Market strategies serve boat building clients
Interior suppliers are refining their efforts to push new products and serve boat builders throughout the industry.
Boating Industry recently visited with suppliers to learn how they are delivering innovative materials and honing their market strategies for serving boat builders.
“We did a really good job this year of staying with our core customers, and growing our business with them,” said Chuck Yates, SeaDek’s Marine Products vice president of sales. “We are very strong in the tow boat and sports boat arenas. We’re getting very good penetration when our customers add us to additional product lines.”
Yates said buying groups he’s met with and recently issued market reports project 8 percent industry growth over the next couple of years.
“There’s opportunities for new customers that want to use our Snap-In product,” Yates said, adding those customers could include aluminum boats, pontoon boats, and fiberglass boats across the market range.
“That’s an exciting development, but we’ve kind of pumped the brakes a little bit, just to make sure we can maintain quality and on-time delivery to our existing customer base,” he said.
In terms of international markets, Yates reported that the Sydney International Boat Show was extremely promising for SeaDek.
“Wayne Gates, our Australian certified fabric distributor with Blue Sky Products, said the number of people who were buying was significantly higher,” Yates said. “The opportunity for boat builders is significant. In Australia, we’ve had past inquiries from OEMs. Wayne meets with the builders there on a regular basis and has been seeing success.”
Developing a market model
This spring, SeaDek was named as a recipient of the U.S. Small Business Administration 2018 Small Business National Exporter of the Year award.
Thanks to the strategic development of its international certified fabricator and installer network, SeaDek has successfully developed markets in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, and South America, which directly contributed to a 170 percent increase in overall sales over the last three years.
Exports jumped from less than 3 percent to nearly 10 percent over the same period.
“It’s really important to us to prove the model that we developed,” Yates said. “We don’t have to set up a SeaDek facility internationally in order to get a good ground game going. We worked with our distributors, and many qualified people, to set up our certified fabricator network throughout Europe and South America, and into the Middle East, with very good success. It’s allowed us to export more product from the U.S. into these markets.”
SeaDek also is using its certified installer network to reach very small boat builders, Yates said. “Some of our customers build less than 10 boats a year, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important to the success of SeaDek. “That’s one reason why we developed a network around the U.S. and the world.”
Instead of having a small OEM or individual wait anywhere from four to 10 weeks for product to arrive, SeaDek takes care of the customer in less than a week by reaching out to one of its certified installers or fabricators, Yates said.
“We have them strategically placed throughout the U.S. and we have plans to introduce a lot more certified installers, and seven more fabricators in the continental U.S.,” he added.
Regarding workforce, SeaDek is running into the same problem that everyone else is, Yates added.
“Most every place you go, people are struggling and trying to get the same people in, and that drives up labor cost,” Yates said. “We’ve done a number of HR and work seminars to bring in people. While you always can bring in unskilled laborers and train them to run your CNC machines and learn your processes, we want someone with a great attitude who is willing to work at least 40 hours a week for pay that’s well within the boundaries of our geographic region.”
Last February, SeaDek Marine Products announced it had joined the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers.
“We absolutely believe SeaDek is a great product for boat and cargo trailers, and toy haulers,” Yates said. “But, we’ve pulled back on that opportunity. If we full court pressed it, we could. If we could just plug-and-play employees, all we would have to do is add buildings to our current stable of facilities and more machines.”
Center console seating frenzy
Attwood Marine’s market gains include seating and pedestal products, said Brian Scott, director of sales, marketing, and product development.
“Obviously, from a market perspective, saltwater center console fishing has been hot,” Scott said. “We’ve also done really well in pontoon and aluminum fishing. Those three markets have been very, very strong.”
Scott said the company recently hit a progress milestone associated with the expansion of its plant in Lowell, Mich.
Last May, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. announced it would support new development at the plant with a $492,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant.
Attwood is expanding its boat part and accessory lines needed to expand its manufacturing operation. The company is expanding internally at the current site, investing $2 million and creating more than 80 jobs.
“We are in a challenging environment for workforce,” Scott added. “We face a competitive environment for retaining talent. We try and make sure that a mission-based team environment gives us the best chance to be successful.”
Attwood and Garelick have made significant investments in seating operations in Largo, Fla. to improve efficiency, quality, and capacity, Scott said.
“Over the last six months, we have improved our delivery performance substantially. Our demand for seating hasn’t been this high in the last 10 years. Our commitment to quality and on-time delivery is helping us be successful with our boat builder partners.”
Seating remains a touch-point for the boating consumer, Scott said. “There’s more pressure on seating, because there’s not a lot of storage space at boat builders,” he said. “It’s a large and bulky component that requires precision in terms of on-time delivery. It’s our No. 1 focus, and a lynchpin for us to successfully serve our global partners.”
Sun protection prominence
Thus far, the year has been fairly robust in terms of overall market growth, said Bill McDaniel, Sunbrella marine market manager.
Some of the largest growth has occurred in interior and exterior soft goods for upholstery products, he said.
“Shade and sun protection is one of the things that’s becoming more prominent, even in smaller center consoles,” McDaniel said.
To address that market, Sunbrella introduced a textured shade fabric called Contour that delivers UV protection and color uniformity, Contour can be utilized to create a wide range of shade structures. “It’s an open product that allows airflow; it’s easy to put up and take down,” McDaniel added.
Sunbrella Terry, a knitted terrycloth much like cotton Terry but made with Sunbrella’s fibers, protects seats and is more comfortable to sit on in a heated environment. This product is entering its second season, McDaniel said, adding that parent company Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, LLC is working on additional seating-related products for 2019.
“These will move us in a whole new direction,” he said. “We’re estimating a launch date a quarter of the way into the season.”
