Brunswick’s Business Acceleration unit was formed only last January, but it has already seen its first major addition. The company completed its acquisition of Freedom Boat Club at the end of May for an undisclosed amount, but the buy makes Brunswick the world’s largest boat club operator. Brunswick’s other boat club business, OnBoard, has been working with the Suntex Marina Group for several years.
Brenna Preisser, president of Business Acceleration and chief human resources officer at Brunswick, told Trade Only Today that Freedom Boat Club and OnBoard would remain separate businesses, at least for now.
“We’re in the early stages post-acquisition,” says Preisser. “It’s going to be business as usual for both companies. We understand that we bought a quality business that is well run. We view Freedom as a platform opportunity that we can learn from.”
Preisser said Freedom has “strong capabilities” in direct-to-consumer business and franchising. “After all, they have 20,000 consumers they’re interacting with on a regular basis, and many happy franchise owners, so this is more about leveraging our understanding of the business than it is about making changes,” she says. “We think this is a great opportunity to get more folks into boating, so the question is how do we accelerate that?”
This new unit is all about accelerating the businesses of dissimilar Brunswick platforms that are more service- than product-oriented. Brunswick has kept its Boat Group, Mercury Propulsion and Mercury P&A divisions separate from Business Acceleration. That unit includes a portfolio of financial service businesses, its marine technology and integration brand Nautic-On, its i-Jet innovation lab at the University of Illinois and joint ventures with TechNexus that include Streem, Anglr and CatchCo.
The new unit is part of Brunswick CEO David Foulkes' vision of being a marine-only company. “We think of Brunswick in a few ways,” Foulkes told Trade Only today earlier this year. “One way is a marine platform that is connected by our various divisions with lots of synergies. We can provide boaters, dealers and OEM customers a diverse range of products and services that a lot of other people can’t offer.”
The second way, reflecting Foulkes' background in technology, is seeing Brunswick as a “combination of a technology and lifestyle” company. “We want to give people these very special experiences on boats and make every moment a wow moment. We want to elevate the experience of the whole industry,” he said.
Preisser sees a similar mission for Business Acceleration. “If I were looking for a word, it would be ‘foresight,’” she says. “Where is the market going and what will it look like in the future? We need to move beyond where our core capabilities are today and focus on the consumer. After all, the consumer is driving everything we do today.”
One of the main priorities of Business Acceleration, says Preisser, is around boating participation. “There were 200,000 new boats sold last year and 40 million people who have boated, but we’re getting fewer new buyers every year,” she says. “Our intention is to leverage our industry partnerships and focus on what everyone should be focused on—boating participation. Our goal is to become more relevant with millennials and get the next generation engaged. We all win if consumers are interested.”
One of the division’s businesses, Nautic-On, has taken an “agnostic” approach to systems integration and remote diagnostics for boats by putting some distance between Brunswick and its own brand. Nautic-On units will become standard equipment on Sea Ray and Boston Whaler models during this model year, but the intent is to appeal to all OEM boatbuilders and dealers.
“We’ve already made a lot of investments in a commercial-ready solution as we partner with dealers and see many opportunities on the service side,” says Preisser. “We’re going to continue to remain agnostic for dealers and builders because we believe that connected vessels are going to be a general consumer expectation that will not depend on specific boat brands. Our solution is a starting point, but we will continue along the path of integration.”
The minority ownership stakes of Streem, Anglr and CatchCo provide Brunswick access into emerging markets that may or may not yield long-term profits. CatchCo has shipped more than 3 million gift boxes of tackle equipment to anglers and is a “master of social media,” according to Preisser. Anglr bills itself as “America’s Number one fishing app,” while Streem has an app that captures data. “The Streem business model wasn’t intended for marine, but we see strong possibilities in it,” says Preisser. “The question now becomes how do you marinize it.”
Despite the dissimilar brands in Business Acceleration, there is a common thread that Brunswick has never really directly pursued: The consumer.
“For a long time, Brunswick was a B2B company. But for us, the end consumer is driving everything we do,” says Preisser. “For any project in Business Acceleration, we have to leverage consumer insight to be our guide. Our intention is to lead and shape the direction of the industry, but we have to be headed where the consumer is going.”