Duhamel & Dewar, Second Generation - Continuing A Legend

By Andy Adams

The attractive young woman turned to her male companion and said, “I think we should get this one. The price seems good. It already comes with everything....and we’re ready to go.” Everyone in her group of friends nodded their approval as they walked away from the Legend Boats display at the Toronto International Boat Show this past January.

Once again, the Legend marketing approach was effective.

As somebody who has been around the industry for many years, the thought of the Legend display, shoved far away in the southeast corner of the Direct Energy Center, well out of the mainstream of traffic, brings a smile to my face.
What a brilliant set up!

Marc Duhamel and Jamie Dewar actually have a lot of square footage for their Legend Boats display and they bring a big selection of products to the show. The boats are jammed in tight but that’s all right. Mainly, it’s about the interior features and if people want to see their boat at a distance, there are great pictures in the Legend Boats catalogue and online. More on that later.

All of the company sales and marketing people are on the floor at the Toronto show so that they can meet the public, field their questions first-hand, and they are there to learn from their customers, as much as they are there to sell. As Marc Duhamel said, “All our people are actually boaters themselves, so they bring personal experience to the discussions and we’re always looking to our customers for their input and ideas too.”

Duhamel and Dewar have taken advantage of the design of the Direct Energy Centre building to use some of the interior meeting rooms adjacent to their display, dividing those up as sales offices just like a big car dealership. At almost any time during the show, you could walk in and find two or three of the individual areas were occupied by groups of customers, and on the weekends, every space was full.

They are there to sell boats and sell boats they do!

The Legend Boats stated mission is to create memories. To have such an impact on the boat buying public, Marc Duhamel Jamie Dewar have developed a unique mix of products and services, marketed in a unique way. It’s evolved over many years and their approach to the boating industry is consistently successful, season after season.

We sat down with Marc and Jamie to find out more about how Legend Boats continues to grow and prosper.

Getting Into The Boat Business

We starred by asking Marc where their catalogue originated. He took us back to the early days of the business which was started by their fathers, Vic Duhamel and Carl Dewar.

Together, the two friends opened a tire shop in 1968 in Sudbury, Ontario. As the business became better established, the men got into the recreational vehicle industry and needing more space, moved to Whitefish, Ontario just outside of Sudbury in 1976.

In early 1977, a sales rep from the former Grew Boats company said that they should also be selling boats and the first Grew boats arrived in Whitefish in 1978. In 1979, the two men bought a nearby marina which had the regions’ Mercury dealership.

In the ensuing years, as their success grew, many boat brands approached Vic Duhamel and Carl Dewar to also sell their boats. Because Whitefish was not a convenient location for people to visit, Vic Duhamel and Carl Dewar realized that they had to rely on advertising to move the products.

It didn’t take long for the power of advertising to benefit Vic and Carl, but at the same time, they realized they were building the business for other people selling those boat brands as well.

Creating The Legend Brand

It was a bold step but they decided to launch their own brand of boats. They contacted some of the builders who were currently selling boats to them and they laid out the plan to create their own brand of boats.

After discussions around the dining room table, the name ‘Legend’ emerged as the top choice and the new brand was born. Working with the existing builders where they already had established relationships, the two men created their own set of specifications to differentiate Legend Boats from other boats and at approximately the same time, they launched their catalogue.

The Catalogue

We asked Marc and Jamie to tell us more about the ‘Catalogue’ approach.

Jamie began by explaining, “Our mission is to ‘create memories’, so the catalogue plays a leading role. The catalogue starts with our full range of models, giving each one its own spread with very complete information, presented as a full package including trailer, and starting with a smaller motor to help achieve the most affordable price of entry. Then we come to a weekly or monthly price that the customer can manage.”

Mark added that the catalogue comes out in both English and French that the catalogues are distributed through their dealers. He smiled when he told us, “Here at the show, we see other dealers hiding their catalogues and handing them out carefully, only to qualified buyers. We never hide our catalogues. There’s a big stack of them right here. We want everyone to have one.”

Marc continued, “We’ve seen people walk in to our dealership as many as 5 years later, carrying their old catalogue. They’ve obviously been dreaming of their Legend boat all those years and they’re finally in a position to buy it.”

The clearly displayed pricing probably has a lot to do with it. The price makes it real. It seems that the printed catalogue has real longevity and Marc explained that it’s a key buying tool.

“The wealth of information is there to make it easy for the potential buyer to make a purchasing decision at their own pace. There’s company history, selling information, and these are real specifications, for example including the weight of a full tank of fuel and accessories in the published weight, so the customer really knows that they can tow the boat safely with their car or van. The pricing is very clear–down to every single option.”

The Internet

We asked Jamie about the catalogue what impact the Internet has had on their marketing in recent years.

 “It’s huge” Jamie explained. “I don’t know any buyer who does not use the Internet to learn and plan even smaller purchases like a TV or something. Our goal for the coming year is to continue to refine our Internet marketing and how it works integrates with the catalogue and our dealers.”

