A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Building with features customers prefer

At every boat show I attend I keep my radar tuned for at least one piece of wisdom or advice or an observation that I didn’t have before the event. The big, sprawling Miami shows that ended Monday were no different, although I’ve come to realize that the bigger the show, the harder it is to actually see and hear through all the rush and push and clamor.

But at a small reception that the AIM Marine Group hosted on the eve of the shows, a veteran of the heydays of boatbuilding (the 450,000-to-500,000-powerboats-a-year days) imparted these words as a light rain started to fall: “You know what the secret to success in boatbuilding is?” he asked rhetorically. “Build exactly what the customer wants and not what you think he wants.”

Bingo. That simple — and that difficult. I used the notion of “customer first” to frame my observations for the next several days as I moved along the docks at the Yacht & Brokerage Show and through the Miami Beach Convention Center, talking to builders and dealers and listening to the questions consumers asked.

I stopped at the Bayliner exhibit and climbed aboard the Element, the new entry-level outboard boat designed for a family of four. The Element is easy to tow, fits in most garages and, with a modest 60-hp Mercury outboard, it will sip fuel rather than guzzle it. And at $11,999, it’s as “affordable” as you’re going to find these days for a new fiberglass boat, outboard and trailer.

The promotional material says that for zero dollars down, the payments are “on par with a cable bill,” or about $150 a month. (That’s as much a commentary on cable television today, I suppose, as it is on the boats, but that’s a different discussion.)



Click play for a video on the making of the 2013 Bayliner Element.

Lord knows we need an injection of new blood in the sport, younger boaters and younger families. Might the Element be the way a new generation of boater rides into our sport? It might well be.

I spoke with Bayliner marketing manager Shelby Deck, who said the company surveyed about 10,000 prospective boaters on their likes and dislikes before designing the new boat. The design and features, she said, “were purely based on customer feedback.”

Safety was one of the issues that potential buyers raised. They wanted a stable boat without a lot of heel or bow rise, Deck told me. Ron Berman, VP of product development and engineering, and his crew responded with the patent-pending “M-Hull,” which has a center hull and two sponsons for stability and flatter turning. More like a car, in that respect, than a boat.

The audience spoke. Bayliner listened. I suspect the veteran boatbuilder, who preached giving your customers what they want, would bless the process.

As is always the case, the proof will be in the pudding.


3 comments on “Building with features customers prefer

  1. Jimmy

    I like this idea and design, but we still need a newly designed entry-level cabin cruiser to secure a pathway for new families, new boaters, and those on a budget to get into the new boating scene. A day boat is great, and at this price point it should help to keep the middle class on the water. However, without an overnighter available for this same demographic we still will not see the middle class getting back into boating in significant numbers for some years to come. Yes, the bigger boats are where the money is, but if we can’t keep smaller cabin cruisers around there will be a severe gap in the boating community seperating the day boaters from the cruisers; the weekend getaway boater is soon to be lost.

    Any chance of this M hull launching a full new line at some point?

  2. steve deck

    if i owned your company i would be very proud of the management, and the forward thinking, m hull that’s great.
    it’s performance like this that seperate a GREAT COMPANY from a good company .
    i’ll buy stock in yours.GREAT COMPANY
    GOOD JOB!!


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