HMS interviews Amy Richards of Freedom Boat Club and learns how this Brunswick-owned initiative, which is proving so popular in the United States, is now beginning to gain popularity and traction here in the UK …
Freedom Boat Club is owned by the global marine engineering and boatbuilding giant Brunswick. Can you tell us what the company’s motivation behind the launch of the club and its related initiatives was?
The core purpose of business acceleration is to expand boating participation, creating long-term, sustained value. There are over 140 million annual boating participants in the largest marine markets. Through Freedom Boat Club, there is the largest network for club access in the US to engage these boaters. And Freedom is expanding in Europe. The priority is to scale Freedom to pursue whitespace opportunity and establish Freedom as a household brand.
Freedom’s goal is to win with boaters over their lifetime, connecting with them early and keeping them on the water – through BoatClass, Freedom Boat Club and Boateka. By unlocking a new wave of cross-business synergies, this will further distinguish Brunswick from the competition and underpin a boating-as-a-service strategy to win with consumers over their lifetime.
There are two powerful models that grow the business. The franchise model provides a growth accelerator and strong operating leverage, and as important are the nearly 70 franchisees that are Freedom’s growth partners.
The company-operated locations are in Tier 1 markets, giving Freedom greater access to a large demographic of people. Freedom now boasts over 360 locations worldwide; they continue to grow and have learned so much over the past three years with incredible opportunities for expansion.
To what extent has Freedom Boat Club, especially in its formative region of the United States, helped to enhance Brunswick’s business since its launch?
Freedom Boat Club has brought a new wave of boaters into the Brunswick family. Some 35% of members in the US are women, which has opened the industry up to a whole new audience. Additionally, there are incredible synergies between Freedom and the Brunswick brands as many of the locations in the US have repowered with Mercury engines and some are adding Brunswick boats to the fleet – giving members the best products on the water. It has been a win-win for everyone as it is our job to help grow not just our business, but our industry, and we are seeing tremendous growth in Freedom Boat Club.
How might one of our readers become a member and what are some of the key benefits associated with membership?
Joining Freedom Boat Club is simple – just an initial membership payment, then a monthly membership fee and that is it. All members then receive full training (RYA Powerboat Level 2), so they are confident operating and navigating boats in the Solent. Thereafter, unlimited access to home fleet boating is available to book online virtually every day of the year. On return, members just pay for fuel used, benefiting from all maintenance, insurance, cleaning, repairs and storage being undertaken by the club. A big draw is also the reciprocal access to over 350 global Freedom locations, for example in the USA, Canada and France, where members can enjoy boating. Basically, the club offers fun on the water with family and friends, and no onerous duties beyond that. There is also a great clubhouse with regular social events to enjoy, plus friendly crew on hand to ensure everything runs smoothly.
The first of the Freedom Boat Club centres are now opening here in the UK. Can you tell us about their locations and what these centres are offering to prospective members?
Currently there are two Solent locations at Trafalgar Wharf in Portsmouth and Hythe Marina Village in Southampton. Each has a welcoming clubhouse (children- and pet-friendly!) hosting regular events and BBQs plus free Wi-Fi. With good travel connections to London and the surrounding areas, these two locations offer straightforward access to the coast in order to get out of town and on the water as quickly as possible. Coming soon are also Windermere and Torquay, which open up even great opportunities. Freedom is continually expanding in the UK.
Tell us about the fleet of craft on offer and the supporting services they come with …
The fleet includes two Ballistic RIBs, a Quicksilver 675 Open, two Quicksilver 675 Weekends and a Bayliner VR6 Bowrider. As mentioned before, all the maintenance, cleaning, repairs, etc. are taken care of by the club, so members know that the boats are always offered in excellent condition.
There are a number of these types of schemes being run here in the UK and right across Europe too. How valuable do you consider such club-type initiatives and part-ownership schemes are to the wider industry?
Clubs provide the chance for those keen to discover boating to find out more and ‘try before they buy’, setting the scene for those who get the boating bug and eventually move on to make a purchase. If schemes such as Freedom did not exist, it is unlikely that certain individuals would think to go boating – with a unique and straightforward opportunity presenting no tie-in. That said, there are also traditional owners who wish to revisit their previous pastime with no strings attached, and who already have a love of all-things nautical, so they are seizing the chance to regain time at sea and may once again become owners. Therefore, boat clubs can certainly be considered a valuable initiative to promote awareness of, and encourage enthusiasm for, the nautical lifestyle, and at the same time widen the target audience, which could lead to future purchases.
What is Freedom’s USP? What makes it different from its peers in the market?
One standout for Freedom is being the oldest and largest-membership boat club. Offering over 30 years of experience to members, it has become a trusted brand. Additionally, the access to so many global clubs for members to use – not just within Europe – provides an exclusive opportunity for boating while travelling. A crucial factor is the team that run Freedom clubs, from those on the dock to staff in the clubhouse – all are part of a valued unit that members get to know personally and really contribute to the unique family atmosphere.
Can you describe the type of individual or family you are seeking to attract ‘into the fold’? Who might be your ‘typical’ member?
Obviously, the club is completely all-inclusive and a place for absolutely everyone. However, Freedom attracts a mid-range demographic – couples, perhaps with young or teenage children, keen to enjoy the fresh-air lifestyle and get out exploring on the water. The purpose is often to take fishing trips, picnics, coastal sightseeing or simply just enjoy being outdoors together. Members are also keen to share the experience with friends and family – this method of boating promotes a very community-oriented and cohesive experience.
In your experience, what club benefits are proving the most popular among members?
Freedom really makes boating stress-free. Members relish the fun aspects without any tiresome tasks – no need to think about maintenance, insurance or storage costs, and of course, no need for all that cleaning! Also, by being a club member, there is reciprocal access to all locations, which is proving to be a key differentiator together with the ability to try different boats, as well as being part of a community with social events to enjoy.
How well adapted is the Freedom Boat Club concept to the economic challenges currently putting pressure on people’s leisure time and pastimes in general?
Freedom offers access to the water in the most affordable way, again with no hidden costs and no added extras. Time is a precious commodity, and for those looking to maximise their downtime with a life-enhancing experience there is no greater way to spend it than boating together. The economic demands of personal boat ownership are on another level, so schemes such as Freedom deliver a manageable way to knowingly commit to a fun leisure pursuit that can be tailored to members’ lifestyles.