To say MarineMax and Sea Ray have a special, one-of-a-kind partnership would be a gross understatement. Sea Ray was the common bond shared between Clearwater’s Gulfwind Marine and other independent dealers in a mid-1990’s networking group, a bond that ultimately led to the formation of MarineMax in 1998. And it is Sea Ray that has continued to serve as the cornerstone brand for the united company in the more than two decades that have followed.
I recently sat down with MarineMax Chief Executive Officer and President Brett McGill to get his thoughts on this mutually beneficial relationship, how the two companies’ growth has both paralleled and complemented the other…and what may lay ahead in each brand’s future.
Brett, explain the role Sea Ray played in the formation of MarineMax and how the brands have complemented each other over the years.
When Gulfwind and other independent dealers formed MarineMax we did that in a pretty tight partnership with Sea Ray, with many common goals — how can we grow as stronger boat dealers and how they can have a dealer that is in essence larger in many, many territories that they can grow with as well. Everything from just our ability to really work with them on boats and options and how boats should be configured for individual markets to feedback on what customers are saying out there about their products. We just had a larger scale ability to give feedback to Sea Ray and allow them to grow quickly with us.
Individual dealers had strengths in various areas but with MarineMax we were able to collect data from all the dealerships and share it more efficiently with Sea Ray. Say here’s what’s working and what’s not, here’s what the customers are saying. It was just a much more efficient way for Sea Ray to learn quickly, and I think it helped them stay way ahead of the competition and it helped us have fresher product more quickly.
They would listen to us and we would listen to them. They had a lot of talented designers and the backing of Brunswick. When you have that you can get to market quicker with the newest models and latest innovation as well as hit a price point that the market accepts.
Several economic downturns have tested each company’s resilience. How has each brand helped the other weather these storms?
It’s probably a partnership like no other. In 2001 when there was a slight recession, we worked together on rightsizing our inventory and taking some boats where Sea Ray needed help. We knew we could sell them in certain markets and then they adjusted their production to fit demand. When the big financial crisis hit in 2009, they literally stepped up with whatever it took to help us as a dealer basically survive and ultimately thrive. There are very few manufacturers that have the scale and ability to do that and we had that ability as a dealer, too. They flex when needed and we do the same thing.
We’ve both always looked at it as a partnership. If we do something just to serve us that might feel good for just a short period of time. But in the long run if it’s not something that benefits both of our companies it’s not going to last.
Both companies have enjoyed some consistency over the years. The upper management at MarineMax has stayed relatively consistent and Sea Ray continues to have the steady hand of Brunswick.
Over the years we’ve had changes within MarineMax leadership but at the top many of us that are here now weathered the storm and were here when the original company was formed in 1998. That’s a real big benefit. Sea Ray has also seen various changes in leadership over those years, but I would tell you with Brunswick’s backing they’ve been great to us and always treated us like a customer. They’ve made sure any time a new leader comes in they reengage with us and make sure they’re building on the relationship. And, through all of those changes the partnership has stayed strong.
Sea Ray has undergone a notable change of late with the transition away from the yacht business and commitment to the 40′-and-under market. Has that proved challenging?**
We’re excited about what we’ll call the ‘new’ Sea Ray…their commitment to models under 40′, new models, new marketing messages, their approach to really reenergizing their brand in today’s economy. They might not have boats all the way up to 65′ but they have boats like the SLX 400, which might be the most popular boat in the country with features like no other. The team at Sea Ray is providing us boats that are selling well in the marketplace and they’re really spending a lot of time on their messaging and making sure that they address what their customers want.
When the decision was made to discontinue the yachts above 40’, the great thing is Brunswick and Sea Ray communicated very well with us all along the way. They worked very well with us transitioning through that period and continue to support all of those customers and support all the- boats that they’re continuing to grow with. The communication and the commitment before, during and now after that took place has been excellent. It could be very difficult without a true partnership communicating together. It made it a lot easier to have somebody that you could work through it with.
Looking to the future, what can we expect from Sea Ray?
Sea Ray has repositioned their brand. They continue to redefine their luxury approach to the boats they’re building. Their innovation also continues; boats like the Sundancer 320 and more like that to come; the SLX 400 and down from there; their commitment to building truly well-designed outboard boats that meet the market’s needs. The future is going to be bright with their commitment to what they’re doing. And Brunswick’s made it clear that they’re committed to it and you can see it in the investment they’re making into future products.
And from MarineMax?
We can continue to grow. Sea Ray continues to be a very, very important part of our business and with the models and the innovation and the outboards they continue to come out with, that continues to feed the markets that we serve. We’ve obviously had to change our portfolio above 40′ but again with the communication we were able to do that naturally.
We think Sea Ray will continue to bring customers into the boating lifestyle. It’s such a well-recognized brand. Many people grew up on a Sea Ray, they still aspire to own a Sea Ray. And maybe one day, because their boating needs change or they get out on a Getaway! event and decide they want a larger cabin boat, MarineMax will have products to offer to keep that customer in the MarineMax family. We also find that many of our yacht customers have a house on the intracoastal or home on a lake and a lot of those folks want a small Sea Ray. We continue to have multiple options for the customer.
From the earliest days of MarineMax to now, the company has had a lot of opportunities to pair with other boat builders. What is it about Sea Ray that continues to convince management to make the brand such a vital part of MarineMax’s future?
The list would be pretty long! Sea Ray stands behind their product as good or better than any company out there, and not just in the marine industry. A company like Sea Ray with the backing of Brunswick stands behind their product and they stand behind their dealers. And they give us the resources and the tools to support our customers second to none. They know that some of our customers get four to five weekends a month to enjoy their boats and they want it to be hassle free. And having a company like Sea Ray that understands when we call and we’ve got to get somebody back on the water this Saturday, they get it. They support us, they have the parts in stock, they have the staff on hand to help us and we work through whatever issue it is to get our customers back on the water.