While not immune to the boating market crash, the Chaparral and Robalo boat brands have weathered the downturn better than many.
Jim Lane, president at Chaparral since 1977, has seen his share of ups and downs in the boating market, but says he is confident about the future of the company’s brands.
To read the full Q&A with Lane, be sure to check out the April issue of Boating Industry.
Boating Industry: We’ve been through Miami and several of the other boat shows now. What’s the sentiment from buyers out there?
Lane: Obviously, every market is entirely different, but if I were to summarize what I’ve seen attending boat shows and what our regional managers have seen attending the boat shows, I guess I come away with a feeling that it’s mostly upbeat, but there are a lot of customers that are remaining cautious. We’re seeing a trend where a customer will come to the boat show completely prepared, come asking the right questions and [the dealer] will say, “Are you ready to make your down payment on this boat?” and he’ll say, “Can I stop by the dealership after the show is over?” We’re seeing a lot more of that than in the past. I think there are a few less deals being written at the shows, but the follow-up is very strong.
The boat shows are still a great format, but the urgency to sign on the bottom line has lessened a little bit.
Boating Industry: You recently reported your year-end results, which showed a 12.8 percent increase in sales in 2013. What’s behind that?
Lane: We like to say it’s two words: new sells. We have continued to spend a tremendous amount of money into our research and development department and have consistently come out with exciting new product. This year we came out with quite a few new boats. We came out with new boats in our H20 line, we came out with new boats in our SSX line and in Robalo we came out with a brand new series of bay boats, called the Caymans. I think we’ve been pretty on-the-mark in developing customer interest in those boats. Obviously, we have a great distribution network because without our dealers, nothing would sell.
Boating Industry: What specifically seems to be moving the needle with buyers?
Lane: Let’s take the H20 line. People were looking for a good, clean boat with a good price. We decided that we would go back and develop an entry-level line of boats, but still use the Chaparral DNA and create a product that was fairly priced. We got our dealer network behind it and generated some good numbers in the H20s.
In our SSi line, we thought that particular line would be improved by changing the interiors out to some new exciting colors and changing our entire dash network, and I think that was extremely important as well.
Boating Industry: What’s your outlook for fiberglass sterndrives? Can you continue to grow in that market?
Lane: We have so far. If you look at our business, look at market share data, we grew our sterndrive business this year. Industry-wide there is a concern about the sterndrive market and it has been in a declining mode, but it is declining less and less. I believe that the new product our engine partners are developing – Volvo and Mercruiser – is going to offer some interesting new power options to the sterndrive market that will help reenergize that.
Boating Industry: What do you expect for 2014? Will the industry have another year of growth?
Lane: I know that’s what we’re planning on. As we submitted our financial plan to the board of directors, we are anticipating for the 2014 calendar year to have growth, and in the ‘14 model year and the new products we have coming into ’15. Is it going to be unprecedented growth? I don’t believe so, but I think it will be smooth and steady growth for us.