Sunseeker’s Robert Braithwaite

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Robert Braithwaite, MBE is the founder and Managing Director of Sunseeker, which has current annual sales of €255 million (£172 million), from a single brand.

AGC. China now or ten years ?

RB. China is a rising market.  We do have a very active distributor within China who oversees the whole of the market in Asia.  A recent rise in mid-range craft is certainly apparent in the last 18 months or so.  We see this trend continuing.

AGC. There is a 40 hectare marine site being developed in Shanghai would you be interested in taking part of that development bearing in mind you are already building marinas in Europe?

RB. This is not something that Sunseeker would be interested in or wish to undertake presently.

AGC. Thirteen new members have joined the European Union do you regard these as a potential sales area, or an opportunity for cheaper manufacturing?

RB. This can only be seen as a growth market.  Sunseeker craft are only manufactured here in the UK and with the skills that our British employees possess, we believe that only the skills and knowledge gained through the years that  our workforce make a hand finished, semi-custom product where the quality cannot ever be sacrificed for cheaper production.

AGC. Hurricane Katrina devastated much of  the US Gold Coast. Not withstanding the human loss, do you consider this a disaster, or a potential  sales opportunity once insurance claims are settled?

RB. Obviously a natural disaster can damage markets however, you do have to think back to previous hurricanes where the boat shows which followed saw an increase in attendance and sales.  A lot of the clients we spoke to were taking the opportunity to perhaps increase their current size of boat and/or consider other manufacturers, due to the insurance claims that would paid out.  A lot of new clients, who had perhaps owned the same boat for a number of years, took the opportunity to order their dream craft.

AGC. Will rising oil prices have a major impact on sales soon and, perhaps more importantly, on production costs?

RB. In business there are always other factors that can determine the state of sales, that are out of your control.  Our client base tend to remain unaffected from the forever increase in costs of fuel. They have the expenditure to continue with what they are used to.  Every few years there is an increase in costs and you have to work with this so that the loss of sales and increase in production costs are not too affected and are relative to the product.  These situations will always be monitored closely, but is something that is out of our immediate control although we will have to work with any issues.

Questions about Sunseeker

AGC. Sunseeker covers the range from sports boats to mega yachts; which segment of this market do you see expanding most?

RB. Sunseeker has a niche in the market, being only one of a small minority of manufacturers who sell craft ranging from 34 feet right upto over 36metres. Selling craft available in such a large size bracket is not the only reason why Sunseeker are different, Sunseeker are also different by offering a number of different types of versatile craft within the range, from a sportsfishing boat, to a high performance craft, to a luxury motoryacht.

Different market trends obviously effect which range of craft will sell more positively than another, however current trends seem to be that the 82ft and above market is very strong.  For example, due to the amount of craft on our production book that are 82 feet in length it has been necessary for us to up our production to producing one 82ft boat every 4 weeks, something that any other semi-custom yacht builder would struggle to achieve.   Therefore, the range of craft from 82ft right up to the 36.5 meter is expanding.  Demand for the smaller craft is still apparent, as well as demand for the mid-range craft being buoyant, hence the reason why around the 60 - 70 foot market is also in constant demand and we have recently introduced 3 new models within this size.

AGC. With the introduction of craft over 35 metres Sunseeker is now challenging the established Italian and American builders how do you perceive your success in this market?

RB. Our success within the Yacht market when we first began to build craft over 100 ft, back in the year 2000, has taught us many things about our products and the clients that order them.  We have managed to push boat building standards to new levels and ensure that technology that was not previously available has now been developed and used successfully.  By introducing new methods, skills, technology and design it has enabled us to increase the length of boats that we are able to deliver without sacrificing the performance of a craft or not incorporating the traditional feel, quality and sleek lines that Sunseeker is renowned.  Being able to build craft of over 35 meters that still look fantastic is a great achievement and something that continues to push the company to achieve new goals.

Sunseeker is also delighted to be able to build successful open boats, which are over 100 foot. It is a niche market and other builders are reluctant to build craft which are open, over 100 feet in length.  When there is a gap in the market, Sunseeker will look to fill it with the knowledge and technology that they have. Although Sunseeker offer production based craft, as a company we have the ability to customise thus offering owners a craft that is different from the rest but where they can be assured that the actual product, its cost and reliability are all tried and tested and are used across the board.  Producing semi-custom crafts gives us opportunities to explore new designs thus we learn more about what is possible by simply working with a client or captain. To constantly keep ahead of the market and to be fresh in your approach, you have to be prepared to listen to any feedback, comments, ideas etc.

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AGC. Sunseeker is now a long established company; how much do you think this heritage is assisting in Sunseeker sales? (Photo above of first ever Sunseeker)

RB. Being in the market of building craft for 45 years, Sunseeker is a name that automatically comes to mind when in the marine industry. It is a brand that many desire over.  Being able to build on our success over the years and push development and design methods forward, by listening to our clients and attending to their particular requests, as opposed to being negative and saying that their request is completely unrealistic inside a craft. Sunseeker is different, we will work within the space that we have available inside a craft to do our best to accommodate a clients request. We will work with any of their requested advisors, whether this be a skipper, interior designer etc, etc.  Having the trust of a client to product exactly what they want just for a line drawing or sketch on paper, proves that a history in being successful and building what we consider to be the best in the world, can only ever assist in creating future sales. Being long established and having members of the team working for us from the same time as the company began and individuals working their way up from a young apprentice into a 50 year old team leader of factory manager today, whilst passing on their valuable, traditional skills before the modern day techniques were all introduced means that we can still build a large amount of our craft by hand and using traditional methods but all the time incorporating the latest technologies that are now available.

Sunseeker only makes craft to order and as a result there is a waiting list on all of our craft, this makes the product even more exclusive and less available to those who want them.  This creates a force within the market that the less something is available, the more it is desired..

AGC. With 99% of the Sunseeker production exported have you considered setting up a manufacturing facility nearer the point of delivery?

RB. Being a firm believer in that the British are the best at manufacturing and seeing so many British companies move abroad to assist in cheaper production costs and a more accessible market, it only makes us as a business continue to do what we do, from a country that we are proud to be a part of.  We believe that using only the very best labour that we honestly believe to be available only in Britain and having that team of people build one of the best products in the world, building a product that they strongly believe in and a product that they want to succeed, each individual Sunseeker craft is full of passion that each skilled member of the team has put 110% effort into building. Its not just a job to our team, its a life that they enjoy - we don't believe that you could achieve that any where else in the world.  We are proud to be British and our commitment to the marine industry means we will continue to build some of the worlds largest and finest motoryachts in the world to our quality and standard, will only ensure the opening of yet another new production facility alongside our current facilities to enable us to build yet more large craft.

AGC. Some other leisure craft manufacturers are moving into marina and shoreside developments is this a field that Sunseeker would consider?

RB. We will only continue to do what we know we are good at and that is to produce the world's finest motoryachts. It is important to keep your focus 100% on the building of  craft as that is the nature of our business, how we got to where we are today and our future.

AGC. Thank you Robert Braithwaite for speaking with BYM.