Tennessee-based Bayliner builds recreational boats for cruising, water sports and fishing that provide exceptional value and innovation at affordable entry-level price points. David Soyka reports on this global boat maker’s 60 year legacy of putting families on the water.
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You don’t need a Ferrari to take you where you want to go (though it might be nice). Similarly, you might want to enjoy getting out on the water to fish or water ski or just take a relaxing cruise with friends and family. But the price of owning your own boat renders you an envious landlubber.
In which case you are the ideal Bayliner customer. For the past 60 years and counting, Bayliner has led the marine industry in building affordable and reliable recreational boats outfitted with the style, comfort and innovation typical of more expensive brands. Models are available in runabout, deck and center console configurations at various lengths and capacities, as well as a recently added wake sports category.
A key reason for Bayliner’s longevity is customer loyalty. People who know boats know Bayliner’s reputation for high quality at a reasonable cost. Indeed, Bayliner is the only brand in its class to receive the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Customer Satisfaction Award seven consecutive times, thanks to scores exceeding 90 percent on independently conducted customer satisfaction surveys. And Bayliner’s lifetime warranty is considered best-in-class, with the lowest claim rate even when compared to world-class brands in other industries.
“There are other players in the entry-level market,” notes Corey Duke, director of North American sales,” but Bayliner is unique in our ability to provide many of the features and functionalities you’d ordinarily find only in much more expensive boats. That’s been Bayliner’s goal from the start: to make recreational boating accessible to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it, and continually evolve our range of boats to provide even more options that provide great value for the money. That’s the legacy this company was built on, and why we continue to be a leader in this segment. Bayliner puts more families on the water than any other recreational boat company.”
Case in point is the recent introduction as part of its 60th anniversary celebration a 21-foot version of its highly regarded Element series. Available in both deck boat and center console fishing configurations, the Element 21 is priced as low as $25,500. The foundation of the Element series is Bayliner’s patent-pending M-Hull™, which creates a unique running surface that is exceptionally stable, predictable and easy to maneuver, perfect for the beginner boater. Boating Magazine describes the new Element E21 as “a fresh expression of the Bayliner mission: Create boats that are affordable to buy and easy to own and operate, and more people will go boating.”
To further extend that mission, last summer Bayliner acquired Heyday’s Inboard boat models WT-1 and WT-2, designed for the wakeboard segment by the father-son team of John and Ben Dorton, who have also joined the Bayliner team. Costing roughly $15,000 to $20,000 less than any comparable model on the market, Heyday further extends Bayliner’s value proposition to a new set of potential customers. “It’s a great addition to our portfolio, giving Bayliner an immediate presence in the wake/surf segment, and at the same time expanding the marketing reach of Heyday’s well-regarded brand through our worldwide dealer network,” Duke notes.
Another differentiator characteristic of any Bayliner boat is the versatility of its floor plans, particularly the attention to space and storage. “We look at what higher end boats are doing in terms of seating and other amenities,” Duke says. “Then our designers figure out how we can achieve the same value and quality for our boats at a lower cost.” One example is Bayliner’s BeamForward™ design. The name explains exactly what it is—it moves the boat’s full beam forward further than traditional designs to expand passenger space and storage. “Usually you get one at the expense of the other, more sitting room or more storage space, but not both,” Duke explains. “Our target audience is families that need both. Particularly since we’re not just talking about a single family. One trend we’re noticing of late is that multiple families are sharing a boat. A father and a son or even just neighbors will chip in to buy the boat together who years ago before the recession might each have bought their own boat. So space and storage are going to be particularly important to customers where a lot of people are making use of the boat. Our designs are unique in providing that.”
He adds, “We try to distinguish between ‘must-haves’ and ‘does the customer really need this’ as another way to balance the cost proposition. One example is that these days a lot of people like an on-board entertainment system with Bluetooth capabilities so they play music off of their phones. Now, the more expensive head units display the track and the artist and other details that really don’t matter that much to actually getting the music heard. So, to keep costs down, we offer a head unit with Bluetooth capabilities, but without all the bells and whis tles most of our customers can easily do without and don’t much care about.”
Part of Brunswick Boat
Headquatered in Knoxville, Tenn., Bayliner is part of the Brunswick Boat Group, the number one boat builder in the world. “It further enhances our brand identity to be associated with premier names in the marine industry such Mercury and Mariner outboard engines, SeayRay and Rayglass boats, Attwood and Whale marine parts, among a number of other leading consumer brands,” Duke says.
Bayliner maintains two manufacturing facilities, one in Poland and the one in Reynosa, Mexico. “Basically, the Poland plant services Europe, the Middle East and Asia, while the plant in Mexico produces boats for North and South America,” Duke says. “However, it’s certainly not unusual in certain cases that a plant in one hemisphere builds a boat for a dealer or customer in the other hemisphere.”
Duke points out that there remains a certain amount of manual labor in the boat building process. “It’s not like the automotive industry where you gain cost-efficiencies through repeatability in producing high volumes of a model platform. Boats aren’t a necessity to daily living. And they aren’t for everyone. Our typical customer is an average person with an interest in water sports looking for a boat they can realistically afford. They tend to hold onto that boat a lot longer than they do their cars, which further restricts the size of our potential market. Though certainly we do get repeat customers.”
Where Bayliner keeps manufacturing costs down is through lean engineering, Six Sigma and Green Belt practices. “We’re one of the few manufacturers in this industry to have earned ISO 9001 certification,” Duke points out. “We’re constantly looking at our processes and training our people to achieve the highest efficiencies while still achieving the highest quality.”
Boats are made to dealer specifications for their inventory. It’s also possible for customers to “build-your-own” boat and select a model, color and graphics and choose among various option packages.
“The industry as a whole is starting to recover from the recession,” Duke notes. “Bayliner in particular has seen continuing strong sales both in North America and globally. We’ve got a particular advantage because we’re in our own niche. There’s really no one else that can offer you some of the same features and functionalities of a $150,000 boat for only $39,999 or $49,999.”