Regarding the supply chain in general, McDaniel said there are some headwinds blowing regarding impending tariffs. The issue remains under the watchful eye of the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Marine Accessories and Component Division, where McDaniel is a board of directors member. “While all the noise that’s out there is starting to cause issues for people who are heavily vested in aluminum and steel, it’s something that’s on everybody’s radar,” he said. “We are lobbying for protective measures.”
Overall, McDaniel said he expects the industry to finish 2018 at 5 percent or even 6 percent growth. “We have good involvement in the industry at the builder and the accessory level,” he said. “Twenty percent of what you get on the OEM side drives 80 percent of the aftermarket. There are more and more boats that are an average age of 15 years to 18 years old that are being refurbished.”
In mid-September, Sunbrella announced that Sunbrella SeaMark would enter the industry as a new member of the Sunbrella portfolio. The new Sunbrella SeaMark is now available in a wider selection of colors and has expanded from marine applications into the commercial shade market.
Sunbrella’s SeaMark is a marine-grade fabric that delivers protection from extreme precipitation and moisture without sacrificing style. The first choice for environments that see heavy weather, the fabric is a natural fit for shade applications as well as marine. “We’re excited to officially call SeaMark a Sunbrella product,” McDaniel said. “With its long history of tough, waterproof performance, it’s an ideal protective layer for both people and equipment.”
Fabricated from Sunbrella performance fabric and 100 percent impervious waterproof backing, Sunbrella SeaMark is available in a range of fabric colors for marine uses such as Biminis, dodgers and cockpit enclosures as well as restaurant patio enclosures, office canopies and awnings.
Originally supplied under Haartz Corp., Sunbrella has exclusively licensed the SeaMark brand from Haartz and now offers two new color options: black with a linen backing and smoke with cadet grey backing.
Because the color is embedded deep inside each and every fiber, McDaniel said the fabrics are easy to care for, fade resistant and bleach cleanable.
“We’re revamping the line to include fresh styles and colors,” he added.
Glen Raven continues to push for a global footing when it comes to its products, McDaniel said. “We are a manufacturing and textile company that markets, and that’s wholly unique,” he said. “The Gant family has given that to us. We are in a good place. Across our product categories, we are committed to the marine industry in a way that speaks to our heart and soul. One of the very first applications for our company was marine. And for the longest time, that was the singularly the largest part of our business. That goes back to the 1960s. It’s our DNA and our culture. There’s lots of new things coming down the way.”
Leveraging international distribution
While not a part or accessory market, international distribution is one area of growth that Infinity Woven Products, LLC has been very strategic in developing, said Warren McCrickard, vice president of corporate sales.
“We now serve over 30 countries worldwide,” he said. “We’ve leveraged resources through our state and through the NMMA to maximize our exposure, develop localized marketing efforts and educate a worldwide audience.”
Within the 2018 model year, Infinity partnered with Lowe Boats to develop a product that was thin enough to bend around doors, hatches, and decks, but still offers the comfort found in a premium vinyl product. “We call it Tundra,” McCrickard said. “We manufactured a specific flooring pattern with enough design disruption that it consistently matches up no matter how it’s placed. Tundra is also equipped with antimicrobial and stain resistant properties, giving it the durability that fishing boats need.”
Tundra is the first-to-market fish boat flooring that features a featherweight polyester backing. The new featherweight backing is attached to the woven vinyl. Infinity also manufactures the flooring pattern in such a way that it consistently matches up no matter how it’s placed, meaning that the transitions are also seamless.
As the first-to-market woven vinyl flooring, Infinity has seen its competition gain traction in its floor space, seeking ways to differentiate, McCrickard said. “We have stood the test of time both through the introduction of new products, designs, colorations and through customer service growing year over year in volume with low claims.”
Infinity was the first to launch popular designs like woven teaks, jacquard patterns and fish boat flooring, McCrickard added. “And, we’ve set the bar higher with our debut of new flooring chemistry technological advancements,” he said.
Infinity recently introduction its Ricochet Technology, which uses a mechanization to reduce heat buildup, allowing darker color yarns in floor fabrics to maintain the same temperature as lighter colors.
Further technological advancements included Infinity’s launch of its Primo line of floors for superyacht builders and the Vivio Collection.
Primo is a new composite floor offering that meets International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards.
Vivio showcases vibrant colorways through an innovative yarn coloring system not yet seen in recreational spaces.
Soft silicone innovation
Century Boats in Zephyrhills, Fla. recently announced a trend-setting incorporation of Sileather brand silicone fabric in upholstery across all of its models, becoming the first boat manufacturer to incorporate the fabric in boating upholstery.
Sileather is a 100-percent silicone fabric. The fabric remains soft to the touch with a leather-like appearance.
“We were most impressed with how closely the fabric resembled natural leather in appearance and texture,” said Bryan Lucius, president of Century Boats. “And when we learned of its performance capabilities in harsh marine environments, we immediately recognized its potential for application on our boats. There’s no need for sun-blocking or cleaning agents – you can even clean it with bleach.”
Sileather contains no plasticizers, which helps to inhibit the bacteria growth that causes traditional marine vinyl to turn pink over time, Lucius added. Its surface cools faster than Polyurethane or Polyvinylchloride in the summer heat, while remaining medical degree skin-friendly to bare skin.
“Sileather was able to serve Century through our common partner Premier Performance Interiors, based in Sarasota, Fla.,” said Matthew Smith, market development manager with Sileather. “As an existing marine industry customer of Sileather, PPI was comfortable recommending our products to Century – and today we’re proud to be a part of the entire 2019 Century model line.”
Century Boats is incorporating Sileather on all 2019 models for all upholstered pieces including helm seats, leaning posts, bow seats, chairbacks, and bolsters.