Rob Parmentier on his new role at Larson
Industry veteran Rob Parmenter recently joined Larson Boat Group as the company’s new president and CEO.
The 100-year-old company builds 58 models of boats under the Larson, Triumph and Striper brands and is owned by another long-time industry fixture, Irwin Jacobs.
Parmentier spent 30 years at Sea Ray, most recently as president, before leaving the company in December. Since then, he has worked as senior vice president of marketing and business development for CGI North America.
Boating Industry talked to Parmentier about why he took the job at Larson and why he’s optimistic about the industry.
Why join Larson? What made this an attractive opportunity for you?
It offered the best opportunity. Irwin is a dynamic, energetic, business entrepreneur. His boat companies have a nice breadth of product. Of all the opportunities I was looking at it just made the most sense.
Certain segments are still down, so if you are not diversified with what’s going on with the change in people’s boating habits, you’re going to have a tough go.
You talked about product diversity and recently Larson launched the Escape pontoon. How has the reaction to that been so far?
We had a very good reaction. It is a very stylish, well-thought-after, well-laid-out pontoon. We listened to what our dealers and our customers said, made some tweaks, and we’re in production on those right now.
Where do you see growth opportunities for Larson?
The fishing categories are going to continue to grow, fiberglass and aluminum. Pontoon of course has had a nice run and I think that’s going to continue. We may not see the double-digit increases, but still think we’re going to see an increasing population of pontoon boaters.
I do believe we are at an inflection point on the fiberglass IOs and fiberglass inboards. It has now been at a bottom where at some point, shortly I’m hoping, we should start to see some increases. … We haven’t lost our boaters in those categories. They’ve just been sitting on the sidelines. As we as manufacturers some out with new innovative ideas and things that will make then want to trade their boats in, and the economy gets better … you’ll see those two categories that have been lagging come back.
When you were at Sea Ray, you were a proponent of jet boats. Since then we’ve seen Sea Ray abandon their plans and Chaparral and Rec Boat Holdings get in. Is this a segment you see pursuing at Larson?
I don’t think so. I think everybody jumped in and we’ll see what happens. I like to base a lot of my decisions off of data and if you look at the last couple quarters, the jet boat business has been down double digits. I don’t have enough information yet to find out why that’s happened.
Never say never, but right now we’re going to concentrate on the Escape pontoons and our fishing boat brands.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Larson?
I think it’s the same one facing everyone. It’s a volume issue. One of the biggest challenges is as we’ve all had to drop in volume, it is extremely difficult to find costs to take out of your boats, your facilities, everything. Everyone’s already grabbed all the low-hanging fruit.
The biggest challenge is the cost of boats. They’ve increased exponentially over the last five, six years and it’s not for margin increase for the OEM. It’s just a matter of volume and how we have to pay for the parts and pieces. Going forward, that’s one thing we have to concentrate on, is to make sure we make our boats affordable and a great value.
When you parted ways with Sea Ray last year, is this something you had in mind, getting back to working with another boat builder?
Anytime you leave something you’ve been a part of your whole life … As they say, all good things come to an end. Sometimes you need that to grow as a human being, which I did.
I had high hopes that I would be able to come back in and help another company. I had a great experience working for CGI. That was a great transition. I really appreciated the people I worked with there. I got to learn the banking side of business, which really is extremely helpful moving forward. But at the end of the day, I hoped to get back in the industry.
I love boats, I love the people that are part of it. I missed dealing with the customers and the dealers.