BomBoard workshop & headquarters

BomBoard workshop & headquarters

BomBoard founder and CEO John West (left) and CFO/COO Anders Stubkjaer stand next to the progression of BomBoard prototypes in the company's Whitewater, WI, headquarters and workshop.

Photo by Jeff Engel

John West

John West

BomBoard founder and CEO John West built his first boat at age 10.

Photo courtesy of BomBoard

Transporting BomBoard

Transporting BomBoard

BomBoard test pilot Kody McCormick takes the disassembled jet ski out of his car trunk. The fully assembled craft weighs 150 pounds.

Photo courtesy of BomBoard

BomBoard assembly

BomBoard assembly

BomBoard's four pieces can be assembled in less than 60 seconds.

Photo courtesy of BomBoard

Need for speed

Need for speed

BomBoard has a top speed of 40 miles per hour.

Photo courtesy of BomBoard

Pilot options

Pilot options

BomBoard riders can pilot the craft in multiple positions, including standing, sitting, and kneeling.

Photo courtesy of BomBoard

Market strategy

Market strategy

The company wants BomBoard to hit the market in early 2015.

Photo courtesy of BomBoard

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three more pending for the modular watercraft, a single-seater that measures 7-foot-by-3-foot and weighs 150 pounds when assembled, West says.

The center “power pod” section contains the seat, engine, pump, and electronics. Two foam-filled side sections snap on to the center segment and keep the craft afloat. The fourth piece clamps to the front of the craft and contains the steering, fuel tank, fire extinguisher, battery, and storage compartment.

These four pieces of the BomBoard can be assembled in just a minute, the company says. So once that’s done, what kind of ride will it deliver?

With its 250cc engine, the BomBoard has a top speed of 40 miles per hour. A typical jet ski has an engine size of at least 1,000cc, according to competitors’ websites. Although competitors don’t disclose their products’ top speeds, BomBoard estimates that more than 80 percent of currently registered jet skis and 40 percent of the 2014 models have a maximum speed of between 40 and 50 miles per hour with one rider on board.

Since BomBoard riders will be closer to the water’s surface on a machine that responds to the slightest tilt of the handlebars, it will feel like the BomBoard is going faster, West says. And its handlebars, which are connected to the rest of the craft by a long, slim aluminum bar that the rider can move up or down while zooming across the water, allow for sitting, kneeling, or standing.

“For an action sport, we don’t need to go up to top speed,” West says. “We want to do tricks and stunts.”

BomBoard’s nearest competitor is Sea-Doo’s Spark, which was announced last year and has a starting price of $4,999. Spark comes in two- or three-seat models weighing more than 400 pounds. Though that’s heavier than BomBoard, it’s light enough for compact sedans to tow, Sea-Doo says. Most jet skis on the market exceed 700 pounds, according to company websites. (A Sea-Doo spokesman declined to comment for this article.)

BomBoard and Spark are riding an industry wave of less expensive—and often smaller—power sports products aimed at young adults.

“Big picture, there is a clear trend in power sports favoring more affordable products,” says Craig Kennison, a financial analyst with Milwaukee-based Robert W. Baird & Co. Sea-Doo parent company “BRP has the Spark at under $5,000, which looks like a game-changer. Harley just launched the Street lineup, which gives young riders a more affordable bike to join the Harley family. Brunswick is also working to lower the cost of ownership, with lower-priced boats and engines. The Bayliner Element is doing well for them.”

The time could be ripe for a shakeup of the jet ski industry, as annual sales of new jet skis have plummeted from a mid-1990s peak of more than 200,000 to fewer than 40,000 now, BomBoard estimates. The question is whether or not an upstart like BomBoard can scale and compete with the big players.

That will be tough, says Bob Van Zelst, owner of Don & Roy’s Motorsports dealership in Brookfield, WI, near Milwaukee. He pointed to the 1980s, when there was a flood of new jet ski manufacturers, most of whom eventually sputtered out of business, he says.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” Van Zelst says. “I’ve seen them come and go, these off-brand things.”

And BomBoard intends to sell through direct online sales, with no dealership network. Van Zelst says that’s a mistake that is intended to lower costs but will lead to poorer customer service and headaches for BomBoard and consumers.

West says online sales directly to consumers is where the world is headed, pointing to examples like Tesla in the automotive industry. Though Tesla has faced regulatory barriers and pushback from car dealerships in places like New Jersey, West doesn’t anticipate the same resistance with BomBoard.

“I think Tesla will win, ultimately,” West says. “Every industry is being assaulted by direct to consumer. It’s just a matter of time before the consumers will rise up” and demand it.

As for customer service concerns, BomBoard intends to eventually open more than 20 repair depots in major metropolitan areas around the country that will guarantee repairs within 24 hours, West says. Customers could drop off the craft at the shop, or pay BomBoard to send someone to pick it up.

The company will try to boost sales through … Next Page »

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