Roch Lambert on Rec Boat Holdings jet boat move
Rec Boat Holdings – parent of Four Winns, Glastron and Wellcraft – announced Thursday that it was jumping into the jet boat market and relaunching the Scarab brand.
Most of the jet boats will be carried under the Scarab name, but two models will be introduced as part of the Glastron offering as well. The Scarab name had been kept alive in recent years as a line of offshore fishing boats under Wellcraft, but will now continue as a stand-alone brand.
Rec Boat Holdings is the second boat builder to announce the addition of jet-powered boats this week, with Chaparral making the move on Monday. Like Chaparral, Rec Boat Holdings will be using the BRP Rotax jet propulsion system to power its boats.
Boating Industry talked to Rec Boat Holdings Group President Roch Lambert about the move and the company’s outlook.
Why did you decide to launch a jet boat product?
For the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve been debating what’s out there, what would work, what would make sense, so on and so forth. We have criteria those decisions were based upon: No. 1, we need to get something that will leverage the dealer network we have. No. 2, we need to leverage our facilities. We have capacity, we have capabilities. Thirdly, we needed something that would complement what we have. It wouldn’t make sense to have another line of runabouts on top of Four Winns and Glastron because at some point it’s just difficult to differentiate. And fourth, is to continue to strengthen our financial performance.
Jets have been growing in popularity. Yamaha and Sea-Doo had very impressive growth in the last five years. The acceptance of jet and its unique benefits has grown significantly.
It is clear that there is an opportunity out there. BRP left a network that was performing very well. They were selling a few thousand boats a year. You put it all together and it makes a lot of sense.
We started conversations with them about a year ago. They were debating what they would do with their business and in the fall they made the announcement that [BRP was leaving the market]. That void, we just wanted to step in and capture as much of it as we can. No. 1, again, because it fits our criteria. On top of that in the case of this jet opportunity … we have a few people who have been involved for many years in the jet boat business, so it’s something we know well. (Editor’s note: Lambert and several other RBH employees previously worked at BRP.)
Why use the Scarab brand, and why offer boats under the Glastron name as well?
In the case of Scarab, we wanted to come up with a brand … that would appeal to the BRP dealers and our existing dealer base. At some point in our debates we realized we had the Scarab name that was underutilized and yet there was still a lot of brand equity. It’s a name that everyone recognizes and knows. Everyone you talk to immediately associates it with performance. It seemed to make a lot of sense for us to leverage that name. We (tested) the name with probably 15 dealers so far in previous conversations and every single time the response we got just reinforced that was the way to go for us.
With Glastron, the brand has also been associated for years with performance. We gave the new line a styling last year that is definitely screaming fast and performance. Sleek boats, lower profile, so there is a connection there. Glastron is more known for smaller boats, and jets will allow us to price-position it properly and capture a bigger share of that market. The design of the boat will be very similar to the new GT line. It’s going to remain a consistent design, we’re just going to take advantage of the unique benefits that jet has to offer.
One of the things you’ve done with the new Four Winns and Glastron boats is make sure they have their own “identity.” Are you going to be doing the same thing with Scarab and Glastron?
Absolutely. The Glastron jets will look just like the Glastron GT today, with some improvements on the interior because we’ll take advantage of the smaller size of the jet package. As for Scarab, we’re launching with a boat that looks totally different from either Four Winns or Glastron. It’s going to be a little more aggressive, a sporty type of offering – consistent with the brand equity, frankly.
How do you plan to bring this to market? Are you looking at the network of former Sea-Doo dealers, as well as your current dealers?
It will be a combination of both. Now we need to convince the right dealers. For each of the markets, we know what the performance of the Glastron dealer was, the Four Winns dealer was. How did they perform in the Sea-Doo days when Sea-Doo was there? How did Yamaha perform in that same market?
We’re going to pick what we believe to be the best combination of dealers in each market. It could be that we’ll have all three brands under one roof, it could be that it’s going to be three different dealerships, or a combination of everything in between.
With BRP’s decision to exit the segment, what makes you feel there is an opportunity in the jet boat market?
When BRP decided to shut it down – for them it was not a core business. In our case, building boats is our core business and we think we can build them better than anyone else. We have great expertise, facilities and capacity here in the building. We don’t need to add a lot to our cost structure.
I was in-house at BRP for years and it was a longer process over there to bring a new boat to life. Here we do that in months because we’re more nimble, a little more efficient in the way we do things.
BRP’s offering was based on boats that [were] designed 10, 12 years ago. Their 15-footer was probably 12 years old, the 18-footer was 10 years old. The 20 that they had was probably in that same range. They hadn’t really renewed their offering. They had two boats that were relatively recent, the 21 and the 23. Even with that, they were building a lot of boats. We think that by bringing this new line, we’re definitely going to get some attention.
What made BRP an attractive partner for this?
Of course, I was in the house for 15 years. I’m a huge believer in the company. No. 2, the Rotax engine, in my opinion, is by far the best jet-powered in the industry. It stacks up favorably with the Yamaha engine, certainly favorably with the Weber engine and any other alternatives that could be out there.
The reliability is absolutely bulletproof. We potentially could have decided to go a different route, but by far this was my first choice.
Any concerns about Chaparral entering the market as well?
If anything, it’s going to add credibility to the offering. We believe we have a very, very good, exciting plan, a good branding strategy, good past relationships with the BRP network. I’m not concerned at all. Chaparral is a very good company, certainly it’s a very serious competitor in our segment of the industry. For them to endorse jets just gives it more credibility as an alternative.
When do you expect to have the boats available?
Our first shipments should be late summer, early fall. We started testing boats in January. We weren’t waiting for this deal to be finalized. We’ve been floating for months.
You’ve talked before about Rec Boat Holdings being in a position to make acquisitions. Are there other segments, other companies you might look at down the road?
We’re always open so long as it fits the criteria we have. We will entertain conversations with anyone. We have been working on more than one opportunity. This one landed and by far I’m going to say it’s the highest potential one. There are some other projects we’ve been looking at as well and we’ll see what are the best ways for us to capture some of those projects as we go along. We’re not done by any means.