Q&A with Navico’s executive team

Navico — the parent company of the Simrad, Lowrance and B&G brands — recently hosted the boating press at an event to show off its latest products and what’s coming later this year.

Boating Industry was there and while we can’t share information on many of the products for a few months, we did take some time to sit down with Navico’s executive team – CEO Leif Ottosson, deputy CEO Marc Jourlait and executive vice president Louis Chemi – to gather some intel.

Boating Industry: One thing a lot of people don’t necessarily know is the scope of Navico. Can you talk about all of your brands and how you see them fitting together?

Chemi: We basically have three consumer brands of electronics that we focus on. We focus each brand on a consumer type. What does the consumer need if he’s a cruising guy? If he’s a wake boarder, if he’s a fisherman? We develop feature sets specific to the brand that’s appropriate to that type of consumer.

Lowrance is focused on the fishing side of it, the Simrad brand is focused on the cruising/offshore sportfish market and B&G is purely on the sail side.

We’ve now introduced GoFree across all those consumer types. [Editor’s note: GoFree is Navico’s digital brand encompassing mapping, telematics, apps and software solutions]

Ottosson: This was the result of three companies being brought together and that was done some years ago now. In 2009, we made it a little easier in our brand portfolio and bought seven brands down to three. A couple years later we said we are [going to] designate these by user type. That is also good for the industry, because the message become clearer.

The fact that we have different brands, [boat builders] can create a very clear message of … what you want to offer with that boat you are building. For retailers, we told them that they can clearly address each customer market, make it easy to explain. In our messaging, we can talk about the features that customer likes. And of course, business-wise, it was a way to create a bigger entity out of what was a very fragmented industry.

Boating Industry: How is the health of the electronics segment today?

Ottosson: Today, I would say there are five major players in recreational boating electronics. Each one of those players is an excellent company, providing healthy competition. The pace of innovation is fantastic and much, much higher. That comes from us pushing each other.

Pricing wise, we see prices coming down every year. We’re seeing more technology being pushed into the product.

For the consumer, I think it has been a win and for the industry I think it has been a win because we are competing with each other in a way … where we are helping each other to get a little bit further along.

Boating Industry: You mentioned GoFree earlier. How important is that going to be for the brands going forward?

The B&G Zeus2 Glass Helm (above) is the first multifunction navigation system designed specifically for sailing. Simrad’s ForwardScan offers boaters a clear image of the water column and ocean floor in front of the boat.

The B&G Zeus2 Glass Helm (above) is the first multifunction navigation system designed specifically for sailing. Simrad’s ForwardScan offers boaters a clear image of the water column and ocean floor in front of the boat.

Ottosson: GoFree is going to be very important. Consumers are going to ask for a more holistic experience. … For us, the starting point was that we got together a group of people together, put them in a room, and said, “Let’s think about what a boater needs before, during and after a trip. We identified 750 different use cases … and we looked at how can we make it safer, how can we make it more fun, how can we make it a little bit easier.

In order to provide a lot of this, we need to combine a lot of what we are doing, with what other people are doing, and that’s where this possibility of connected products and connected services came from.

Take a look at your car today and that control panel. It is providing more and more things for you.

ForwardScan Screen 2 HR PRGJourlait: I think the parallel with other industries is important. There’s a desire to quantify, to remove some of the frustration and bring in a lot more enjoyment and the marine electronics industry hasn’t done that yet – it’s moving that way.

To plan your outing, enjoy it when you’re out and afterwards to enjoy it, and the layer that GoFree provides is truly innovative. There is nothing else like it in the marine industry today. There is an undeniable trend – consumers want it.

Boating Industry: In your segment of the marine industry, we probably see more rapid innovation than in any other part. How do you manage that innovation and make sure you’re coming up with the right ideas?

Chemi: Essentially what we do is that we have a product road map, so we’re looking out at products five years into the future – what is most important to have, what technologies are coming to bear. So there’s this “wish list” from the consumer side and the technology roadmap and by looking at when those two intersect, then we get this really tight list of about 150 different projects that we’re working on at any given time. Some of those will come out next month; some of those will come out three years from now.

