FEATURE - Bayliner, 20 Years Down Under

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Of all the imported brands, Bayliner is surely one of the most enduring, with almost 6000 boats sold in two decades. Importer David Hazlett talks to DAVID LOCKWOOD about the past, present and future

FEATURE - Bayliner, 20 Years Down Under
FEATURE - Bayliner, 20 Years Down Under

Boats come and boats go, none more so than in the world of imported craft. They arrive here in droves on the back of favourable exchange rates, in times of booming economies, to woo Australia’s mainstream pleasureboaters to their fold, and at other times fill niche markets. Sometimes they do it better, sometimes not so well, but amid this armada of brands, badges and big names Bayliner has proven enduring.

Of course, it makes dollars and sense that the world’s biggest boatbuilder would have a toehold in Australia. As part of the Brunswick Corporation, Bayliner is a flagship business that builds production boats en masse for the masses. Their appeal is broad, their range of boats easy to come at, starting with entry-level bowriders, moving through small cabin cruisers, to sportscruisers up to 10 metres in length.

Turnkey is a popular American term that applies to Bayliner. The boats are bundled with pretty much everything you need. Add fuel, water and fodder, some fishing rods and inflatable tubes, and you are set for a weekend of turnkey pleasureboating. This part of Bayliner’s appeal hasn’t been lost on David Hazlett, the principal and importer of Bayliner boats to Australia for the past 21 years.

"We’re moving towards 6000 units Australia-wide since we’ve been running this business. Our volume has dropped substantially through the last 18 months but it’s starting to move back again. We have to readjust our business to this market volume, but we went through the same thing in 1991," Hazlett told Trade-a-Boat.

Hazlett imported his first shipment of Bayliners into Australia in 1989. It was either a 2655 or a 2855, he can’t quite recall, but one of Bayliner’s signature entry-level sportscruisers with a V8 petrol inboard engine. Back then, the standalone business was called Berowra Waters Marine, located on the sleepy waterways adjoining the Hawkesbury (NSW), where Hazlett still owns a house and commercial marina today.

Berowra Waters Wholesale, as it is now known, remains the importer and distributor of Bayliners in Australia. But these days, there are 13 dealers across the country and Hazlett is always interested in additional dealerships in specific regional areas.

"We bought the (Berowra Waters) marina first and looked at ways to activate more income for the marina and someone asked: ‘Would you sell these boats?’ Then a guy from America came out and we started importing a few into NSW. It just grew from there," said Hazlett.

"We have won a lot of awards internationally and have been their largest (international) dealer for a number of years. We are always one or two in terms of international dealerships," he explained.

An astute businessman, Hazlett isn’t afraid to get his toes wet and slip behind the wheel of a Bayliner. "Yes, I go boating," he says. "I don’t go boating every weekend, mind you, but I have a house at Berowra Waters and keep a boat there. And spend weekends there. And I have a berth at Sydney Harbour."

Why has Bayliner been so successful in Australia? Though he is reluctant to take credit, we reckon a lot of it comes down to Hazlett. The big American brand couldn’t have found a better home. Two decades supporting one brand has led to many happy (often repeat) Bayliner customers. But price plays a big part with these entry-level cruisers, too.

"Bayliner represent the best value in family boating," said Hazlett.

"It’s not meant for the guy at the top of the market but, for the average family buyer, Bayliner represents excellent value, trade-in value, and durability and reliability.

"It’s as good or better than anything else out there. Sure, we have warranty issues like everybody else, but one of the attributes of Bayliner is Brunswick (the parent company) and they stand behind their products," says Hazlett.

Berowra Waters Wholesale works on averages regarding exchange rates. It sets its prices on a regular basis and adjusts them accordingly to try and maintain consistent pricing. That helps with positioning the boats in the market and, for the consumer, it helps with keeping things consistent and establishing resale values, too.

Of course, in the last 20 years, Hazlett has seen Bayliner evolve. The boats have changed significantly in terms of performance and safety. But they’re upgrading the models all the time. One of the latest innovations is Axius, which uses fly-by-wire steering and a joystick to control the sterndrives legs for ease of docking.

"Axius is a phenomenal thing for someone who is a novice in boating, or has a berth exposed to the wind or tide. It gives you controlled power over your boat like you have never seen before. But it comes at a price and there’s a resistance to price at the moment," says the ever-realistic Hazlett.

But that the present market is price sensitive isn’t a bad thing for Bayliner. Going into the boat-show season, Hazlett is happy selling Bayliner because of its competitive pricing and reputation. For people moving up the boating ranks, he offers the Meridian luxury craft from Brunswick. In fact, he has a boat for pretty much every bent and budget.

"In the Bayliner brand we go from 16ft to 33ft, in the Trophy range of dedicated fishing boats we go from 17 to 27ft, while the luxury Meridians range from 34 to 60ft," explains Hazlett. There will be six to eight boats on display at Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show (SCIBS), opening May 20, but 15 boats or so across the range at Sydney International Boat Show in late July.

"SCIBS is primarily a bigger boat show than a smaller boat show. Our focus is more on smaller boats at the moment. We are looking for the volume to keep us ticking over. There are so many more people who can afford to pay $50,000 than $500,000," Hazlett says, adding that the second-hand market offers pretty good shopping at the moment. "We buy boats, take boats on consignment, and the second-hand market hasn’t suffered to same degree as new. It’s a great time for people to buy."

Trade-a-Boat and sister magazine TrailerBoat have long been seen as important platforms for Bayliner. "We recognise the value of the expert editorial and it’s a very important part of our business," says Hazlett. "This is our 21st year and we plan to be about for another 20 years. Bayliner is an iconic brand in America and we aim to make it that way in Australia. We can’t be flamboyant in these times, but we will always be there."

Photos: David Hazlett has been importing Bayliner into Australia for the past 21 years; Bayliner adopts innovations such as Axius for simple joystick docking; Bayliner's are pocket cruisers for big internal volume.


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