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SmallSail06_insideFormed in 2007 through the merger of U.S. builder Vanguard Sailboats and Performance Sailcraft Europe, LaserPerformance is the world's largest small-sailboat builder. The bulk of its business, according to vice president of marketing Chip Wilkerson, is the "old standbys," such as the Laser, Sunfish and Optimist, the world's most popular youth class.

Although racing continues to be popular, LaserPerformance sees more growth potential in recreational sailing. "Today, we talk more about the lifestyle of sailing," Wilkerson says.

To get new and former sailors on the water, Wilkerson says, it's important to give them a place to sail and ways to do it without a large upfront cost. The company has been pushing into the recreational market with daysailers such as the Funboat, Bug, Pico and Bahia. Made from rotomolded plastic, these boats are heavier than similarly sized fiberglass boats, but also are more durable and less expensive.

The standard version of the Bug sells for $2,625; the Laser Bahia goes for $9,700. LaserPerformance also operates four Sail Laser centers in the United States that introduce newcomers to the sport through classes and rental programs. "It's about making sailing easier, providing access and breaking down barriers," Wilkerson says. The bet is that allowing people to sail without the burden of ownership first will turn them into buyers later.

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