Taking care of business

Boat sales may ebb and flow, but one thing that never changes is that the boats already in the marketplace need care. That fact has allowed the boat care segment of the industry to remain relatively stable once again in 2007, despite the doom and gloom predictions heard elsewhere. “Whether boat sales are up or down, the boats that are out there still need to be taken care of to preserve their value,” explains Shurhold/Yacht Brite’s Barry Berhoff. “That never goes out of fashion or style.”
Star Brite’s Bill Lindsey echoes that: “The marine chemical side, to some extent, is more recession resistant than new boat sales. Whether it’s a new boat or an older boat, you still have to clean it, you still have to run it. We didn’t see a slowdown, we actually saw an uptick. And we see no signs of that abating at this point.”
But just because this segment may be more stable than most doesn’t mean the players within are sticking to the status quo.
Take Shurhold. Already a significant name in boat care thanks to its popular brushes and cleaning tools, the company has now completed its first year following the acquisition of the Yacht Brite brand. “It’s been a really good synergy for us,” explains Berhoff. “It’s the same customer base, it’s the same message about helping the consumer protect the value of their investment.
“That was kind of like the software side to our hardware. The dealers have been good about picking it up and carrying through with our message.”
Already, the Yacht Brite acquisition has transformed the company, taking a previously consumer-oriented brand and launching it into the industrial side of the business. The multi-prong product line was also recently named as the official “surface care products” of another industry leader, Sea Ray.
Numerous manufacturers also report they’ve stepped up their advertising efforts.
“I think any time you get into a little dicey economy, you better have your name sitting way out there,” contends Dr. Shrink’s Mike Stenberg, who says the shrinkwrap manufacturer has significantly increased its advertising budget as of late. “I think every time we advertise, somebody’s going to remember us. We may not get anything out of it for a year, maybe even two years, but we’re laying the groundwork.” The company, whose sales are up 15 percent for the year, also recently updated its Web site, and hosts seminars and workshops at IBEX.
Star Brite’s Lindsey concurs with that advertising philosophy. “We’re advertising again, which is something the company hasn’t done in years,” says Lindsey, who notes that Star Brite is pursuing both print and TV. “That’s critical. You’ve got to get the name out in front of the people.”
While companies may agree on exposure, they often differ in product strategy. Some manufacturers prefer offering the customer an endless array of product, while others focus instead on a core group of proven performers.
Manufacturers like Collinite fall into the latter category. A company that has weathered the market’s fluctuations for seven decades, Collinite prefers to stick with a smaller, recognized lineup. “I won’t say we live off our reputation, but in a way we do,” explains Collinite’s Mike Taylor. “We’ve got a pretty good name out there. Buyers know that it costs a little bit more, but it will hold up that much longer.”
The company has resisted the movement toward synthetic waxes, preferring to stick with its high-percentage, Brazilian carnauba wax formula that continues to finish at the top of the pack in independent magazine tests.
“We’re a mom-and-pop company,” says Taylor, who says Collinite’s sales are up two-to-three percentage points in ‘07. “The old man that started it 70 years ago said ‘if you put something better in that can or bottle, someone’s going to find it.’ We have to hope that our small network of distributors and dealers get that word out there.”
Another smaller company looking to make its mark is TR Industries, manufacturer of the Seapower brand of cleaners and protectants. According to newly installed director of Sales and Marketing Doug Holland, 2007 has been a good year, and 2008 is only going to improve thanks to an overhaul of the company’s sales force. “One of the things we’ve been doing this year is rebuilding our sales rep organization,” explains Holland. “We’re actually building up a rep organization around the nation that’s going to be pretty comprehensive. Building that up will build the sales up.”
Holland says to expect to see the Seapower brand at more trade shows in the near future, as well as several high-profile boat shows. “We’re pretty excited about the opportunities that present themselves; 2007 and 2008 are going to be some pretty good years for us.”
Even some of the big names contend simpler is better. “You can go to any one of our competitors and they’ve got a chemical for every conceivable thing you can think of,” contends Shurhold’s Berhoff. “Whereas we have five or six core ones that will do the same thing as all 20 or 30 of theirs. We’re trying to save the consumer money, trying to show them you can get it all done with one product.”
As examples, Berhoff cites the Shurhold all-purpose handle, as well as Yacht Brite’s Buff Magic, a former NMMA Innovation Award winner. With successive passes, the heavier grit in Buff Magic breaks down smaller and smaller. “This one product takes you all the way from heavy oxidation to final finish,” explains Berhoff. “We’re constantly looking for ways to make the job more bearable.”
Other manufacturers, however, believe the more you can offer the dealer, detailer and consumer, the better. Take big players like 3M, Meguiars, Mothers and Star Brite, whose wide array of products can be found in just about every big box retailer nationwide.
3M continues to expand its marine line, offering a growing number of job-specific products to handle a boater’s any need, from abrasives, to cleaners, to a variety of protectants. “We just continue to proliferate as many products as we can to the consumer,” explains 3M’s Tony Germain.
One new product that will debut in 2008 is the result of two popular existing products, Scotchgard Marine Liquid Wax and Color Gloss Restorer. “We’re going to put the Color Gloss Restorer and the Scotchgard wax in a hard bundle, and we’re going to call it the Restore and Protect System,” says Germain. “We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re just trying to make it better for the consumer.”
3M will also be introducing convenient, one-ounce packages of its popular 5200 sealant, as well as introducing a marine plastic restorer and polish for ‘08.
Though not the size of a 3M, Star Brite also continues to offer a similarly vast product line, from multiple cleaners, waxes and polishes, to winterizing and fuel products.
Another company that reports sales are up for ’07, Star Brite’s biggest success stories this year are a diverse list, starting with the microfiber-based Reggae Wash Mitt. “That’s a fully mature category, and not anything anybody gets excited about,” admits Lindsey, “but we came out with this new thing and sales have skyrocketed.” Star Brite also notes a surge in popularity of its Star*Tron gasoline additive due to the increasing presence of E10 fuels, and that the diesel formula is expected to have a similar surge as biodiesel fuels expand. The company is also reinvigorating its cleaner wax, blending in its popular PTEF additive. New product labels using a higher quality stock should also boost consumer perception. Says Lindsey: “Suddenly the product looks better on the shelf, and has a higher perceived quality.”
Shrinkwrap manufacturers are also looking for new ways to invigorate their business. This year, Dr. Shrink made big news by releasing pre-sewn covers, tailored to individual boat sizes. The company avoided a huge start-up expense by teaming with an existing mooring cover company, giving Dr. Shrink access to a reported 20,000 patterns. “It cuts out a lot of tucking and trimming,” explains Stenberg. “We’re trying to expand the market and make it easier for everyone to do shrink wrapping.”
The economy has also helped wrap manufacturers. Rather than pay for expensive inside storage, consumers are increasingly opting to shrink-wrap their vessels for outside storage.
In the end, the key is to simply make caring for a boat less of a hassle overall.
“From the consumer side, we’re in the end of the industry everyone hates,” admits Berhold. “It’s the necessary evil. We’re constantly looking for technologies and ways to make their lives easier.” —JEFF HEMMEL

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