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Glad to be tough but not glossy: Triumph sales jump after ads brag that its boats can take abuse
[November 14, 2006]

Glad to be tough but not glossy: Triumph sales jump after ads brag that its boats can take abuse

(News & Observer, The (Raleigh, NC) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Nov. 14--Gary Smith spent two days trying to bust up a Triumph boat.

He dragged it behind his truck -- without bothering to put it on a trailer -- at 45 mph.

He rammed it into an oak tree. Three times.

For good measure, he also slammed it into a Buick Electra.

"Really, all the stuff we were doing to it, I figured we were going to hurt it. [But] we didn't," said Smith, 44, owner of an Arkansas go-kart and motocross racing complex.

Smith's efforts are at the heart of a new ad campaign for Durham's Triumph Boats, which bills its product as "the world's toughest boat." Video of his attempts are at, a Triumph Web site, and "The Bubba Test" is posted on YouTube. A 30-second TV spot is planned for the Fox Sports Network.

Triumph and its Durham ad agency, The Republik, are hoping that the video, which cost less than $50,000 to produce, will take on a life of its own in cyberspace.

The early returns for the Bubba Test are promising. Since the toughboats Web site was created Oct. 26, it has generated twice the traffic of The YouTube video has had slightly more than 400 hits. The number of sales leads generated for Triumph dealers has risen by 50 percent, said David Smith, creative director at The Republik.

The ads -- called viral marketing, because word spreads from person to person -- are a continuation of a print-only ad campaign that Triumph began last year.

That campaign -- also devised by The Republik -- took a whimsical approach: One ad featured an image of a great white shark with a mouthful of broken teeth.

Doug Andersen, president of Triumph, credits the print campaign with helping to propel sales upward after several years of flat or declining sales.

Triumph, which makes its boats at an 85,000-square-foot plant in Durham, sold 1,200-plus boats in the fiscal year that ended in June, up 23 percent. Sales are on track to jump another 15 percent to 20 percent this fiscal year.

That growth is especially impressive because the boat market is sluggish. Nationally, the number of new boats sold slipped 0.6 percent to 864,400 units in 2005, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Sales this year could fall 5 percent or so, said James Petru, the association's director of market statistics.

"Boat sales tend to be tied to consumer confidence," Petru said. "Consumers aren't really feeling good about the outlook for the next six to eight months."

Triumph boats range from $10,000 to $50,000, including a trailer for hauling.

Ruggedness sells

The ad campaign isn't the only step Triumph has taken to boost sales.

The company has reduced the number of models it makes and is focusing on the salt-water market, because that's the market that appreciates ruggedness.

"Twenty percent of our models represented 80 percent of our sales," said George Blaisdell, vice president of operations.

Triumph also refined the fit and finish on its boats, an effort that includes everything from upgrading the upholstery to using a better grade of stainless steel for the railings.

Those upgrades, in addition to rising plastic and steel prices, have pushed the boats' prices up about 20 percent over the past three years.

Still, Andersen, who was named Triumph's president two years ago, credits much of the sales success to the tough-boats ads. Earlier sales efforts were hampered in part by unfocused marketing, he said.

"We were trying to market the world's toughest boat the same way other boat companies were marketing their boats," he said.

Old is new again

Actually, the 11-year-old company had set aside its "world's toughest" theme.

The Republik's creative team suggested reviving it last year after seeing videos, created by Triumph engineers of boats withstanding cruel and unusual punishment.

Now the ad agency is brainstorming follow-ups to the Bubba Test.

Triumph, meanwhile, is asking customers and Web site visitors for suggestions -- "Tell us how you'd test a Triumph" -- alongside the Bubba Test.

"I really think the next idea hasn't evolved yet," Andersen said. "We might get the next great idea from the consumer."

Copyright (c) 2006, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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