Boat owners often talk of the serenity of the water and how it calms the body and soul. That's hardly the case below the water's surface. Seawater, rivers and lakes offer anything but an easy ride for paints and coatings. Not only are the conditions among the most demanding in terms of formulation, the marine market is under constant environmental scrutiny and intense competition.
And lest we forget end users. Whether a cargo tanker, luxury yacht or recreational sailboat, boat and ship owners and operators are tough customers. They demand products that perform, meet environmental restrictions and keep their vessels where they belong-in the water and not undergoing lengthy maintenance procedures.
Focused Product Development
Marine and yacht owners want to spend as little time as possible with their boats out of the water and even less time contemplating what products to use on the hull. Selecting a coating is a decision they will make once a season when their vessel is pulled from the water. If the product holds up well, odds are they'll use it again.
Industry insiders Coatings World spoke with said boat owners are among the most loyal customers in the market.
"Owners look for what works," said Jim Seidel, assistant marketing manager, yacht coatings, at International Paint, Inc., maker of the Interlux brand. "It is difficult to get them to change, unless something changes in the market."
That could be the reason why it often takes a few seasons for a new product to make an impact in the marketplace. As for the chemistries involved in a new product launch, most boaters have minimal interest in knowing what's actually in the can.
"Boaters want to know the end result," said Steven R. Schultz, executive vice president, yacht North America, at International Paint, Inc. "They want predictable performance, ease of use and ease of application."
Still, the marine and yacht coatings market is technology-driven. Chemists are constantly improving their range, creating eco-friendly products for sensitive aquatic environments that meet current and, hopefully, future, regulations. Some industry experts estimate that chemists spend as much as 45% of their time reformulating products.
Akzo Nobel's Interlux brand has several created new products for the yacht market, including Micron 66, a long-lasting, TBT-free self-polishing copolymer that is a replacement for Micron 44 anti-fouling. Interlux contends the performance of Micron 66 is equal to, and, in some cases, better than TBT-containing anti-foulants. Additionally, chemists focused on making Micron 66 as consumer friendly as possible, with easy application via a roller or brush and a small range of color choices (black, blue and red).
While Micron 66 was developed to conform to a specific regulation, namely the TBT ban, another new product in the Interlux stable was created to combat specific aquatic conditions. VC17 m Extra with Biolux is a high-performance, thin-film anti-fouling paint formulated with Teflon. In addition to the organic boosting biocide of the Biolux package, the product was formulated with metallic copper to combat zebra mussels, teredo worms, weeds, algae and slime fouling in freshwater and low-fouling saltwater. According to Mr. Seidel, the product was welcomed in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. In addition, its quick drying formulation allows boaters to paint and launch in the same day.
But it's not just big companies such as Interlux that are developing new products. Smaller companies and even retailers are looking to tap into the anti-foul coatings market.
Private label products are also luring boaters on the recreational side of the business. West Marine, a major retailer in the marine market, last year introduced its own brand of ablative anti-foulant paint. West Marine, which has more than 260 stores in the U.S. and operates 62 Boat U.S. Marine Centers and two stores in British Columbia, carries more than 50,000 products. It stocks products ranging from rope to the latest in marine electronics to maintenance products. In addition to its retail stores and wholesale divisions, West Marine serves boaters in more than 150 countries worldwide through its mail-order and Internet divisions.
A New Channel For Novices
Although many boating afficionados buy products or seek advice at stores such as West Marine, marine shops and boat yards, others may feel like fish out of water in those environments. Rust-Oleum is casting a line to reach these customers and hopes its proven name in DIY and heritage in corrosion protection will bring customers to supercenters, hardware shops and DIY outlets for their marine coatings needs.
Rust-Oleum officials saw a natural fit with marine. "With the heritage of Admiral Fergusson, it just made sense," Jim Stinner, brand manager, said regarding Rust-Oleum's founder Robert Fergusson. In 1921, Admiral Fergusson launched Stops Rust-the rust preventative paint based on raw fish oil-which was Rust-Oleum's first product.
"It was a fit with our coatings for extreme environments, water prevention, UV protection and corrosion resistance," said Mr. Stinner. "We wanted to make a DIY friendly marine line for weekend warriors who want to paint their own boats. Marine stores are a little intimating."
Supercenters such as Wal-Mart stock boat cushions, fishing gear and even small water craft, and it makes sense that customers might want to buy marine paint there, too.
Rust-Oleum has kept its foray into marine limited, offering a compact line consisting of topside paint in a range of colors, anti-fouling paint, a fiberglass and wood primer, metal primer, spar vanish and an anti-slip additive. Watco teak oil rounds out the mainly quart-based collection, which retails from $10.99 to $29.99.
The additional sales will bode well for Rust-Oleum's bottom line, but as part of the RPM Group, could the company be stepping on the feet of sister RPM brands such as Pettit?
According to Mr. Stinner, Rust-Oleum is "filling a gap in the marketplace" that occurred when the supplier stocking marine paint at those outlets dropped the line.
"We had our own customers, such as Home Depot, Lowe's and Wal-Mart come to us and ask for this," commented Mr. Stinner, who said there are no plans to bring the line to more traditional marine retailers.
"The target audience is small pleasure craft, fishermen, hunters and weekend warriors who don't use their boat everyday, not the hard-core boaters or big vessels. Our DIY line is a real nice fit for people who have small pleasure craft and shop in our channel. They want to protect their investment, and they know they can save by doing it themselves," he added.
Change in Course
On the marine side of the business, waves were made in the commercial side of the market when two dominant players announced plans earlier this year to sever their relationship.
Citing geographic changes in the marine industry over the last decade and a desire to expand their individual marine coatings operations, Nippon Paint Co., Ltd. and International Coatings Ltd. have decided to part ways, terminating their association in marine coatings.
Nippon Paint and International had cross-licensed their marine coating technologies and co-operated in customer service and support. The companies will continue to serve customers under their existing arrangement until the end of October 2004.
Nippon Paint plans to use its own overseas infrastructure to serve Japanese and overseas customers and owners building and maintaining vessels throughout the world.
Increasing competition in the Asia-Pacific market might be one reason why Nippon Paint is opting to go it alone in its own region.
"We [believe] that the worldwide demand of marine coatings is still growing steadily. However, [changes] such as those in Korea and China may cause a more seriously competitive situation among marine coatings manufacturers," commented Akira Odajima, director, business administration, corporate planning, at Nippon Paint Co., Ltd.
International said it will pursue plans to extend its global network by developing its own infrastructure in Japan to serve both Japanese and overseas customers.
Pressure on Manufacturers
Although the industry has made it through the IMO's TBT-ban deadline, manufacturers face pressure on many fronts ranging from the cost of biocide and finished product registration to reformulation issues regarding VOC levels to pricing pressures to sourcing raw materials. Marine and yacht coatings manufacturers need to be on top of all aspects of their business to remain competitive.
"It comes down to technology," commented Mr. Schultz, "and serving the market with the right product at the right time."