Monday, April 16, 2007

New Independent tries RI market

A new independent tower (i.e. not affiliated with any national membership network) has shown up in Rhode Island. BayWatchRI has at least one boat all painted and in the water (photo). Veterans of the north east might recognize this boat: it was the original SafeSea boat, built by Silverships and powered with a single jet. update: this is an old photo, and I've learned that the boat is no longer this color scheme. Perhaps somebody will forward me an updated picture.

So many questions arise; first of all, what will SeaTow have to say about this color scheme? I guess we know the answer to that....Does black and yellow infringe SeaTow's trademark? I wonder what the real Baywatch (the Los Angeles County Lifeguards pictured here in white boat) will have to say about the name? What will David Hasselhoff (the producer of the TV show Baywatch) have to say? I wonder how wise it is to splash the word rescue on the boat?

Their website claims "all new Eastern towboats". In light of the photo of the old SafeSea boat, perhaps what they meant was "all our new boats are built by Eastern", which at least leaves the option to explain that the old Silverships boat isn't one of their new boats, and wasn't built by Eastern.

Okay, graphics and trademark issues can be dealt with, but what about the challenges that face an independent tower trying to break into an established market like Rhode Island, one of the few places in the country that already supports three membership networks (Safe/Sea, SeaTow and TowBoat/US). It's hard to imagine that there are many potential members left over. It's even harder to imagine that Safe/Sea and SeaTow are going to just going to roll over and let an unproven upstart have easy pickin's at the few non-member jobs that do come up.

So, a new company has so many battles to fight: lack of name recognition on the part of customers and the rest of the local boating community; starting a discounted membership program while facing rising fuel and insurance costs; starting a marine based business during an historically large downturn in the marine industry; breaking into an old, established membership market already serviced by eight or nine brand name towboats.

Ultimately, I'm a fan of capitalism, and as BayWatchRI attempts to meet the challenges I've mentioned, their efforts will place renewed competitive pressures on the established companies. In a service industry, those pressures usually boil down to price and efficient service, which in the end should benefit the customers, right?