Turn it up!

By Adam Quandt

The boat business has found itself booming over the last year. Sales are up across the board for both new and used boats. But what does that mean for the entertainment components designed to bring the boaters’ experience to the next level?

Audio options offer one of the easiest points for boaters to make some simple upgrades to their vessels to ensure everyone has a great time during a day out on the water.

Manufacturers on the audio and electronics side are consistently pushing the boundaries of the ultimate listening experience out on the water.

“After a strong year last year, we took most everything and reinvested into new technologies and new products to keep pushing marine audio into the future,” Josh Berry, VP of sales and Marketing at Prospec Electronics said.

Dave Dunn, director of marine sales for Garmin — the parent company of Fusion Marine Entertainment — said that as technology grows in other industries like automotive and in the home, consumer demands for marine audio will only continue to be driven forward.

“We’ve been working on a lot of different things lately,” said Wet Sounds director of OEM sales Ben Lizardo. “All in all, it’s all about focusing on things we can do to strive to continuously improve the industry and the end user experience all around.”

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Caught off guard

The recent COVID-19 pandemic hit much of the recreational boating industry —including marine audio manufacturers — very similarly.

“No one could’ve seen this coming,” said Ora Freeman, JL Audio’s national sales manager for the OEM side. “Things ground to a halt in March when we shut everything down for a bit, then things shot off like a rocket.”

As the industry watched the boat buying frenzy launch with no signs of slowing, inventory became the thing to watch moving throughout much of last year and into 2021.

“All of 2020 was just a moving target in terms of production and forecasting,” Dunn said. “It involved change after change from our team as we forecasted what we needed to crank out for both our OEMs and aftermarket sales side.”

Similarly, Lizardo said that the team at Wet Sounds had to get creative with inventory management to maintain a healthy inventory for the company’s key partners and aftermarket side.

“We have definitely strengthened our timelines for how much product we keep on hand ready to ship at the end of 2020 and going into 2021,” Lizardo added. “We’ve stretched out to months of inventory ready to ship at any given time now.”

With boat production ramping up faster than ever to meet sales demands and used boats flying off of dealership lots, audio manufacturers are continuously adapting to meet a whole new level of demand on both OEM and aftermarket sides.

Making a boat their own

The recent and ongoing surge in boat buying opens more doors to an already strong aftermarket audio segment.

While marine audio manufacturers are already working hand in hand with OEM boat builders to elevate the listening experience aboard today’s boats, consumers always want more, especially when it comes to audio.

“A lot of boat buyers have a certain expectation of an audio experience and some may not be able to meet those expectations with a used boat or even some new OEM systems,” Lizardo said.

With a focus maintained on the aftermarket segment as well as OEMs, audio manufacturers ensure that they meet all consumer demands.

“Over the last five years or so, it’s definitely interesting to see the OEM continue to grow,” KICKER Marine unit director Phil White told Boating Industry. “However, aftermarket systems are still a very strong producer in the marine audio world.”

The recent rush on buying up used boats especially has marine audio manufacturers preparing for a burst in business on the aftermarket side.

“We’re already seeing unprecedented demand on the aftermarket side,” JL’s Freeman said. “Through both of our JL and Clarion brands, we’re working hard to ensure there are options for everyone to get the audio experience they’re looking for.”

KICKER’s White said that especially with the pandemic continuing and people finding more time on their hands, consumers are taking on more projects like updating or upgrading their boats’ audio systems.

“It almost creates a competition between boat owners out on the water,” Prospec’s Berry said. “It becomes all about who has the better system on their boat, which drives everyone to try and out do the other.”

Multiple channels

OEM partnerships make reaching the customer easy. They buy the boat and the system is there and ready to go. However, the aftermarket segment offers it’s own set of challenges when it comes to reaching potential customers — especially under the current circumstances without any type of boat shows happening.

So, how are marine audio manufacturers making sure customers looking to upgrade their on-the-water experience know about their offerings?

“While our focus is typically geared more toward the OEM application side of things, we’ve definitely taken Fusion and put an emphasis on getting into more big retailers such as Bass Pro Shop and stores alike to reach more aftermarket customers,” Garmin’s Dunn said.

Similarly, JL’s Freeman said that the company is pushing both its JL and Clarion products — though more heavily on the Clarion side currently — through retailers such as West Marine.

Other marketing efforts for audio manufacturers have followed the trends of almost every segment of the boating industry throughout the ongoing pandemic, by implementing more and more digital resources.

Berry told Boating Industry that Prospec has been in the process of rolling out a brand new website to ensure the audio manufacturer has all of the right resources in place to make both the research and buying process for potential customers as easy as it possibly can be.

“Since we can’t always physically be in front of everyone, especially right now, we’ve enhanced our digital offerings with the help of video to make sure that both current and potential customers know what we’re all about and what we can offer them,” Berry added.

With new marketing efforts and new products utilizing more and new technologies driven by what seems is an ever-increasing demand for more in marine audio, one for sure thing is that manufacturers aren’t slowing down anytime soon.

“Marine audio is still growing at new and unprecedented rates,” KICKER’s White said. “And we still have so much further we can go.”

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