Tracy Crocker knows how to work a room. The evening before Evinrude unveiled new products to the press last Thursday, the engine manufacturer had an informal cocktail reception and dinner. Crocker, the president of BRP Marine Group, mingled with attendees and even sat for the caricature artist, so he could bring home the drawing to let his kids laugh at him.
The next morning, when Crocker took the microphone, he made sure he said hello in the language of every international journalist at the event prior to mapping out Evinrude’s future strategy.
“When we acquired the boat companies recently, it changed the scope of my job,” Crocker told Trade Only Today. He was recently named president of the newly created BRP Marine Group. “We’re not just Evinrude anymore. We think that’s starting to tell a new story.”
After spending three and a half years turning around powersports manufacturer Arctic Cat, Crocker came on board at BRP in 2017. He said there are many similarities between Arctic Cat and BRP because both had quality products that basically needed an infusion of enthusiasm and a focused growth approach.
“In a turnaround situation people have to realize that there’s something worth turning around and it will be a collective effort in getting it to turn around,” said Crocker. “That is fundamentally a leader’s job.”
One of the things the company is doing is moving away from focusing on the fact that Evinrude is the only manufacturer still building two-stroke outboards. “Were more focused on what the technology does to the performance of the boat and what that means to the consumer and the experience they have,” Crocker said.
To focus on improving that experience, BRP Marine acquired Manitou pontoon boats, Alumacraft boats and Telwater boats of Australia, all within the last year. The Manitou and Alumacraft purchases took place within a month of each other.
Crocker said that after BRP purchased Alumacraft, the company was surprised that Mercury and Yamaha, both of whom had supplied power to the aluminum-boat manufacturer, immediately stopped doing so. “We went in with our eyes wide open, but what we didn’t expect was that Yamaha and Mercury would walk away on day one,” said Crocker.
Taking the opportunity, BRP started putting more Evinrude product on Alumacraft transoms, similar to when the company picked up market share at the end of last year when Mercury and Yamaha were having problems meeting demand.
“We’ve always had best-in-industry products and we’ve been able to get products to our customers,” says Crocker. He added that when BRP purchased Alumacraft, less than 10 percent of the boats had Evinrude power. In less than a year, that number increased to 25 percent. He said the initial goals are to double the number of Evinrudes on Alumacraft transoms and triple those on Manitou models.
“We’d love for them to all be Evinrude powered, but we’re going to be consistent with what we said from day one, if Evinrude is going to be on the back, it’s because we earned the right to be on the back,” said Crocker.
During the media presentation, Crocker said that the acquisition of the three boat companies is the beginning of a three-part strategy, Buy, Build and Transform. Targeting aluminum boats was intentional because BRP has experience working with the material in snowmobiles, but Crocker said his company would consider a fiberglass-boat manufacturer if it was the right fit. He said BRP is already one of the largest hull manufacturers in the industry with Sea-Doo watercraft.
When asked if targeting aluminum boats could lead consumers to think that BRP is focusing on freshwater, Crocker countered: “We think there is a big market in saltwater that we have never packaged the right way. Manitou and Alumacraft have opportunities in the Southeast. I think pontooning on the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida is getting started and I think you’ll see pontoons on bigger water in the Great Lakes and in the Pacific Northwest.”
Another concern with focusing on aluminum is the ongoing trade war with China. “It’s a growing concern,” said Crocker. “Everybody went into this with, let’s hold our breath and wait for it to be over. Now it could be protracted.”
Moving forward, the Build part of the plan is for 2019 through 2021. Crocker is focused on building a stronger dealer network. “We’re changing the dialog with dealers to, ‘We want to partner with you in this market and make you the No. 1 marine dealership in your area.’” He said BRP’s powersports dealer network is a “cornerstone” for the company. “A power sport dealer is not a marine dealer, but that network gives us the framework to expand manufacturing and logistics across the United States and North America,” said Crocker.
The third step in the initiative, Transform, is for 2021 and beyond. “We’re putting pressure on ourselves to put this technology into a design with our boats that leverages aluminum and changes the industry by integrating the outboard engine into the boat,” said Crocker.
Like his competition, Crocker wants the owner/operator experience to be enhanced with integration and the ability for the owner and boat to be able to communicate. “We want the owner to have a safe, reliable, and confident sense of the product and also that they are enjoying this moment,” said Crocker. BRP’s five-year plan, added Crocker, also includes having “something significant and new in the market on average about every six months.”
Looking back, he said the company had a slight misstep when it launched the latest generation of its E-TEC outboards. “When we launched ETEC G2, we weren’t as bold as we could have been telling our story,” he said. “The hero of the story is E-TEC. People want to know why is your engine so great.”
BRP still owns the rights another motor brand, Johnson. Crocker did not say whether there are plans to resurrect the brand. He simply said: “It’s a great option to have.”
Crocker also said that the company is addressing engine noise. It is among most consumer’s top five buying attributes.
When it comes to engine size, Crocker knows Evinrude is behind the competition in horsepower output. That, he added, is not a concern. “The next generation is not going to buy a 425-hp engine,” said Crocker. “They’re going to buy a boat that meets their needs.”