Bursey.
Bursey was impressed with the Scarab center console with waterjet power.
“I think it will be a big hit,” he says. “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,” says 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.)
Solberg believes the group is in this for the long haul.
“It’s a boat company with a pedigree and heritage,” he says. The future looks good if Groupe Beneteau “can keep design changes and models fresh enough to continue gaining market share,” he says. “Christophe Lavigne has done a good job,” Solberg says, 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,” says 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.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue.