The Lund Boat Company has a lot of brand equity and a very loyal customer base. Given the choice, many Lund customers would never buy a fishing boat made by any other company.
But more and more in recent years, Lund hadn’t been able to offer them that choice.
Boaters who preferred aluminum fishing boats were taken care of, while Lund customers interested in fiberglass models had no option but to search out other manufacturers.
That changed earlier this year, however, with Lund’s introduction of three new fiberglass boats. The 186 Tyee GL, the 186 Fisherman GL and the 208 Pro-V GL were officially introduced at the Minneapolis Boat Show in January, although they had already been featured at shows in Toronto and Chicago prior to that. The fourth model, a 197 Pro-V GL, will be rolled out this month.
Lund officials said the boats were a direct response to a message they were hearing loudly and clearly from their customers.
“We did this Voice-of-the-Customer work,” says Tom MacNair, VP sales & marketing, Lund Boat Company, “and the thing that drove it home, that just made me stop, was we had comments from different Voice-of-the-Customer places and from different focus groups, where people that were in a Lund had bought a different fiberglass boat but said, ‘Wow, if you build a fiberglass boat, I want to come home to Lund.’ And I stopped and went, ‘Wait a minute, you want to come home to Lund, what the heck are we missing? What are we doing?’”
Listening and translating
What the company did was conduct a market study to confirm the new boats would in fact be the right thing to do for the brand. Then, two years ago at it’s dealer meeting, Lund pledged to create the new fiberglass lines while at the same time carefully designing them to not lose what the company calls its “DNA.”
That meant the boats had to retain what customers loved best about the aluminum lines – their fishability. Lund didn’t want to sacrifice the aluminum performance characteristics that made those boats so good for things like back trolling, for example.
Key to the whole effort was Brunswick’s purchase of Lund in 2004. The size and scope of its parent company gave Lund access to resources such as the Triton manufacturing facility in Tennessee, where Lund’s new fiberglass boats will be built.
Brunswick’s commitment to “Voice of the Customer” research also played an integral role in the development of the fiberglass lines.
“Now, every time we develop a product it’s ‘OK, that was a great idea, but there are four of us at the table, what about the 4,000 customers we want to sell this to,’” MacNair says. “So I think [VOC] has really, really helped. If we had still been doing things the old way in these economic times, I don’t know that we would have reacted properly. But because we switched to a Voice of the Customer, true customer-focused product development process, we were able to stay, maybe not necessarily ahead of the curve, but at least we are staying with it.”
Thomas Bronz, director of product development and engineering for Brunswick Freshwater Group, helped organize meetings with customers, meetings with Lund pro staff, meetings with Lund dealers and meetings with the Lund employees themselves, to try to determine how best to design the new boats.
“One of the big things we did is we had some consumer [Voice-of-the-Customer events] at Rapid Sports’ [a Lund dealership] facility up in Ham Lake [Minn.],” Bronz explains. “We brought in Ranger owners, Triton owners, Triumph owners and Lund owners and we set up competitive boats around for people to look at and give us their highlights and lowlights and then to feed back to us what the very most important things in those boats were.”
For example, the 186 Tyee GL —which Lund describes as a family-oriented fishing boat, as opposed to the 186 Fisherman, which it calls a fishing-oriented family boat – was designed with a deep cockpit to provide more safety for children as a result of that feedback.
Doing it right
The research, the feedback, the tweaks and the testing all took time. Lund introduced its first two fiberglass boats to its dealers at their meeting last July, but Andrew Klopak, president of Lund Boat Company, said Lund would have liked to introduce the Tyee and the Fisherman at the 2007 Minneapolis Boat Show. Ultimately, however, he said it was more important that Lund do it right rather than do it quick.
“There was a lot of pressure on us and some anxiety starting to set in because we were late to the market and a lot of competitors prodding, saying, ‘They can’t get it right, they don’t know anything about fiberglass,’” Klopak says. “And our position always was we’re not rushing through it, we’re going to bring the right product to the market. The first boats you launch have to be right, because if they’re not, forget about launching any more after that. If they want to use the trump card that we’re late, who cares. We’re here. We’re here and look what we’ve got.”
Klopak said the early response from dealers and customers has been “unbelievable.” Lund has had to limit the number of dealers it would sign to carry the lines initially because it hasn’t been able to get supply up to the proper levels just yet. But Klopak says the company will continue to expand the lineup and that “there’s more coming.” Jake Jacobson, general manager of Rapid Marine Group, which owns Rapid Sports, says the dealership has already seen results from the new fiberglass line.
“We sold a couple of new boats right away,” Jacobson says. “We sold one to a good customer of Lund who would probably have brought Brand X. But now he can buy a Lund.”
Some might argue that Lund’s decision to build fiberglass boats will have the company, in essence, competing against itself. But MacNair doesn’t subscribe to that theory. “We’ll move some [customers], but if we were going to lose them, we were going to lose them anyway,” he says. “So if we’re going to lose them, let’s lose them to ourselves. If they were going from aluminum to glass we had nothing to offer them. Now we do.”