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January 1998 Vol. 13, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Scubapro Gobbles up Soniform

Will acquisition reduce competition?

from the January, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While Scubapro is among the best-known names in diving, its parent company, Johnson Worldwide Associates (JWA), gets little mention in diving media. Nonetheless, it’s a powerhouse, and it seems to be buying up all the diving business it can.

Its latest acquisition is Soniform, Inc., an El Cajon, California, company that manufactures BCs for the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) market — that is, they produce BCs for other companies to market under their brand names to retail dive stores. Soniform has produced BCs for Sherwood, Dacor, Cressi-Sub, Apollo, and Poseidon. In 1996 they generated $5.5 million in revenues.

BC prices are already skyhigh — not much less than a small Zodiac. We wondered: if Soniform became a supplier only to Scubapro, would it reduce competition and raise prices even higher?

For now, apparently not. Regina Franklin, marketing manager for Scubapro, told us, “Cal Mar produces some BCs for us and right now we do not anticipate any changes in that relationship.” However, she said that “Soniform will be even more competitive in the OEM market than it has been.”

Why, we wondered, would Scubapro’s competition buy from Soniform?

“Soniform is not a Scubapro company,” she replied. “It is a JWA company, and if they can produce a product for someone for less money than they are presently paying, why shouldn’t they do so?”

But Soniform may lose some business. Several years ago JWA purchased Divetronics, a Swiss dive-computer company that produced devices for both Scubapro and Dacor. After the purchase, Dacor dropped the line. Later, JWA purchased Uwatec, another Swiss dive computer manufacturer, and it too lost some OEM customers.

The acquisition of Soniform does not mean that JWA (Scubapro) will have a lock on the BC market. Other companies, such as Durapro, Forte (Cal Pacific), Sheico (Mexico), Accario (Italy), Bagsport (Italy), AP Valves, Polygomma (Mexico), Cal Mar (Mexico), Divetech, and Zeagle produce for the OEM market.

In a related development, a few months back Zeagle Systems, Inc., won a settlement in a patent infringement case. Dennis Bulin, president of Zeagle, told us, “The suit was against Dura Bag/ Dura Pro for using our patented ripcord weight-release system.” Dennis Foster, president of Dura Bag, said, “We used the weight release system in one of the BCs in our line and dropped it from the line after the agreement.

“We are mainly in the OEM business.” said Foster. “Some of our sales come from products we design and build and sell to other companies to take to market under their brand. In Europe we have four customers selling the same product but with four different brand names. We also build products to a customer’s specifications. We have built for US Tek, Performance, and Sandals. None of the OEM products used the ripcord weight-release system, so only our product line was affected.”

Here’s what this means to you as a consumer: when you buy a Scubapro BC (or any other BC, for that matter), you really have no idea where it was made or by whom. Those with the strong brand names — those marketed by the guys who spend big advertising bucks to get their name out there — always cost the most money, but then, you usually get better warranty service from the big names. So when you pay twice as much for a Scubpro or a Zeagle as you would, say, for a US Tek, consider it warranty insurance — but damned expensive warranty insurance.

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