MIAMI, Fla.— The ball soared through the net, and Dave Dunn hit the ground. 1,000 miles separated the glowing screen on Biscayne Bay with the deafening arena in Houston, but Dunn could feel the aftermath of that shot: 77-74, Villanova. Game. Match. Championship.
On the other end of the scoreboard sat Dunn’s North Carolina Tarheels. For months, they had fought and scratched and clawed their way to their first Final Four appearance since 2009. And Dunn, the Carolina-native and Senior Manager of Marine Sales and Marketing for Garmin in North America had been there to see it all. A week earlier, he was relishing an opening round NCAA tournament victory in Raleigh, N.C. Now, he rose from the floor and sat in stunned silence in a Miami hotel room.
In Carolina, few things matter as much as basketball.
But while the Tarheels were fighting their way back to the top of college basketball, Dunn was busy witnessing another kind of resurgence—one that’s seen Garmin suddenly re-energize its line of marine products, rapidly claim marketshare in both the fresh and saltwater markets, and enter a heavyweight fight of its own against rival Navico.
Hours after the confetti was cleared in Houston, FTR sat down with Dunn aboard a Garmin-equipped boat in Miami to find out how the company has been growing one of the most well-known names in marine technology.
The boat is the pinnacle of fishing technology. At 42′ feet long, the center console speed demon is the work of a South Florida custom boat builder with the audacity to name themselves “Invincible.” But with three Yamaha V8’s, bow-thrusters, dual 24″ Garmin GPSMAP units, the company’s latest Fantom radar (capable of reaching 72 nautical miles into the ether) and looks to kill, this Invincible seems the part. It’s at least a half-million dollar investment for a serious angler, and it’s the perfect platform for Dunn to spill the beans on Garmin’s growing investment in marine.
“Over the past five and a half years with Garmin, I’ve seen the marine segment grow exponentially,” Dunn says. “Our core focus has always been saltwater. We started out in marine over two decades ago, focusing on 25′ boats. Now, we’ve grown to 100-plus footers.”
The company’s marine segment just reported 29% Q1 growth over last year. Company-wide sales are up 7% as a whole.
Dunn says that growth is a testament to having the right products, and to delivering the right products on time. “We can get stuff done quickly,” he adds.
But with saltwater well in-hand, Garmin has been pushing inroads in the freshwater market, growing from a bass fishing pro-staff with just a handful of anglers in 2014, to over 65 in 2016.
“We recognize that freshwater is our biggest opportunity to grow and grow quickly,” says Dunn. “To do that, we’re leveraging some of the technology from saltwater and bringing it to freshwater. We’re also developing products specifically designed for freshwater markets.”
Products like the 24″ GPSMAP 8600 series units on the Invincible have made their way down to smaller, freshwater boats in 12, 10 and 7 inch models via the company’s 7600 and 7400 ranges. And along with Garmin’s echoMAP CHIRP and Striker units—and especially the ground-breaking Panoptix—those products are increasing the company’s popularity among freshwater anglers.
But products don’t go far without the right marketing—a mistake Garmin has made in the past, that Dunn says their keen to avoid going forward.
“In the past, our marketing tried to use saltwater marketing in the freshwater space and that doesn’t work.”
Dunn says both fresh and saltwater anglers have become fascinated by Panoptix in the 12 months since its launch in 2015.
“Panoptix has changed the sonar game,” Dunn says. “The sonar you’ve seen in the past—that’s history. I mean that in a literal way. It’s history…that’s where the fish was when you passed it. Now, with Panoptix you can see that fish live in front of your boat or under your boat. You can see where that fish is at that moment. It’s almost like video game fishing.”
All of that investment technology and marketing has brought Garmin some serious momentum going forward, but a looming obstacle has hung over dealers who want to take advantage— a cloud of uncertainty hanging over International Trade Commission (ITC) rulings between Garmin and Lowrance/Simrad builder Navico last winter.
“That’s an unfortunate situation,” says Dunn. “The dealers should have never been involved. This is something that should be handled between Garmin and Navico.”
Garmin maintains that they have not shipped any product that was affected by the rulings, and says that though they haven’t heard of any instances of conflict, they will stand behind any of their dealers that Navico pursues.
“We fully indemnify any of our Garmin dealers of any potential action that Navico decides to take,” says Dunn. “The ITC has no jurisdiction over any customer or any dealer. They only have jurisdiction over Garmin and over Navico in this case.”
As for Dunn, his Carolina-blue hat isn’t hanging too low these days. Garmin was just named the 2015 National Marine Electronics Association Manufacturer of the Year. Game. Match. Championship.