Jacobs wants model year start pushed back

Genmar Holdings Inc. Chairman Irwin Jacobs believes pushing the start of the model year back to the fall would do more to expand interest in boating than efforts such as a national advertising campaign cooperatively financed by boat builders or some other segment of the industry (see related article on page 26).
Genmar is the boating industry’s volume leader with a 19-percent, retail market share when the fiberglass and aluminum boat categories are combined.
During the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA) Annual Meeting in Las Vegas last November, Jacobs left open the possibility of agreeing to participate in an industry-sponsored national advertising campaign similar to the RV industry’s. However, when asked by Boating Industry in July whether he would support such an effort, Jacobs replied, “I wouldn’t waste my time or money on it.”
The Fundamentals
Instead, Jacobs believes the industry needs to address more “fundamental” issues in order to attract more non-boaters to boating. And at the top of his list is the decision by many boat manufacturers to begin a new model year during the first half of the calendar year.
“I cannot believe how impractical and unrealistic all the boat builders have been and continue to be (including Genmar) with our timing of the introduction of each year’s new boat models,” Jacobs wrote in a letter distributed to Genmar dealers during July. “Manage-ment from other boat manufacturers, as well as even some of my own people, continually say that we need to keep our factories running year-round and therefore they are forced to introduce their new models earlier rather than later in the year in order that they have enough orders from their dealers to keep their factories running.
“Remarkably, it is no longer uncommon to see boat builders converting their factories over to the next year’s new models as early as the end of April,” Jacobs continued. “It is becoming more frequent than not that when customers take delivery of their new boat, it is already a year old because boatbuilders have begun to introduce their next year’s models.”
The solution, according to Jacobs, is for the boat and engine manufacturers to agree to move the beginning of the model year back until sometime after September 1. Now, July 1 is the generally accepted beginning of the new model year.
A later start to the model year also means boat company national dealer meetings won’t need to occur until during the fall, giving dealers a chance to provide better service to their customers during the busy summer months and to allow dealers to enjoy boating more themselves, Jacobs said.
“I am convinced that dealers and manufacturers will get an additional inventory turn by concentrating on selling boats and serving their customers during the summer months as well as being able to more efficiently manage their dealerships,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs gets industry support
Jacobs’ idea quickly drew praise from the MRAA, sterndrive engine manufacturer Volvo Penta of the Americas and the head of Bombardier Inc.’s boats and outboard engines operations.
“We [the MRAA] have worked for the last 20 years on behalf of dealers to move the model year introduction date back to the fall of each year, but most manufacturers have always ignored that plea,” said Phil Keeter, president. “MRAA will work with Genmar and the NMMA in the efforts to make this proposal become a reality. We will use the same survey form that Genmar used with our membership to gain their thoughts. We’ve received numerous calls, faxes and e-mails supporting the proposal already.”
Volvo Penta also believes moving the start of the model year back to September 1 or later would “go a long way toward improving business operations for everyone involved as well as enhancing overall customer satisfaction,” said Clint Moore, president. “A later model year would allow dealers to focus on taking care of their customers when boating recreation is at its peak.”
Bombardier agrees Jacobs’ proposal “is a very interesting idea that could make sense for the industry in a number of important ways,” said Roch Lambert, vice president and general manager of boats and outboard engines for the Bombardier Recreational Products Division. “This issue is equally sensitive to our close to 3,000 dealers and more than 100 boatbuilding customers. We believe it’s critical for us to get the input of these business partners so that we can understand concerns they may have with this idea.
“We appreciate the leadership and creativity Irwin Jacobs showed in proposing this plan, and we believe by soliciting the support of industry leaders, together we’ll find what makes sense for all of us. We stand ready to help form a Blue Ribbon Committee to take the next step and further investigate this idea with our customers in mind.”
Trouble ahead
However, the RV industry’s experience suggests Jacobs will have a tough time getting all boatbuilders to toe the line. Both the RV and boating industries have a handful of major players along with dozens of smaller producers all of whom market their products through independent dealer networks. That means, at times, certain manufacturers will feel they can gain an advantage by introducing their new model year line-up before their competition.
For example, Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., a major RV producer, introduced its 2004 model year travel trailer/fifth-wheel line-up during December 2002 and Monaco Coach Corp. introduced its 2004 diesel engine motorhome series in March 2003. The RV industry also generally observes July 1 as the beginning of the model year.
Genmar was the boating industry’s market share leader during the first quarter of this year, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., an independent market research firm. Genmar’s dealers sold 4,666 fiberglass and 4,429 aluminum boats during the first three months of the year in the 42 states from which Statistical Surveys was able to gather data.
Brunswick Boat Group was No. 2 behind Genmar with an 11 percent retail market share, according to Statistical Surveys. Brunswick’s dealers sold 5,151 fiberglass boats but only 111 aluminum boats in the 42 states during the first three months of this year.
A total of 27,099 fiberglass and 20,134 aluminum boats were retailed in the 42 states during the first quarter of this year, according to Statistical Surveys.
— Jeff Kurowski

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