SARASOTA, Fla. — Rec Boat Holdings this week introduced to its dealers and the media eight new boats from 21 to 27 feet across its four brands and sharpened its focus on developing the Wellcraft saltwater lineup.
The Beneteau Group in July 2014 bought Rec Boat Holdings, a group of U.S. brands owned by Platinum Equity Group that includes Michigan-based Four Winns, Glastron, Wellcraft and Scarab.
“[Platinum] allowed us to invest in the product aggressively over the past five years,” Rec Boat Holdings president Roch Lambert said. “Today we still have a standalone company with connections to the rest of [Beneteau]. It’s a great association for us; we’ve had a lot more success internationally. There’s been a lot of cross-pollination.”
About 175 dealers — including 26 from outside North America — attended the three-day dealer meeting that began Sunday. The company had 21 boats in the water for dealers to inspect and test, ranging from a Scarab 215 (Wake Edition) to the Four Winns Horizon 350.
About 10 journalists followed the dealers on Wednesday. During a 90-minute presentation Rec Boat Holdings executives explained the progress the company has made and looked ahead.
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“We’ve been concentrating on Glastron and Four Winns,” Lambert said. “But from looking at the boats we have here, it’s obvious we’re developing more outboard applications. Once we were comfortable with the sterndrive side, we said this is the year we start hitting Wellcraft hard.”
The builder will introduce nine new Wellcrafts for the 2016 model year. Three of those boats were introduced here — the 221 and 224 Fisherman bay boats and the 242 Fisherman center console. The company also introduced three Four Winns boats — the HD 270 (outboard and sterndrive models), the TS 242 and the Vista 255 pocket cruiser; the Glastron GT 240 (outboard) and two new “Wake Edition” models of the Scarab, the 215 and 255, also made their debut.
Many of the boats are now headed across the state for next month’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
Rec Boat Holdings has kicked into high gear, trying to take advantage of the economy before the next downturn, said Lambert. “We’re in process to accelerate the rate of product introduction to fulfill the market demands faster and position ourselves better for developing innovative product in the future,” he said.
Another message Rec Boat Holdings executives delivered: Capitalize on the well-known Wellcraft name. “It’s the fifth-most-researched brand on Internet search engines,” said Christophe Lavigne, RBH vice president of engineering, who delivered a comprehensive look at all four brands. “The Wellcraft name is very strong.”
To revamp the Wellcraft lineup, the company sought advice from seasoned fishermen such as Glyn Austin, a fishing guide (www.goingcoastalcharters.com) who also worked for Bombardier Recreational Products in marketing for 21 years. Rec Boat Holdings also brought in Erik Rogers, who previously designed Stratos and Champion boats, to design the new Wellcraft boats. The company also utilizes a naval architect, said Lavigne.
Rec Boat Holdings will concentrate on Wellcraft for the remainder of the year and 2016, but sterndrive boats remain the bread and butter of the company, said Lambert. “I believe we have hit bottom and things even improved in August,” he said, referring to overall industry sterndrive sales. “Volvo [Penta] and Mercury have introduced innovative, high-performing packages that we’re excited about.”
Volvo Penta’s new Gen V gasoline engines with the company’s new Forward Drive were installed in the Four Winns TS 242 and TS 222; the new MerCruiser 6.2L gas engine powered the Four Winns HD 270.
The company is also developing Beneteau’s Merry Fisher outboard boats, a Jeanneau brand, for the North American market, Rec Boat Holdings executives said.
The modifications will mostly involve equipment and outfitting changes such as adding air conditioning and more fuel capacity and larger seating, said Lavigne. The name also eventually will be changed.
There were a few Merry Fisher dealers at the meeting checking out the line’s new vessel — the 26-foot 795, an outboard-powered pilothouse boat.
The company offered insights at the meeting from marine partners such as GE Capital, Boatsetter (which recently merged with Cruzin), Freedom Boat Club and the Water Sports Industry Association, Rec Boat Holdings director of marketing Julie Johnson said. New-product seminars were conducted for each of the brands, allowing dealers an interactive training session with product engineers and designers.