It’s a continuous evolution of what is the competition doing, what technologies just came to fruition – or came to a dead end. It might have been we thought this display technology was going to revolutionize what we could do and it turned out it’s never going to be at a cost the marine industry is going to follow.

Our idea there is we de-risk the development of a product by developing technologies in compartments. For instance, we’ll take wireless technology and develop a Bluetooth module that we’ll test and confirm that we can use in our products, within our set of regulatory requirements, and then we’ll apply that across the different brands. We build the technology and share it across our brands.

Boating Industry: When it comes to new products, of those items you can talk about today, what are you most excited about?

Chemi: It depends on the brand or the segment we’re talking about. For the fisherman, there’s no doubt that our SpotlightScan technology in the HDS Gen3, with all the functionality built into the single display is going to be a core feature that they’re going to love. The fact that the unit is now connected and able to upload and download the tracks that they do automatically and share in that social map gathering is a core piece that those guys love.

The Lowrance High Definition System Gen3 fishfinder/chartplotter offers a multi-touch screen, faster operation and a number of new features from earlier versions of the HDS.

The Lowrance High Definition System Gen3 fishfinder/chartplotter offers a multi-touch screen, faster operation and a number of new features from earlier versions of the HDS.

For sailing, B&G has come out with the H5000, which is the most advanced instrumentation series for a sailing vessel, and that’s a very exciting piece. And then again, all the software features we have on the displays, we’re really very excited about how that is going to come across to the sailing [segment].

Ottosson: And that’s something that’s very unique for our industry, right? How many industries do you see that are handing out software for free? We are continuously putting more value into the product. We are basically not charging the customer for it. Some people think that is bug fixes … there may be one or two of those, especially in the beginning, but if you look at the feature list we showed [at the event], if you already owned one of our products, you’re going to get a whole bunch of new features for free.

There are not many industries that provide you that. They’d rather build them into the next generation product and charge you for that upgrade. We are changing that. That is also very exciting.

Boating Industry: Based on what you’re seeing with product orders from OEMs and dealers, what’s your outlook for the market in 2015?

Ottosson: It looks quite healthy this year globally. It is not only one market. We are going into the year with a better order book than we’ve ever seen. We are also noticing from the customers that we’ve talked to that they are very bullish, very keen to build a little bit of inventory. They don’t seem to be afraid of not being able to move it. The sentiment feels very good for this year.

Boating Industry: Obviously you guys are going to be biased, but what do you feel is the importance of electronics in helping people enjoy boating and bringing more people into boating?

Jourlait: Why do you go out? You don’t go out on your boat to enjoy the electronics. They’re a means to an end. For me, the time on the boat was enhanced because electronics got you there and then you didn’t have to think about it.

That’s what we’re trying to provide – a greater sailing experience, a greater fishing experience and a greater powerboat experience. That’s why you go out. That to me is the wow factor. All this technology makes it more fun, more pleasurable.

Chemi: It’s exactly what Marc described. The reality is very few people go boating for the reason I go boating. I am that geek that [wants] to use electronics to find fish. Most people aren’t like that.

It’s us providing those needs for the consumer in the best way possible and in a way that he can do it simply. By doing that, hopefully we get them to spend more time on the water … versus in an RV or camping or hiking, or whatever those other activities might be.

If you look at it in the broadest sense, we want to make it easier to do whatever you’re after on the boat. We want to bring to bear all the data and analysis you can do on the back end to make it easier. Think of the future, where before you go out and try to turn over the boat and find out your battery’s dead, we’re actually able to send you an email on Wednesday with a 10 percent off coupon to go to your local retailer and get a new battery because we’ve sensed that you’ve got a problem. That’s the future we want to see, where we’re able to help that consumer’s experience in that limited time he has.

Jourlait: I think there’s also a generational aspect. How do you get in the next generation of boaters, who are probably more tech savvy and will geek out on this stuff? For people that are used to iPhones and apps, GoFree is the perfect solution for them. They understand uploading a sonar log and downloading somebody else’s. They get that.


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