CAPE CORAL, FLA. — Evinrude concluded a two-day business meeting yesterday with about 200 of its dealers at the Westin resort and marina in Cape Coral, Fla. The meeting included seminars, one-on-ones with Evinrude executives, and boat tests with its Alumacraft and Manitou brands and Evinrude outboards. The event follows a similar business meeting last summer in Wisconsin with 100 other Evinrude dealers.
“We wanted to create a business conversation with our dealers since we’ve had so much happen in the last 12 months,” said Tracy Crocker, president of BRP’s Marine Group. “We feel like we’re on the ground floor of a 110-year-old startup.”
BRP has changed its Evinrude strategy during the last 18 months. With the acquisitions of Alumacraft, Manitou and Australia’s Telwater brands, it wants to establish a stronger OEM presence for its outboards. The meeting in Cape Coral included some of its boat-brand dealers, but since the company already had separate dealer meetings for Alumacraft and Manitou, Crocker wanted to focus on the Evinrude brand.
This week’s meeting was not for selling products, but for providing information about Evinrude’s future strategy, and getting feedback from dealers. “They’ve been so loyal over the years that we wanted to say thank you,” Crocker said. “We’re here today not to talk to them, but to talk with them. We want to help them sell more engines and boats in a sustainable, profitable way.”
Evinrude could certainly use growth. It has just 6 percent of the total outboard market in terms of unit sales, and its E-TEC models seem to have been left behind in the last decade by the growth of 4-stroke competitors Yamaha and Mercury.
Crocker is well aware of the history of the lopsided growth of 4-strokes, and Evinrude’s weak marketing response to it. “We let the industry tell our story instead of us doing it ourselves,” he said. “We assumed it was an OMC hangover, and that as a competing technology we could co-exist with 4-strokes. The problem is that they came up with the story that paved the way for their growth, and we lost our narrative.”
Crocker sees his job as reinventing the narrative to claim more market share. He says Evinrude E-TEC engines have lower emissions and greater fuel efficiency than 4-stroke competitors, but that story never gets much play, because 4-stroke manufacturers compare their engines with their 4-stroke competitors, rather than 2-stroke E-TECs.
“We now have three boat brands to help tell our story,” Crocker said. “We hope that will have a halo effect for our engines. What you’re seeing now is BRP making a full-fledged commitment to the industry.”
Evinrude’s new strategy, “Buy, Build and Transform,” was revealed to dealers over the last few days. The “buy” part of the campaign has to do with the boat company acquisitions, Crocker said, adding that BRP went after the brands that would give it “nice cornerstones” for growth.
The “build” part has to do with building out its dealer network and product development capacities. Crocker, who joined Evinrude from the powersports sector, said the company will follow that industry’s ability to leverage product development with the design and manufacturing of its snowmobile and personal watercraft segments. “We’re anxious to have our engine technology integrated into our boat brands,” he said. “That’s critical in packaging our story.”
“Transform,” Crocker said, is providing what consumers want in the boating experience.
“We think we’re capable of doing things that others in the industry are not,” he said. “We call it our strategic sweep spot. We plan to position Evinrude by getting the consumers to understand that our engines make boating better — faster hole shot, midrange acceleration, and 20 to 30 percent more torque. We’ll also talk about digital shift throttle and everything that comes standard. These are all the facts that have gotten lost in the conversation about 4-strokes.”
The transformation will come, Crocker added, by “packaging ourselves and our technology with a new level of confidence,” largely through E-TEC integration with the boat brands.
“The seminars put this strategy forward in practical training sessions,” Crocker said. “The dealers can go back and apply them to their businesses.”
Kendra and Robert Burke are longtime Evinrude dealers. Their dealership, Suncoast Marine Center, was founded in Largo, Fla., in 1969. The couple provided Evinrude with ideas for marketing about a decade ago when they realized the engine maker wasn’t giving consumers enough facts about the technology, which was relatively new after Bombardier acquired the engine assets of OMC in 2000.
“We’ve provided them with a lot of core data —t hat it’s so much cheaper to operate the Evinrude than 4-strokes, better emissions and other things that consumers need to be aware of,” Kendra said. “We used that strategy in-house. We think their technology has the ability to change the face of outboards. They just need a stronger marketing message.”
Living near the Gulf of Mexico, Robert believes the outboard line will grow with what he calls “infection by canal,” where one owner buys an Evinrude and another owner experiences it. “Pretty soon you have everyone on the canal with Evinrudes,” he said. “The idea is to create a groundswell of enthusiasm.”
Crocker said Evinrude will focus on the aluminum boat market through its new brands. BRP has no plans to acquire any other boat brands.
“Pontoons are still a growth market, and aluminum fishing boats remain strong, so it made sense to focus on those with three of the segment’s strongest brands,” Crocker said. “We’ll still be selling our outboards in the saltwater market. We haven’t abandoned that.”