The Bayliner, the first of several brand names marketed by U.S. Marine, became one of America’s most popular runabouts in the 1960s and the 1970s with a simple concept – get the nation’s growing middle class hooked on recreational boating with a model that was affordable and easy to use.
That concept was cemented in 1982 when Bayliner introduced the first so-called “packaged boat” – the 1950 Capri Bowrider – that attracted novice boaters while arriving at dealerships with both the engine and the trailer already rigged and ready to run. But times changed, and eventually boat buyers were looking more for snazzy features and less for low prices. Bayliner tried to compete in that market, but its identity was in danger of becoming lost.
A couple of years ago, executives at the Arlington, Wash.-based boat maker made a critical decision: Bayliner needed to get back to its roots. The company designed and last year started marketing the 171/2 –foot Bayliner 175, the first runabout in years that is available for under $10,000.
“The under-$10,000 mark is huge – it’s monumental,” said Matthew Vetzner, the director of marketing for U.S. Marine, which is a unit of the recreation giant Brunswick Corp. “The $10,000 price mark hasn’t even been talked about in discussions among fiberglass boat makers for a long, long time.”
The Bayliner is probably the best known of the four boat brands that either are apart of the U.S. Marine family or are associated with it. The others are Trophy, which specializes in fishing boats; Maxum, which is known for its excellence in design, and the newer line of Meridian Yachts, which is not directly under U.S. Marine but is also owned by Brunswick and is closely affiliated.
The firm’s main operations are still based in Arlington, where the company’s roots trace back to the 1950s. However, U.S. Marine now has a number of additional plants, in Roseburg, Ore., Pipestone, Minn., Cumberland, Md., Salisbury, Md., and its newest plant in Reynosa, Mexico. The unit has in the area of 3,500 employees at its various facilities.
U.S. Marine and Bayliner have come a long way from humble beginnings. Orin Edson, a Korean War veteran, had returned to his home on the Puget Sound and was selling boats out of garage, eventually purchasing a small boat manufacturer and marketing the first Bayliners, which were initially made out of plywood. In 1965, Edson contracted with a local manufacturing company to make and market 18-foot Bayliners with fiberglass hulls.
The new model took off, first at Edson’s dealership in Seattle and later around the country as Bayliner became one of the fastest growing names in the American boat industry. By the mid-1970s, the Bayliner brand had expanded to include not only runabouts but also cuddies and cruisers as large as 27 feet. Then came the first packaged boats with trailers in 1982, which is fairly common today but was a major innovation at the time.
However, the packaged boats also didn’t have as many factory options as the boats marketed by its chief competitors, and over time – as Bayliner added new features and as the price of key parts and components rose – the company began to lose its price advantage over its rivals.
“Bayliner really spurred the growth of boating, and made it accessible to the middle classes,” said Vetzner, “but what happened was that over the years the time and the material and the labor to make them increased.” It was during this time that Bayliner and its affiliated boat lines were purchased by Brunswick, the well-known maker of bowling equipment as well as boats and marine engines.
In their recent decision to try to make and market a boat for $9,995, officials at U.S. Marine developed a program that they called PRO System™ (PRO for Product Resource Optimization). The aim was to basically look at the Bayliner manufacturing process and to redo it from scratch, looking at places where money could be saved on parts, process and labor.
“What PRO does is it forces us to re-evaluate every step of the process, from the components we use to the flow of materials and such,” Vetzner said. “The pillar and purpose of PRO is global manufacturing and global resourcing – all packaged with a world-class quality system.”
‘Good to go’
In that search for the most efficient way to build a new affordable boat, U.S. Marine decided to build an entirely new, 88,000-square-foot plant that would produce the Bayliner 175, in Reynosa, Mexico, not far from the Texas border. Vetzner said the move was not inspired so much by the lower labor cost as by the manufacturing supply network that has grown in Reynosa in recent years.
The new model was also extensively test marketed to consumers, in part to learn how the factory-produced model could best compete against the giant used-boat market. Vetzner said the Bayliner 175 offers the backing of both the factory and the dealer and something that is unusual in the boating business – a lifetime guarantee on the hull. He noted that the finished boat is typically delivered to dealers covered in shrink-wrap, and “is good to go.”
The Bayliner 175 became available in the summer of 2002, and officials say the new boat was an instant hit. “It has been outstanding,” Vetzner said. “We knew that it was going to be a home run, but we didn’t know that it was going to be a home run and a slam dunk.”
Now, U.S. Marine is looking to apply some of the production and marketing lessons to its other lines. “With the Bayliner we’ve been telling people that they can get a great boat for a great price everything they need for the entire family to have a fun time in and on the water,” Vetzner said. “So for Trophy, we’re saying that it has everything you need to pursue your passion for fishing.
Vetzner said the division is now placing a strong emphasis on upgrading the Maxum brand, launching four new models this summer that will be “a tremendous face lift” and give Maxum’s boats a unique look in the water. He said that Maxum has changed its designs from storage areas and swim platforms to make its boats more user-friendly, while “taking visual inspiration from sports cars in their look, form and ergonomics, and in the dashboard.”