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Walker on Baja: ‘We know we face a challenge’


In May 2011, speedonthewater.com reported that Baja Marine would return to production (Read the story). Today, the Washington, N.C., company made that official in a press release. Included with the press release was a question-and-answer document featuring John Walker, the chief executive officer of the company. Here’s what he had to say.

When did Baja Marine resume boatbuilding operations? What model lines are currently under construction?

We started in mid-August. We have the 247 Islander, 26 Outlaw, 278 Performance and 30 Outlaw models currently in build and are planning to add the 277 Islander and 35 Outlaw models for 2013 as well.

Did Baja declare Chapter 11 Bankruptcy last winter?

A receiver was appointed and did put Baja into bankruptcy. However, the court dismissed it as an improper filing. The bankruptcy court judge ruled that the receiver did not have the authority to put Baja in bankruptcy. It’s a complicated process, but Baja has gone back to its former ownership.

Who owns Baja, and what is its relationship to its former sister brands, Donzi, Proline and Fountain?

Baja Marine went back to the people at Liberty. While Baja currently has no affiliation with the former sister brands, we are in discussion to work with those brands in the near future. We hope to have more to say about that in the months to come.

Is Baja financially strong enough to weather the current challenging market?

Baja has very little debt and has adequate working capital for the current challenging times and our future business. We’re in it for the long haul. Even if the market takes another dip, Baja has the financial resources to weather it.

Did you lose a lot of staff during the shutdown?

We did lose some staffing. However, we have been able to hire back a small number of very qualified individuals, who fit our needs for now. I personally have worked in production in the marine industry for more than 30 years, and have worked in management since 1986. We also are fortunate that Craig Barrie, who has a long and storied history in the recreational marine industry and performance boat segment, has remained with Baja as vice president of sales and marketing.

Overall, our management team averages 25 or more years in the marine industry, and many of them have been associated with Baja for several years. In the plant, our production team averages 12 years or more of boat-building experience. There are a lot of people here in Washington who want to come back once production picks up, and we hope to be able to do that in the not-too-distant future.

What is the brand-positioning and marketing strategy for Baja? 

We feel Baja is the most popular performance boat on the market. It’s a great family brand that allows boaters to spend time on the water with friends and family. It has a long history and probably the most loyal customer base of any performance boat brand. There certainly are more Baja owners than there are for any other performance brand out there. These people have been without their company for awhile, which is one of the main reasons why we remain so committed to Baja and returning it to its status as the leader in the performance boat segment.

In terms of marketing strategy, our goal is to sign the best dealers in the country. We’ve started out with very recognized dealers who specialize in the performance market. We’ve totally revamped our website. We’re also planning to have a presence at many of the fall boat shows, including the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

The high performance segment has been particularly hard hit the last five years. Is there still a market for Baja?

We know we face a challenge. The recreational marine industry still isn’t as strong as we’d all like it to be. But we plan to move forward on a solid footing.

And, we believe absolutely that there remains a strong market for Baja, due again to the brand’s very loyal following of end-user customers, as well as dealers.

So, the customers are still there. They still want to own a new Baja. We intend to fill that need. We’ll be patient. We’ll let our dealers stock the units that fit their needs, because we understand that they are reluctant to stock too much inventory. Our plan is to move forward and grow by satisfying boaters and dealers one boat at a time.

What’s the status of any current warranty on boats built after the brand relaunched in 2011 and prior to the shutdown? 

 We are absolutely standing behind the warranty on boats that were built and sold in model year 2012. Those boats left here with a full factory warranty and we will support that, just as we do for any boat that leaves our factory today.

How many stocking dealers does Baja have today? Are you looking for more dealers? What about international markets?

To date, we have signed 12 dealers in North America. We also are talking to distributors in Europe and in Asia, including the Middle East. We do have territories available, both domestically and internationally.

We don’t sell factory-direct, but we do put our end-user customers in touch with the dealer in their market to help them get into the boat they want and ensure they have somewhere to go for regular maintenance and service. The dealers we’ve signed thus far are very strong in the performance boat market, so they are the right people to work with the customer.

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