In pursuit of market share

Rather than adopting a wait-and-see attitude in the face of the current economic climate, Forest River Marine is taking an aggressive approach by releasing a new pontoon line.

“We see the downturn as an opportunity,” says Tom McCuddy, head of Forest River’s marine division. “We want to catch as much market share as possible.”

The line is called Berkshire Pontoons, named after Forest River’s parent company Berkshire Hathaway, and at the moment Forest River is in the process of establishing a dealer network for the brand.

The man in charge of that effort is Joe Curran, an industry veteran who says that with Berkshire, he wanted to bring the concept of simplicity to the pontoon business. By creating a line of pontoons where almost all the features are standard, eliminating the need to stock a lot of parts, Curran saw a way to “promote inventory management, more turns and create more dealer profitability.” Curran says the whole philosophy of Berkshire is based on turning inventory, which according to McCuddy is something Forest River has preached for several years.

Forest River is looking to increase market share with the new line. Its current South Bay brand has been successful, McCuddy says, but even the best dealers can’t hope to capture an entire market. “If a good dealer has 10 percent market share, that still leaves 90 percent available,” he noted.

As it expands, Forest River is wary of hurting either South Bay or that brand’s existing dealers. McCuddy said he has never liked to stack dealers, having two dealers in the same market with the same brand, which is one reason Forest River opted to introduce an entirely new brand. Beyond that, however, Forest River went so far as to ask some dealers’ permission before going forward with Berkshire in their markets.

McCuddy says there is plenty to differentiate Berkshire from South Bay.

“South Bay is more complex, with a lot of colors and options,” McCuddy said. “With Berkshire we’re saying, ‘Here it is, it’s beautiful and it has good standard options.’”

The first Berkshire dealers signed up in early July, and a few boats have already been sold. Curran says some of the dealers he has spoken to have left the pontoon business, but he believes adding pontoons would provide them with another important revenue stream.

The prospect of launching a new brand in a depressed industry didn’t scare Curran. He says he has seen many strong brands come out of a downturn during his career. In this case, he felt Forest River had the financial resources, facilities and labor base to create a successful product, and with the Berkshire name, he thinks the new line can grow quickly.

“When you can develop a quality product with a great name,” he says, “you’re going to bring it to market whether the climate is good, bad or indifferent.”

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