Peters Opal is one of Europe's largest boat distributors, representing prestigious marques from several countries. General Manager Richard Hewitt talks to BYM News' Aldous Grenville-Crowther.
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Aldous Grenville – Crowther. What effect do you think the loss of red diesel will have on sales?

Richard Hewett. So far we have not had a single customer mention red diesel, or its loss, and we don’t feel that it’s going to play a major part. Certainly, when you work out on the average customer’s boating the additional cost is not a vast amount of money and shouldn’t be enough to put anyone off buying a boat, certainly we’ve had absolutely no indication of that yet.

A G-C. Is that just what is coming over from the higher end?

RH. No, across the board. Peters Opal sells boats from 21 feet right up to a couple of hundred feet, but we have not had any mention of red diesel at all across any of the ranges.

A G-C. Is lack of marina spaces having an effect on sales?

RH. No, we haven’t had any effect from berthing, certainly over the last six or seven years. This comment has been raised by a number of people and it doesn’t seem to have any effect. With every boat we sell we do guarantee a berth for a couple of months, until we can find the customer a berth, but so far there’s been no impact really. We sell something like 200 new powerboats a year and we’ve not lost any business because of berthing issues at all.
I think wherever you go around the country there will be additional marina space created in the future. There’s dry berthing, there’s all sorts of different schemes I think will come up in the future, so no we’ve certainly not lost any business because of that.

A G-C. Do you have long term agreements with some of the marinas about finding a place for you?

RH. No we don’t. The marinas are all independent from us. We do work closely with marinas where we have an office base, but we don’t have specific agreements with anybody.

A G-C. Azimut has gone into the business of building marinas, is this something Peters might do?

RH. It is not part of our business plan, or business model, but Peters Opal is a very aggressive company, we do like to expand so who knows what is likely to happen in the future, but certainly at the moment there is no plan

A G-C. Do you consider the trend towards larger more expensive craft a high risk strategy?

RH. I think the trend in boating is to go bigger all the time but again Peters Opal have bucked the trend. We very much recognise first time boaters being in the market place as being the life blood of the future. With our six different product ranges we have something to suit every taste, starting from 23 to 25 foot boats going right the way up to 200 feet. So what we are getting is a lot of loyalty amongst customers, because we can take them right from the very first starting point at early 20 foot size, right the way up to the bigger boats. So, certainly, for us that is not a problem, but a lot of factories are going bigger and bigger all the time.

A G-C. How many boats, right across the spectrum do you sell in a year?

RH. We probably do something in the region of 400 new boats every year and, probably, the same on second hand boats.

A G-C. Do you think internet selling, with its added advantage of virtual yacht tours, changing the way boats are sold?

RH. Yes I do, I think digital media is very much becoming a good part of our strategy for the future. Developing our own website and other websites do provide information at people’s finger tips. I’s an important part of the business, again we use a lot of specs on the website, virtual tours. We do develop considerably as we go along.

A G-C. You’ve created another website in conjunction with some other brokers, what do you see as the advantage when there are already plenty of selling sites?

RH. It’s just another string to the bow really, if we are able to determine the way we want our site to go then obviously we will have greater input into it. To what we see as the customer’s demands from a website, but it is just one of many strings to the bow.

A G-C. What reaction have you had to the new site?

RH. I think it’s too early to tell, from that particular site. Our own personal company site has been very well received and gets quite a lot of traffic through. The other too early, but again a site which gives customers the information they want will be very well received.

A G-C. What is the path of a sale from an enquiry to the done deal?

RH. Again that’s very difficult to answer simply. We have had some people that we’ve sold boats to, just from looking at a spec on the internet, who don’t actually come and look at the boat. We have a lot of people that use the internet as an information gathering tool, before visiting us.
Time scales really depend on the lead time of manufacturers. If you’ve got a long lead time for a particular product then the point from enquiry to handover can be quite lengthy; some of them can be very, very quick. So it really depends on the model and the particular enquiry.

A G-C. The majority of your boats are sold for export, so not by the local dealer. I believe this can create difficulties if  some warranty work is needed.

RH. No not at all, Peters Opal has been selling boats to all sorts of locations for many years. Our prime market is the UK, but we do guarantee back up service anywhere. We are slightly unusual in that we have shipyard facilities, with our own engineering team, who will travel for any warranty work that we need to cover. So we back up any product that we sell, not a problem.

A G-C. What's your reaction to the new Earls court show?

RH. We are very happy with ExCeL, we’ve been there for a few years now, I think the venue is fantastic, with the increase in car parking and facilities to get there, I think it is a very good place to be exhibiting and I don’t see us changing that decision.

A G-C. Even if your competitors decide to go to Earls Court?

