In Miami, Brunswick maps path to its future

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The worst is over for the recreational marine industry and Brunswick Corp. That was the message delivered to a group of financial analysts during a meeting held today in Miami and broadcast over the Internet prior to the opening of the Miami International Boat Show.

Brunswick chairman and CEO Dusty McCoy said the Lake Forest, Ill.-based company has emerged leaner and meaner from what he described as the worst recreational marine industry downturn since the company began keeping records in 1965.

McCoy said that while he expects sales to decline slightly this year, the real challenge facing Brunswick and others in the industry is prospering  in a market where total new-boat production volume may not exceed 200,000 units. That's roughly half the industry's peak production level of the 1990s and about a third of the historic highs the boating business saw in the late 1980s.

"Within Brunswick, where we have been positioning ourselves is that we want to be at a cost structure so that we can make more money on smaller volumes as the market comes back," McCoy told the group.

The conference comes less than two weeks after Brunswick reported a 41 percent drop in total net sales for its 2009 fiscal year, ending Dec. 31, which was due largely to a 46 percent decline in its marine segment sales. During the last few years, Brunswick has responded to the downturn by closing plants, cutting boat brands and reducing its work force in an effort to dramatically trim costs.

Much of last year's sales decline, McCoy said, was due to Brunswick's successful efforts to reduce dealer inventory levels, which fell from roughly 29,000 units at the beginning of 2009 to 14,000 units by year's end. That has left the dealer pipeline at the lowest level in the company's history, he said, predicting that inventory levels this year would decline to as low as 12,000 units.

Going forward, Brunswick Boat Group president Andrew Graves said his unit is focusing more on international sales to drive growth, where revenues increased to 43 percent of total Boat Group sales from 30 percent two years ago.

He said the Boat Group has reduced the number of boat brands it produces to 16 - a third less than what it had two years ago.

"We've also reduced the complexity of the model lineup within each of the brands," he said, adding that the remaining product lineup is focused around consumer categories, such as fiberglass fishing and aluminum fishing.

Looking at the dealer network, Graves said during the last 18 months the industry has lost roughly 20 percent of its dealers, which he said represents from about 10 to 20 percent of total industry market share. However, Graves said, Brunswick has lost just 115 dealers - barely 1 percent of its total dealer network.

At Mercury Marine, the unit is about six months into the shutdown of its MerCruiser plant in Stillwater, Okla., and relocation of those functions to its plant in Fond du Lac, Wis. Mercury president Mark Schwabero said Mercury's biggest task moving forward will be adapting to tighter environmental regulations and producing more fuel efficient engines.

He said the company also remains committed to new product development, citing the unit's Axis and Zeus engine systems as examples, as well as a new hybrid marine engine concept being unveiled at Miami.

In closing, McCoy said Brunswick has the product lines and capital resources to win over retailers and grab market share from competitors, adding that in markets where credit is tight, boat companies with strong equity positions have the greatest advantages, especially when it comes to securing floorplan for its dealer network.

- Gary Beckett

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