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Suppliers discuss how styling, comfort and quality drive boat interiors

By Brianna Liestman

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes several to appeal to con­sumers’ demands.

As consumers continue to prioritize comfort and style and manufacturers work tirelessly to design vessels that meet those needs, the onus is on interiors suppliers to step up to the plate and create those products.

“The consumer these days is very styled and technical-savvy,” said Cindy Steele, marine national sales manager at Syntec Industries, “and we have to address that as a supplier.”

With its offerings in carpet and its newest introductions of upholstery vinyl, interior cabin fabrics, bedding packages and more, Syntec aims to manufacture products that appeal to the consumer eye.

“Taking all of those products, we offer a design service at no charge to our customer to help them put all of those decorative, colorful and textural products together in an interior for a boat,” said Steele. “Our industry has changed quite a bit in regards to flooring products, because everyone’s looking for something different from an aesthetics standpoint.”

Syntec introduced a new cool touch and water-resistant flooring product at IBEX this year that comes in dark, saturated colors to address these changes.

Infinity luxury woven vinyl started with a vinyl facing for flooring, but will now also be moving into upholstery and bimini tops.

Infinity luxury woven vinyl started with a vinyl facing for flooring, but will now also be moving into upholstery and bimini tops.

“[Manufacturers] are still looking for something that the consumer can be excited about in way of texture and different materials and color and pattern,” said Steele.  “We are also going to be introducing at IBEX products that would suit all of those needs as far as color, texture and something different.”

The company will be doing this without large minimum requirements for the customer. The new products will also give consumers the opportunity to customize their flooring.

“Whenever you have something custom, you always have to run larger production runs. So we’re creating something that can bring a new style to the marketplace in regards to flooring, but yet not penalize the customer with large requirements on their end,” said Steele.

Customization is a focus for several suppliers. At SeaDek, the company shifted its focus during the recession from OEM product to its smaller custom aftermarket product, as many consumers were opting to redesign their old boats rather than buy new.

Even after the recession, the custom products SeaDek creates have remained a vital portion of the business. In the years to come, SeaDek plans to focus on new ways to apply graphics and patterns to its products.

“These days, with the Internet, Amazon [and] mass customization, I think most consumers expect most things to be somewhat customized,” said Jason Gardner, vice president of marketing and advertising at SeaDek Marine Products. “People want their boat to be unique and express who they are and what they like, and I think we’ve been able to latch onto that and really provide a really cool custom option to our customers and our OEMs’ customers.”

In the modern marine industry, much of styling is about coloration, which is different than what many manufacturers are used to in the past.

“For the most part, if you look at the marine industry as a whole, it kind of lives in the neutrals and it lives in ‘off-white, white and then maybe another shade of white or beige,’” said William F. McDaniel, marine market manager at Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, LLC, parent company of Sunbrella Marine. “We’re seeing that [manufacturers are] actually adding more of a vivid pop, brighter design element of color component to the material of the boat.”

Infinity, manufacturer of Luxury Woven Vinyl, has noticed that the consumer who has an eye for color and design exists within the boating world and it is imperative to have the offerings they desire.

Infinity unveiled a line of upholstery and bimini tops at IBEX, which will carry many of the characteristics of the woven vinyl floor covering the company is known for best. The company’s Luxury Woven Vinyl is currently available in 17 collections and 160 colors. These new product lines will also be available in a wide array of colorations.

“Because we are the manufacturer of all of these [products] supplying them direct to the boating industry, designers will be able to choose a color direction that will flow seamlessly from bimini to upholstery vinyl to floor covering,” said Warren J. McCrickard, marketing and communications director at Infinity. “We can appease that desire for a complete look.”

springfield marine’s seating design has moved to a sportier look to meet current trends.

Springfield Marine’s seating design has moved to a sportier look to meet current trends.

Personal styling is something Springfield Marine is also seeing with consumers. While only 10 percent of the company’s catalog was previously dedicated to upholstery, that quantity has now risen to 25 or 30 percent.