Marc added that social media was increasingly important to them as well. Facebook really helps to develop more of a relationship with potential buyers and existing customers.

Jamie said that, “With the Internet and social media, we can really create more memories and use a wide range of tips and tools to create added value, helping us build our relationships with customers. In fact, we look for opportunities to build relationships on a proactive basis. We actually follow the Internet looking for people who are experiencing challenges or problems with their boat, or with boating and we try and pitch in and help.”

We asked them how all the elements work together.

Jamie said that whether it’s print, television, radio or the Internet, the goal is to drive buyers to the web where they can track the responses and where they have the opportunity to actually interact with them.

At the same time, Marc explained that you need a strong dealer network to really make it work.

Jamie added that the Internet can help customers get to a dealer where they can get a catalogue and get their questions answered in person.

Marc added the important point that the industry is shrinking. From a demographic perspective, the pool of buyers is shrinking and the whole industry needs to realize that creating a new customer is very hard.

Creating new customers and keeping old ones

Today, Legend Boats is one of Canada’s largest boat companies. They are not a boat builder per se, but the way that they express their unique approach to potential customers is to say that every Legend Boat model is ‘designed by Canadians and built for Canadians’.

It’s an extensive line of products. Legend both designs and manufactures 25 models of aluminum fish and ski and cruising boats and 20 models of pontoon boats that are distributed by more than 50 Legend dealers across Canada.

Both Jamie and Marc emphasized the fact that Legend also owns and operates two of their own dealerships in Ontario. They continue to operate the original business in Whitefish, Ontario and that location has expended many times over the past 45 years. The company is doubling the size of the facility again right now.

Some years ago now, they also opened Legend Boats in Barrie, Ontario which now includes a 15,000 ft.² showroom fronting on the northbound Highway 400 where literally thousands of people pass by on the way north to cottage country every week.

During our interview, both Marc and Jamie explained that managing their own dealerships, helps them to gain first-hand feedback and input on what the customers really like (or may not like) about their boats.

Marc also explained that it gives them a testing ground to execute their new dealership business systems and to share their proven process and successes with their other dealers all across Canada.

This past year, the expansion of their head office in Whitefish was a major step ahead. Legend has waterfront property where their employees can enjoy the outdoor scenery of the Vermilion River and at the same time, Jamie explains that, “This allows us to create the ultimate customer experience, because we can offer our customers on-the-water training in boat handling, care and maintenance, and in boat launching and trailering. This new facility is a step forward in our mission of creating memories for our staff and our customers.”

Memories - and we mean good memories, come when people have a positive fun experience and having a properly and completely equipped boat, motor, trailer and accessories package solves a lot of problems.

Prior to 1987, people used to have to piece together their boat, motor and trailer separately, pricing each item individually. This was difficult, time-consuming and often frustrating for the customer. Legend made it easy by putting the entire package together and offering it all out one simple low price. Although package pricing has become an industry standard, Legend remains the only Canadian boat company that shares all of their pricing in their catalogues and on their website.

At the recent Miami International Boat Show, NMMA President Thom Dammrich noted in his show opening address to the industry, that MSRP pricing can be a major hurdle for potential buyers. Some brands have shown MSPR prices on big boats of as much as $700,000 followed by “Boat Show Sale Prices of $500,000.

Clearly this shows a lack of pricing integrity and has to be very confusing to consumers. Who could see that and feel they are being treated fairly?

Legend Boats was the first Canadian boat company to publicize their upfront, no hassle prices in their catalogue, on their website and in all of their advertising, making it both easier to buy a fully equipped boat and at the same time, giving the customer the assurance that they got the best price.

They have amassed an impressive string of “firsts”. Legend boats was the first to use the thicker .100gauge aluminum across their entire boat line.

They pioneered the use of a rounded glass windshield while other manufacturers continued to use cheaper square windshields with flat panes of glass. Legend invested in the more modern, aerodynamic look and this is now become an industry standard.

Talk about the boats many fishing and innovations

They developed a wide range of design features and user conveniences, especially in their fishing boats. Legend was among the first in the industry to introduce a comfortable rear bench seat that converted into an extra-large rear casting deck. They called it their EZ-flip, rear Extenda-deck ConvertaBench. They are better at designing things than they are at naming them, but you get the idea!

The same kind of innovation and thinking has helped them to create their pontoon boat “SmartDeck” that is a triple purpose rear deck that transforms the back of a pontoon boat from a lounge area to a full-fledged fishing deck in under 10 seconds and also includes a large built-in pop-up change room underneath.

The ideas never seem to end and maybe that is because Legend Boats has been designing boats and talking to their customers continuously since 1987. Marc made the comment that there are other boat companies whose name has been around longer, but  many of those brands have changed hands, gone out of business and come back into business in different locations and with different people. Duhamel and Dewar remain a two family-owned and family-run business and that alone speaks volumes about their business style and success.

The impact their product development and marketing has had on bringing new people into boating is significant and Marc and Jamie seem to be totally on track to continue the Legend their fathers created.

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