Q&A: Mark Schwabero, Mercury Marine
In 2012, Mercury Marine was a bright spot for Brunswick when it posted $404.4 million in sales – a 12-percent increase over the prior year. Post-Miami Boat Show where it made several product introductions, Boating Industry spoke with Mercury President Mark Schwabero about what made 2012 a success and his views on the outboard industry.
What were the factors that led to Mercury’s success in 2012?
We were really excited about the success of our new 150-horsepower FourStroke outboard, which had a big piece in that success. But also, it was really just the recovery that we have started to see in some of the markets, like the aluminum fishing category and pontoons, which carry outboard motors.
We also had a great year with our parts and accessories businesses as both Land 'N' Sea and Attwood experienced record sales.
What made the 150-horsepower FourStroke successful?
The biggest thing was, from day one, we really wanted the product to connect with the consumer, and throughout the product development process we really focused on what the end consumer wanted to see and experience and have in the engine. Bottom line, research proved to be correct.
Features like the simplicity of the engine, the ease of service and general maintenance requirements are the things on the engine that resonated.
How important is ease of maintenance for today’s consumer?
It does a couple of things. For those individuals who want to maintain their own engine, even something as simple as doing winterization, they are able to do that. I think the other fact is when they see the ease of doing maintenance tasks like that brings comfort about the product itself.
What other important trends are you seeing in the outboard segment?
As it relates to consumers, their expectations are being driven more and more by what they are experiencing with other purchases and other products [outside of boating]. One area that we talk about is making our products more and more intuitive to the consumer. I think that is resonating with them.
Outboard-powered segments like aluminum fishing boats and pontoons seem to be leading the recession. That must be a great advantage for the outboard industry?
It is a great thing to see the recovery overall; it is good for us but it is also good for our dealers and distributors, particularly in the United States and Canada.
These segments tend to go down a little earlier in poor economic times, and they tend to come back a little earlier in [improving] economic times because those buyers often see or feel the economic times a little sooner on both ends. They are typically a solid consumer at all times, but they are one group that we can gauge the market around.
Overall, we are just grateful to see people seeing and understanding the quality of life and things that can come with being a boater.
Post-recession Mercury decided to consolidate its operations in Fond du Lac, Wisc., and close its Stillwater, Okla., facility. How has the decision affected the company since?
It was a difficult decision to leave Stillwater with the history, heritage and great workforce we had there. The reality was we needed to get positioned for the reality of the market going forward. It was going to be a smaller market and a different market than what we had experienced in the past.
With that consolidation, Mercury embarked on a plan to expand its facility in Wisconsin with the help of a total of $128 million in financial assistance from the city of Fond du Lac, the county of Fond du Lac and the state of Wisconsin. Where is that expansion and how will it affect Mercury’s operations?
We finalized the consolidation in early 2012, and now some of our expansion has been into some additional manufacturing capability for current and future products and also some expanded capabilities in our product development and engineering areas for testing and diagnostic capabilities.
It just continues to show our willingness to invest in the industry and continued desire to keep bringing innovation and new products to the marketplace.
The manufacturing portions of the expansion are now in the process of having equipment installed, and the PD&E areas are on schedule to be done by the end of the year.