on 7 Jun 2023
The Freedom Boat Club may have its first location in Asia in 2024
The Freedom Boat Club may soon be coming to Asia. The club offers members the opportunity to use Brunswick brand dayboats on day excursions without having to buy a boat. Members get access to a fleet of over 5,000 boats from Brunswick’s model lines and step aboard the boat fueled up and ready to go.
David Kurczewski, General Manager, Shared Services Asia-Pacific, is charged with expanding the Freedom Boat Club into the Pacific, having relocated from the US to Australia to oversee the project. He is confident that the Freedom Boat Club (FBC) will soon find its first home in Asia.
FBC members can go out on day excursions, with full service and help at the dock. Members can even enjoy learning about boat handling and navigation. A member can step onto a boat and motor off, with any assistance required, enjoy the day and return. The boat is ready, cleaned and fueled up. Kurczewski calls it “walk-on, walk-off service”.
People can be members of an FBC and still live elsewhere. A businessperson living in Hong Kong but doing business in Australia can be a member and use a boat from an FBC outlet in Australia. Kurczewski thinks it is a compelling offer and a great way to expand the boating community.
“We want our members to be confident on the water because that makes all the difference in the world in having an absolutely enjoyable day,” says Kurczewski.
The concept has been enormously popular. When Brunswick Group bought the FBC in 2019, the club had about 19,000 memberships (one membership could cover a couple living together) and 170 locations, almost all in the US. Today, Kurczewski estimates that there are about 55,000 memberships or approximately 88,000 individuals, with 390 locations across the US, Europe and Australia.
In March, Brunswick announced the sixth location in Australia for FBC in just four months after the first launch in early 2023.
There are 5500 boats in the FBC fleet, located at various clubs around the world and available to all members, regardless of where they live. The boats are all from Brunswick brands, typically ranging from 19 to 25 feet LOA.
Kurczewski says Brunswick is keen to expand the FBC concept into Asia, where wealth levels are equal to or greater than Europe and North America, but where recreational boating activity remains relatively low.
Kurczewski says that 90% of new FBC members were not actually interested in buying a boat before joining the club. Women are more likely to join an FBC than buy a new boat and thus learn about boating through the club. Families are also a major membership segment.
“It’s quite apparent at the docks, you will see groups of women taking out boats on their own. That’s not what you typically see at a marina or a boat show,” says Kurczewski. “For people that might not be comfortable with boating historically, the FBC is a great entry point.”
He estimates that about 10% of FBC members leave each year, but 20% of FBC members who leave the club do so to buy their own boat. As such, it is a great way for Brunswick to market its boats to new buyers and create a new group of potential yacht owners.
However, he is also keenly aware of the risks of Asia expansion. “The one thing that we don’t want is to enter, then fail and exit, which happens with a fair amount of companies that try to enter the Asian market. So, we’re being deliberate in how we’re proceeding.”
Apart from the operational issues, there are not enough marinas in Asia yet and that makes expansion harder. Kurczewski says some of the potential franchise partners he’s spoken to are even interested in building marinas to make the FBC work in Asia.
“There are some places (in East Asia) where there is a bit more history with boating, and those are probably the first places that make sense for Freedom Boat Club. We are speaking with a number of individuals who are potentially interested in franchising throughout Asia.”
Singapore and Hong Kong are certainly the easiest places to get started, but Thailand, Korea and the Philippines hold promise as well. “I have a lot of optimism about FBC being a solution for boating and some of these locations,” he says. “Freedom Boat Club could be a great introduction for the population to recreational learning.”
Kurczewski hints that a first FBC base could open as early as 2024. “There is a lot of interest, frankly, and it’s quite encouraging.”
Some of FBC locations are owned by Brunswick, but others are operated on a franchise basis. Asian expansion would be on a franchise basis. Franchise owners must start with at least four Brunswick boats to meet the demands of scheduling and maintenance. Data from FBC operations shows that the “sweet spot” is 10 boats in terms of operating costs and efficiency. Franchise owners get discounts on the boats they buy, and they get access to plenty of support from Brunswick. Franchise owners are also required to renew their boats every three years.
Expansion into Asia has become a key part of the Freedom Boat Club’s future and Kurczewski sees the FBC as the way to introduce Brunswick’s brand, but also to create a new boating market where none now exists. “The way FBC operates around the world today, I think it might be a really compelling way to enter the Asia market.”
For more Industry news click here.