Only weeks after the news that Polaris watercraft manager Ron Bills would be leaving the PWC industry, Sea-Doo marketing head Glenn Sandridge announced that he also was leaving the industry to take a lead position with boating retail-giant Marine Max, based in Clearwater, Fla. Sandridge has been with Sea-Doo for nearly six years.
“It just looked like a situation where it was a company that had great momentum already, a great business model, and a CEO with very, very clear vision,” Sandridge told Powersports Business. “A company where I felt I could come in and hopefully add value and help them achieve that vision, further the goals and objectives, and do some cool stuff in marketing that I hadn’t done before with retail. That was really it.
“It’s just a different challenge of going to the retail channel, and really the opportunity here is to be part of creating the first marine retail brand.”
Sea-Doo Still Has Momentum
Although Sandridge had been with Bombardier through one of the toughest periods in industry history, he stresses that he was not burned out on the job, and that he strongly believes the Sea-Doo division will continue to flourish. He also insists the move has nothing to do with the sale of the Bombardier recreational division, a change that Sandridge feels will have no adverse effect on the Sea-Doo brand.
“The momentum that has been built up with the Sea-Doo brand is really strong,” says Sandridge. “The market share went up again this year, even when you include Honda into the mix, and we’re up about 7 1/2 points over the last few years on the actual NMMA numbers.
“The team that is in place is really solid, the investment in product development in new products — you’ve seen it with the Supercharged and RXP — if anything it has sped up and not slowed down. I think the commitment is extremely strong, and I know things for the future that I can assure you that the commitment is strong for the business going forward.
“Will things change? Yeah. But what does that mean for Sea-Doo? I honestly don’t expect to see a whole lot of changes. With a solid team and momentum on the brand and investment in the brand… I think if I was sitting there as a Sea-Doo dealer I’d feel real good. The momentum is there; the team that’s executing it is in place and solid. They’re just an incredibly talented group of people. That was one of the hardest parts about leaving, quite frankly.”
Sandridge also feels that the PWC industry as a whole is ready to once again show an increase, noting that the numbers look good for 2003 and beyond. “I think it’s a good time for the industry,” he said. “Are we going to see 20% growth this year? No. But I’d be really surprised if we didn’t see 5% growth, somewhere along that range.”
He also admits that the renewed strength of the PWC industry may be a reason why people like himself and Ron Bills became the targets of other companies. “I think it’s more of a reflection of the strength of the industry and that we’ve come through a downturn and turned the thing around as an industry,” said Sandridge.
Outside Looking In
Perhaps the most valuable comments Sandridge had to offer, however, were from the unique perspective of a one-time industry insider now looking from the outside. Particularly when the issue turns to the challenges of once again growing the PWC market.
“I think one of the big things is that the cost of the product has gone much higher, and the age of the owner has gone higher,” Sandridge said. “Those go hand in hand.
“If you go back to the heydays, 1995, there were three times as many, from a percentage standpoint, young people in our sport, people in the 20-24-type range. If we’re ever going to grow the sport dramatically, I think we’ve got to find a way to attract them back into the sport. The beauty about it is, they look at watercraft as cool, and they look at it as something fun and aspirational. But we haven’t come up with a solution yet as how to really attract those people.
“Part of it is the product itself and part of it is the price of the product. That is both a huge opportunity and a huge potential pitfall down the road if we don’t breathe some life back into the sport. Our owners are older, family people that are quite wealthy, average household incomes of $100,000-plus.
“Can we revitalize the sport within that core? I think, yeah, we can. But to see any kind of double-digit growth again, I think we’re going to have to go after the market that we used to have that we don’t have anymore.
“The next thing is we’ve got to figure out a way to tap into that core group in ’95-’96 when we were up in the upper hundred thousand, even hitting two hundred thousand. Those people now, their units are six-to-eight years old.
“How can we go back and convince those people they need to stay in the sport? I think part of that is the four-stroke story, because it’s an obvious improvement, but we’ve got to go beyond that because four-stroke was by-and-large driven by regulatory issues, not by consumer demand. It’s a positive for consumers, but it’s not like consumers are going to go, ‘Oh, the only reason I wasn’t purchasing is because I was waiting for a four-stroke.’ We’re seeing that it is hugely positive, but how do we go get that core group, that half-a-million people in those three years that bought those units that are now probably getting up there in age, how do we get them to purchase?
“Those are the two opportunities, I think. And, obviously the opposite of the opportunity is that if we don’t do that, are we going to continue to see a decline?”