Not long before the recession of 2008, Pacific Marine Center of Madera, Calif., exited the high-performance powerboat market. Or so owner Jack Vartanian, who had once carried the Fountain and Wellcraft Scarab lines, thought. Much as Vartanian, who founded the multi-brand dealership, loved the high-performance segment of the boating world, it was time for change.
Whether that turned out to be foresight or blind luck-and for Vartanian it was a bit of both-his timing to embrace more-mainstream, high-volume powerboat lines was good.
And when it comes to its current line-up of brands, which includes Avalon Pontoon Boats, Bayliner, Crestliner and Wellcraft Boats, dealerships don't get much more mainstream than Pacific Marine Center. Still, Vartanian has a thing for performance-oriented powerboats, and his Avalon pontoon business is feeding that passion.
Pacific Marine Center moves 200-plus Avalon pontoon boats a year for the Michigan-based manufacturer. Of those, Vartanian estimates that 20 percent are ordered with big twin-outboard-engine power, which means 300R, 400R and 450R outboards from Mercury Racing and Verado 300 and 350 engines from Mercury Marine. The company sells pontoons with single outboards from both companies.
Some 20 percent of Pacific Marine Center's Avalon pontoon boats are equipped with big outboard power.
Most of those engines end up on models in Avalon's Excalibur series of 24- to 27-foot tri-toons. The finished products find homes at waterways throughout Golden State, and well as the Arizona side of Lake Havasu. At least half of his pontoon customers, Vartanian estimates, are former or current high-performance owners.
"A lot of former performance guys have come back to pontoons," he explained. "They love having all that space, luxury and comfort. But they also love having enough power to get home at 50, 60 or 70 mph."
Of course, as performance-minded buyers they often end up craving more power.
"I have been getting a lot of customers who buy single-engine Avalon pontoons," said Vartanian. "They say, 'I love the boat, but I thought I was going to be happy gong 50 mph with a single 400R. The only problem is it rides so smooth I don't feel like I'm going in 50 mph.'
"So they trade in their single-outboard boats for twin-outboard boats, sometimes not even a year later," he added. "Good thing those boats have such high trade-in value."