“We still have our basics that we’ve had in our catalog now for years, but we’ve added new seating designs [and] styles,” said Danny Sweeney, director of sales and marketing at Springfield Marine Group.

Springfield Marine introduced its new line of materials through a swatchbook at IBEX. These materials have different pattern designs in the grains of the upholstery to provide a sportier look for today’s consumers and updated colors that are matched with today’s gelcoats and boat coatings.

“Before we had a lot of grays and a lot of whites. Now you have a lot of different shades of colors and different textures,” said Sweeney. “Probably our best example is our Deluxe Sport Bucket chair. The style, look and appeal of it has been very popular and it’s gone onto a lot of sport boats at the OEM level. With Springfield, generally when we get something [popular] at OEM [level], aftermarket generally follows suit.”

Comfort is King

A product can’t just look good – it also needs to feel good. If a boater is going to spend hours on a vessel, it needs to be a comfortable experience.

That’s why it is the first piece of SeaDek’s tagline: Comfort, durability and an aesthetic look and feel. Comfort drives much of what SeaDek designs because it is the brand’s hallmark trait.

syntec’s new elagé upholstery vinyl has green properties, which Steele said is “few and far between” in the industry.

Syntec’s new elagé upholstery vinyl has green properties, which Steele said is “few and far between” in the industry.

“Our product is essentially similar to a shoe product [or] sandal. When someone looks down at the back of a Monterey and they see what appears to be at first glance kind of a faux teak, they expect it to be a hard plastic decking, and they jump down onto the swim platform over and over again,” said Gardner. “Usually people who get a boat with SeaDek will never get one without it. The EVA foam in and of itself is a really good anti-fatigue product so comfort is forefront in everything we do.”

While comfort has always been important, its significance has become more prominent in the past years, even in segments where it was not historically a priority. Sweeney said that as more and more manufacturers create products that are used for multiple activities rather than a single application, comfortable seating is on the rise. One example he provided was in the pontoon segment.

“Pontoon boats used to just have standard, back-to-back kind of style seats. It’s now all comfort style seats, and at the helm what I’ll call the Lay-Z-Boy effect has come into play. These chairs have definitely gotten a lot bigger, a lot plusher,” said Sweeney.

To meet these needs, Springfield Marine has had to significantly strengthen its pedestals to accommodate larger chairs and redesign the chairs themselves.

“We’ve taken helm chairs that we were designing for our offshore boats, yachts and workboat applications and they’re now going on the recreational boats,” said Sweeney.

As boats and the seats inside them have gotten larger, the aluminum castings Springfield Marine uses in its pedestals have been built with new configurations. The company is also bringing the performance of seating from the automotive industry into marine. Springfield has added electronic motor actuators to its seating, which will adjust height and move forward or aft.

“People have just become accustomed do it in the automotive industry. Their seats have all kinds of electronic features to them,” said Sweeney. “The recreational boating industry always kind of follows suit not long after the automotive [industry] has it out. They’re doing it with electronic controls these days so it kind of makes sense to do electronic seating as well.”

One key aspect to comfort is temperature. Manufacturers have begun designing products to keep consumers from burning themselves.

Sunbrella’s acrylic does not stick to consumers’ skin and is comfortable to the touch, said McDaniel.

“In order for the fabric to survive in that environment, it has to have that durability aspect, meaning sun resistance, resistance to suntan oils, food stuff, whatever might become part of that environment,” said McDaniel.

Sunbrella also released its Sunbrella Terry, a knitted terrycloth much like cotton terry but made with Sunbrella’s fibers. The cloth is designed to protect the seat and make it more comfortable to sit on in a heated environment.

“It’s a great sacrificial cover to put over the vinyl seats or other seating areas,” said McDaniel.

No sacrifice to quality

While styling and comfort are a huge focus for suppliers, it cannot be done at the sacrifice of quality. As a result, suppliers have released new products that enhance the customer experience while drawing in the eye.

To achieve this, Sunbrella introduced its Jacquard weaving technology a few years back into the construction of its outdoor fabrics. The technology produces a print-life fabric that is a woven pattern and design that is fairly intricate.

