Reaching buyers who are ‘completely left out’

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Starcraft SVX 211

Starcraft SVX 211

Dealer input has prompted Smoker Craft to create several “value lines” in its aluminum and fiberglass boat lines. The Indiana-based manufacturer of the Smoker Craft, Starcraft, Sylvan, Starweld and SunChaser brands introduced three new series at its dealer meeting for first-time buyers.

“As the marketplace focuses increasingly on that higher-end consumer, our concern is that the entry-level buyer has been completely left out, and we want to bring them back into the picture,” said Peter Barrett, Smoker Craft’s senior vice president of marketing and corporate development in a statement. “We want a millennial to be able to buy one of our boats and become a customer for life.”

The new series includes the Starcraft LX Series (pontoon), Starcraft SVX Series (fiberglass deckboats) and Sunchaser Vista (pontoon) line. Its Starcraft LX 16-ft. pontoon boat, with a 40-hp outboard, will retail for $19,995, while the SVX 17, with a 90-hp outboard, will be around $30,000.

Starcraft LX 16

Starcraft LX 16

“They perform very well with less than maximum horsepower, allowing dealer to rig them with smaller engines to lower the overall package price and keep them as affordable as possible,” said Barrett. “We are focusing on what we do best, which is to build high-quality boats that families can afford.”

The company last week held its largest dealer meeting, with 168 boats on display. Smoker Craft has about 400 dealers. Of the several hundred dealers at the event, 45 new dealers attended, along with 20 new prospects.

Phil Smoker, Smoker Craft’s vice president of sales, told Trade Only Today that the company began planning the new value series about a year ago. “Our engineering team designed them to be easier to produce without many options,” said Smoker. “By just keeping it simple, it let us hit some new price points. Not everyone wants to spend $60,000 on a pontoon boat.”

Smoker said that, while orders will fluctuate following the dealer meeting, the company is receiving strong orders for the new lines. “We feel pretty good for what we know right now,” he says.

The company has also adjusted production to match lower dealer inventory levels. “We’ve been pretty responsible about it and first began to adjust our production beginning last October,” says Smoker. “Our inventory levels are down compared with last year, with about about 2 percent inventory currently in the pipeline. Almost 60 percent of our dealers have less inventory than last year.”

Other builders, Smoker says, were not as quick to lower production and have been “pushing product” on dealers. That hasn’t become a big problem for Smoker Craft, but it has created a “disruption” in different product categories.

Smoker said that the new value lines came partly because of dealer requests, but also because one manufacturer dominated the entry-level segments and “everyone was kind of giving them all that business.”

The models are aimed at first-time boaters and young families.

“We’ll continue to sell a variety of boats across our lines,” adds Smoker, noting that the general mood at the dealer meeting was positive.

Smoker noted that dealers are being more cautious about orders for this year. “Nobody has expectations of the 10 percent growth they’ve seen over the last five years,” he says. “But people seemed confident this year would be a good year. Instead of ordering a wide range of products, they’re going a bit deeper into the products they know they can sell.” 

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