Rehabilitating Rocna: The tarnished anchor brand gets polished under a new owner
By Michael Verdon
Thu Apr 12 2012, 14:43 PM Print Email
Canada Metal’s latest announcement, to warranty against bending, is designed to restore confidence in the Rocna name
A year ago, the highly polished image of the Rocna anchor brand was being tarnished in sailing chatrooms across multiple time zones. The patented design, popular among sailors around the world, had come in for a public drubbing by both consumers and competitors because of allegations that Rocna had used steel in the fabrication of the anchors shanks that did not meet the stated manufacturing specification. Photos showed up on the sailing websites of Rocna anchors with twisted shanks. Some were genuine pictures of warranty claims while others were of a more questionable origin.
Competitors also jumped into the fray, alleging Hold Fast Anchors, the New Zealand-based corporation that held the manufacturing rights to Rocna brand from January 2007 to September 2011, knew about the weaker grade of steel used in manufacturing after it moved production from New Zealand to China.
Rocna’s former production manager also alleged Hold Fast knew the anchors would not meet stated specifications for tensile strength posted on the Rocna website. It is estimated that up to 700 units could have been affected.
The controversy seemed to hit a fever pitch in August 2011, when US mega-retailer West Marine sent out a “product specification notice” to clients about 13 Rocna anchor sizes. “In West Marine’s view, it is a certainly a ‘bummer’ that Rocna produced anchors with steel of a lesser grade than that called for on their website and that had been previously published,” said the letter, referring its customers back to Rocna for technical questions. West Marine also offered a refund to owners who were concerned about Rocna anchors covered under the notice.
The product specification notice, incorrectly labeled a “recall” by the sailing chat rooms, did not help Rocna’s image. Many sailors praised West Marine for notifying customers, but were also suspicious of Rocna for selling a potentially life-saving piece of equipment that did not meet stated specifications.
“We've seen plenty of F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) laid out by the various vendor marketing teams who represent anchor manufacturers on this and other sites,” wrote “Shrew” on CruisersForum.com. “I'd like to see the same manufacturer stand up and stand behind their products now as they have done so vehemently when trying to market them to us.”
Canada Metal Pacific (CMP) knew it had to do exactly that, long before it acquired manufacturing rights to the Rocna brand. The Vancouver-based firm announced it would now be manufacturing and distributing Rocna anchors in late September 2011, about eight weeks after the West Marine letter went out. But CMP’s due diligence on Rocna had started months earlier, after CMP and Hold Fast had started talking about a potential acquisition.
“We were fully aware of the challenges that faced the Rocna brand before we completed the purchase,” says John Mitchell, president of CMP. “There was a lot of misinformation out there about what actually happened with Rocna. Our due diligence indicated that it wasn’t as clandestine as what appeared in the public domain.”
In February 2012, Mitchell told IBI that only nine warranty returns for bent shanks had been received. “There was a significant bending situation on an anchor in Venice,” he says. “It was a prototype anchor that was manufactured in China, and a lack of process control by the previous company allowed it to get through. But even with this faulty production run, there are still over 12,000 Rocna anchors in the field.”
CMP had acquired a public relations problem along with the Rocna line. Mitchell knew that going into the deal, but figured that the anchor’s assets were worth the effort it would take to rehabilitate the brand.
“We acquired it for several reasons,” says Mitchell. “First, it had a very loyal following. I was blown away by the loyalty to the product—sailors are quite vocal about the products they like. But beyond that, Rocna performed better than any anchor that we tested.”
The anchor also fit in well with CMP’s long-term strategy for its marine division, which includes Martyr Anodes, Octopus Autopilot Drive Systems, Intellisteer, and CMP-Titan brand marine chain. “We got into the chain business about four years ago due to the absence of a high quality alternative given that there is now only one North American based chain manufacturer left,” says Mitchell. “In most retail stores or chandleries, chain is located next to the anchors. We had a few customers who asked about sourcing other products from us, so we started looking at opportunities in the anchor category—by either developing our own or looking for acquisitions of companies that would meet our long term strategy.”
CMP, in fact, has been part of the marine industry for more than 25 years, having first manufactured aluminum anodes for Outboard Marine Corp, followed by other OEM clients like Volvo-Penta, Yamaha and Mercury Marine. That led to manufacturing Martyr replacement anodes for the aftermarket, and eventual worldwide distribution of its marine products.
CMP’s chain and anchor businesses will eventually lead to a single-system solution for anchoring that will include a new CMP anchor rode (combination rope/chain). “We’ve worked quite closely with Maxwell and Lewmar, the leaders in the industry, to test the rode,” says Mitchell. “They are concerned with quality. We are just as concerned, and wanted to make sure we get it right the first time.”
While creating a single-manufacturer anchoring system is part of its long-term strategy, CMP has been busy trying to repair the damage to the Rocna brand since last September.
Mitchell immediately instituted a policy of transparency after acquiring manufacturing rights from Rocna founder and owner, Peter Smith, who licenses the brand to outside companies. The Rocna website told owners CMP would “find and replace” all “suspect” products, add additional controls to the existing manufacturing process, restore confidence in the classification process, invest in inventory so product was plentiful, and set up “timely and accurate communications” about the brand.
Peter Smith also agreed to travel with the CMP team to meet OEMs and sailors at boat shows to explain why the new Rocna would be a reliable choice going forward. Smith, a guru of anchor designers who independently tested the suspect Chinese-made Rocnas, will also verify information on the Rocna website. “Canada Metal is a company with clear and high-quality standards and is an excellent choice for the future of Rocna,” Smith wrote on his own website, PeterSmith.net.nz: anchors & anchoring, photos from Patagonia & Antarctica
The memos and transparency were designed to restore confidence in the brand. But CMP took another, more concrete step in January, announcing that Rocna’s lifetime warranty would now include “bending or deformation,” in addition to breakage. “We’re one of a few anchor companies that does that,” says Mitchell.
Mitchell said that the company tested the Rocna line during its due diligence phase, even hiring metallurgists. From a theoretical standpoint, we were confident that the anchors were safe and sound, but we had to clearly communicate our confidence to the marketplace,” he says.
After the acquisition, CMP moved manufacturing control of the anchor line to its wholly owned facility in Ningbo, China. While Hold Fast’s original move to China was the source of the brand’s problems, Mitchell says CMP’s facility in Ningbo has “advanced engineering” that monitors quality control. “In the five months we’ve been manufacturing the anchors, we’ve made significant changes and improvements to the process controls,” says Mitchell.
Mitchell says year-over-year sales of Rocna anchors are up, and the company has hired Derema Group to handle its distribution in the US market. “We met with our distributors at METS and, to a man, they are passionate about this product,” says Mitchell. “We’re also even stronger than ever before with West Marine. We’re now developing a focus on the powerboat market.”
Even with a rehabilitated brand, though, Mitchell does not see a significant recovery in the recreational marine market until 2013 or 2014. Until then, CMP’s strategy is to rebuild the Rocna brand and take market share from competitors.
“We’re trying to reposition the product by providing best value; by this I mean we will provide our customers with the world’s best performance at a reasonable cost,” says Mitchell. “You see guys at boat shows selling anchors in a sandbox, but they don’t have distribution or support. We have global distribution and will support all of our products with particular focus on the safety and security of the end user.”