RH. I think at the moment we are very happy with ExCeL, but any business must react to what is going on out there and, obviously, if there was a wholesale change I think we’d have a look at it, but at the moment most exhibitors came away from the London Boat Show, at ExCeL, with some reasonably good results. So there is no desire, I think, to change that formula.

A G-C. What exactly does sold at a boat show mean? Does it mean that some of your dealers brought clients to close deals, does it mean that they topped up their stock from you, or are we talking about people who walked in off the street and said “Oh that’s very nice, I’ll buy it.”

RH. When we regard a boat as sold and the figures we put out we quote boats that have been actually contracted and deposited and, therefore, are deals that have been done. It’s factual business.

A G-C. But how much of that factual business was actually done at the show and how much was started before the show?

RH. No, that’s all boats contracted at the show. A lot of people, as you touched on earlier, we develop relationships with over a period of time, so we may have first spoken to them some months ago, but these are all deals done at the boat show; genuine business.

A G-C. So it was, genuinely, 70 boats sold at the boat show?

RH. Absolutely correct.

A G-C. When you take on a new agency, such as Azimut, how do you go about getting it known in the local market?

RH. Azimut was a brand that had been represented. The big factor for us was increasing brand awareness, putting on a good display at the London boat show and getting the message out there about the brand values, for Azimut, which I  think we’ve done successfully. Certainly, Azimut will be one of the major players in the UK market in the future, so it’s exciting times for us since the dealership. Certainly, bringing a new brand into the country you need to show its strength, its points, display it properly, not just in one event, but in multiple events and we are exhibiting not only at London Boat Show, but Birmingham Boat Show, Palma Boat Show, Southampton Boat Show. It’s an ongoing project to raise brand awareness.

A G-C. Did you sell any Azimuts at London?

RH. Yes we did. I wouldn’t give a breakdown of the 70 boats, but they included Azimut, Sealine, Rodman, Bavaria, Legend, Island Packet , it was a good cross section, across the whole range, not just on the small boats, We found at London that we were selling products from both small, medium, large, so we were very, very pleased about the good cross section of boat sales.

A G-C. Was there much interest in the Leonardo?

RH. Yes, that is an absolutely stunning boat and, again, we had some very good interest in that at the show, not only that but on the Azimut range we can go even bigger to 116 feet and we came away with a lot of good interest in the bigger boats as well.
The 98 is the biggest Azimut that has been displayed in this country, so it would naturally generate some very good interest.

A G-C. Have you considered expanding into any of the new  EU Member States?

RH. I think all the manufacturers have dealerships in most countries now, so unless a market became available to us. If that was not the case then obviously it is open for someone to expand into it. We don’t have any specific plans to expand in that direction at the moment, but we’re always looking for opportunites and, so long as there is good business sense in doing it, then we would probably have a look at it. We wouldn’t expand into an area where there was an existing dealer.

A G-C. What do you see as the factors that have most influence when people buy a boat?

RH. I think it varies, depending on the client. Some clients buy on first impressions; they like the look of something, some buy on performance, some people buy on technical ability; the quality of the systems on the boat, some people buy because of the reputation of a product, some people buy the product based on the dealer’s capability.
You know the fact that we’ve built our business based on after sales service, means a lot of people buy the product we represent because they want the good service we offer, so there are all sorts of different reasons for buying a boat, in the same way that everyone looks at cars in a different way, different things appeal to different people and each of our brands offers something different. The Azimuts are very, very stylish Italian boats and beautifully crafted, so again there’s no fixed point that people buy boats on. It’s very much personal taste, so different reasons.

A G-C. Do you see the boating industry as likely to continue to boom, or will it, eventually, stall?

RH. I think boating is, generally, extremely popular. People have more leisure time and a little bit more disposable wealth and boating very much fits in with the lifestyle of people these days and for corporate use as well. It’s very much a popular sport, at the moment, and I see that continuing.

A G-C. Which do you think is the better of the UK shows?

RH. I think both London and Southampton are ExCeLlent shows, for different reasons. We go to London selling boats for spring delivery and Southampton selling boats for autumn and winter delivery, so both are very, very good shows; both have a very different clientele. Some people like London, some like Southampton, so they have equal stature for us and both are very good shows.
We also run a good selection of open weekends, at each of our offices, so again, in between international shows like London and Southampton, we have our own regional Open weekend shows.

A G-C. I saw your stand at the Barcelona show. Is that another good show for you?

RH. Barcelona again is a good international show, certainly for our Spanish market it is a prime show for those people.

A G-C. Are you a boater?

RH. Yes I am. I’ve been boating for as long as I care to remember,  for many, many years, and I, thoroughly, enjoy boating with my family.

A G-C. Thank you, Richard Hewitt.

 

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