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Brunswick: Offer to sell Sea Ray brand brings ‘robust’ response

Brunswick said sluggish sales of larger boats, such as this L550 Fly, did not influence its decision to put Sea Ray up for sale.

Brunswick said sluggish sales of larger boats, such as this L550 Fly, did not influence its decision to put Sea Ray up for sale.

Brunswick Corp. has had a “robust” response from strategic and financial potential buyers of its Sea Ray brand, which the company announced was for sale earlier this month.

"We’re required to run a public process, being Brunswick, but I would say we’ve had very strong response from strategic and financial potential buyers,” Huw Bower, president and vice president of Brunswick Boat Group, told Trade Only Today. “We’re very pleased with that response. It’s been very robust, and we’ve been working through a process with our investment banker to run a thoughtful transaction process. We’re pleased with the initial levels and indications of [interest from] a wide range of individuals and buyers.”

The No. 1 question that Sea Ray dealers, customers, vendors and suppliers have for Brunswick executives since the planned sale was announced Dec. 5 is: “Who’s going to be the buyer?”

“Once we know that, we’ll take away all the uncertainty around this process,” Bower said. “It’s the same concern — ‘Who is the new buyer going to be?’ My standard answer is, we simply don’t know at the moment.”

Brunswick’s decision to sell Sea Ray was made only after “careful, purposeful and deliberate” consideration and “was not about any short-term weakness” in the larger-boat category, Bower said.

“This is not a decision we’ve made quickly. We haven’t taken it lightly; it was done in careful consideration of Brunswick’s overall strategy,” Bower told Trade Only Today on Monday. “We’ve been a custodian of Sea Ray for 31 years. We care about the brand.”

“One commitment we’ve made about the sale is that we will run a respectful transaction process for the next three to six months,” Bower said.

The announcement came a day after the Sea Ray and Boston Whaler 2017 Yacht Expo and media event wrapped up in Captiva, Fla. Some dealers expressed concern after the sale was announced that customers who had put deposits on new boats would become nervous and withdraw them, understanding that buyers making those types of investments tend to be savvy about protecting them.

Bower (right) and Sea Ray president Brad Anderson are shown on the docks at the Sea Ray and Boston Whaler Yacht Expo earlier this month.

Bower (right) and Sea Ray president Brad Anderson are shown on the docks at the Sea Ray and Boston Whaler Yacht Expo earlier this month.

“The momentum the brand had going into and coming out of the Yacht Expo was really outstanding — that was the dilemma” that Brunswick had making the decision to sell, Bower said.

“We’re emerging from one of the strongest, if not the strongest Yacht Expo we’ve ever had, which came on the tail of a strong Fort Lauderdale [International Boat] Show,” Bower said. “It’s a testament not only to us as a business, but to the investments we’ve made in the brand. Our commitment is to business as usual. We’re aiming to make this the least disruptive it can be. Our attrition rate out of Fort Lauderdale and the Yacht Expo is the lowest it’s been in years.”

“We’ve been reaching out to people and making sure people are clear about the level of confidence we have around the process, the overall timeline and our commitment to the business in the interim,” Bower said. “We are continuing to support the business at the very highest levels, and we will continue to do that. We have talked to customers, we’ve talked to the vast majority of all of our dealers, we’re reaching out to vendors, and we’re reassuring them that this is business as usual.”

“We still have enormous demand for the Sea Ray product. We’ve got backlogs going out into next year,” Bower added. “We need to build those boats. We need to continue to hire people to execute our growth plans and initiatives; we continue to look at launching new product, consistent with our plans throughout this announcement. So when I say business as usual, I mean it truly is business as usual for many people in the business, notwithstanding a period of uncertainty, which we will manage down to the bare minimum.”

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