“Sometimes you don’t want a huge amount of intricacy inside a boat because it kind of overwhelms the space, but yet still we can bring the comfort, soft dynamic feel to the fabric, along with having that true performance story, which is to say it’s sun-resistant and it’s cleanable,” said McDaniel.

seadek has focused much of its efforts on the value of its own brand for oems and aftermarket consumers.

SeaDek has focused much of its efforts on the value of its own brand for oems and
aftermarket consumers.

Sunbrella Marine’s products are made with acrylic because of its great UV degradation properties and cleanability, said McDaniel. Providing that kind of reliability is of top concern when appealing to today’s consumer.

“It kind of all feeds back to the primary issue, which is functionality, cleanability, durability,” said McDaniel. “Those are things people are starting to trend to [and] say ‘If I’m going to spend the resources to either refurbish or outfit my new boat, then what I’m looking for is a functional, durable fabric that I can live with, live on and [I] still enjoy my investment.’”

McCrickard said as manufacturers consider products for the interior of their vessels, design selections should be no different than the expectation of the exterior, such as design, engine performance, etc.

McCrickard said as manufacturers consider products for the interior of their vessels, design selections should be no different than the expectation of the exterior, such as design, engine performance, etc.

“From a performance standpoint, the [boat] manufacturer looks for ways to make the vessel perform better. In the same way, when they look at a floor covering or an upholstery vinyl or a bimini, they want to choose products that will increase the boat’s performance,” said McCrickard. “What’s going to provide the best performance, the most unique design and the highest value.”

Coloration and styling feed into this performance once you have a quality product.

“You have consumers that say ‘I want a boat that performs better than anyone else’s, but is also designed to catch the eye … give a real wow factor,’” said McCrickard. “By choosing Infinity’s floor coverings, upholstery vinyl and bimini tops with their diverse colorations and constructions, this desire is fulfilled all through one company.”

The industry should help consumers understand that while they may pay more for an option, the value behind it from a performance perspective has a long-term benefit. It can be incredibly frustrating for a consumer if they are tearing up carpet or upholstery two years into the boat’s life.

“If you are a dealer talking to a consumer, you can point to something that is a lot of times overlooked, your floor covering, and speak to the performance value of Luxury Woven Vinyl helping them upgrade to a less maintenance, more care-free lifestyle,” said McCrickard.

In order to continue improving the performance of the product for consumers, SeaDek released an updated version of its anti-fatigue helm station foam pad at IBEX that has increased in thickness. The top is a high-density non-skid product and the bottom layer is a thicker, lower density foam.

“It has the cushion and shock absorption that the customer wants but with the durability on top,” said Gardner.

SeaDek’s pad will also be removable, which was a request for several consumers. Previously, everything SeaDek made was installed on the boat with a 3M, marine grade pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA), and once the PSA is down, it is down for good. With the new pad, SeaDek worked directly with Velcro to use a Velcro application for easy removal, cleaning and reinstallation.

“Because many center consoles have access ports where [customers] can get into the bottom of the boat, it would be nice to remove the pad,” said Gardner.

Safety is an important aspect of quality, one that Syntec placed heavy focus on when designing its new upholstery vinyl, Elagé. French for “blending,” the product blends a number of colors to achieve a seating product without PVC or plasticizer to make it a green product.

“We’re thinking that it will be the first family-friendly, kid-friendly upholstery material introduced in the industry, because if people will read what’s been done on playground equipment and children’s toys, the chemicals that are involved in making those have been banned by the EPA,” said Steele. “So we’re taking those same materials out of the seating material and creating a family-friendly upholstery.”

McDaniel said manufacturers should be asking the right questions when choosing its interior suppliers, particularly how the interior products used by a manufacturer complement its overall brand.

“Regardless of whom the manufacturer is, the question that we hope the boat builders are asking are … what is the total experience [or] performance? In other words,” said McDaniel, “how do the products we use throughout that boat increase the value of the brand that is that vessel?”

 

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