‘Gone the long yards’: Luxury boatbuilder Maritimo a stayer in local manufacturing

‘Gone the long yards’: Luxury boatbuilder Maritimo a stayer in local manufacturing

In an era when Australia’s mass-production car industry is a thing of the past, luxury motor yachts have emerged as a stayer in the local manufacturing sector.

And if the recent Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show is any guide - with almost 50,000 visitors and more than 300 exhibitors - demand for recreational marine products has hardly waned amid a broader downturn in consumer sentiment over the past year.

Gold Coast boatbuilder Maritimo says it conducted about 1,000 inspections of its three-yacht display worth more than $13 million over the four days at this year’s show at Sanctuary Cove which wrapped up a few weeks ago.

While the company does not reveal the number of sales made during the show, it does confirm that the three motor yachts on display – the M55, M600 and its flagship M75 - all found buyers at the show and are now heading for the US.

Founded in 2003 by marine industry veteran Bill Barry-Cotter, Maritimo has just celebrated 20 years of operation in an industry that is both capital and labour intensive, but one that is also built on brand loyalty and innovation.

The company earlier this year powered into the Gulf States by appointing Dubai Power Boats as its exclusive dealer in the Middle East, selling Maritimo luxury motor yachts to well-heeled buyers in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The new dealer builds on Mairitmo’s existing distribution network that includes Singapore, Japan, the US, Canada and New Zealand – areas that account for between 50 and 60 per cent of the company’s annual sales.

The strength of the company’s export sales is a reflection of Australia’s global reputation as a quality manufacturer of luxury motor yachts, as the export mix is not dissimilar to that of fellow Gold Coast boat manufacturer Riviera.

Maritimo’s director of operations Phil Candler attributes the success of the company, and the industry more broadly, on the depth of specialist skills within the local industry.

Its agility in responding to buyer feedback is another reason he says the industry thrives where the automotive industry couldn’t.

“The boating industry can retool and redevelop new products quicker than a car company,” Candler tells Business News Australia, noting that Maritimo can build just 50 to 100 boats of a new model before refining them or gearing up for a new range.

“I think innovation in Australian design and product development is also very high and our skillset in manufacturing overall is high because of our training programs. All of this adds weight and strength to who we are as a business manufacturing from Australia.”

Decades of innovation and investment by the Australian industry are also paying dividends.

“The global market really values an Australian manufactured boat,” says Candler. “We’ve gone the long yards in global manufacturing and an Australian-manufactured Maritimo is today seen as a high-end product.”

But it’s not only boomers that are jumping aboard, with Candler noting that Maritimo is also catering to younger buyers these days.

Maritimo at Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show. Photo: Maritimo, via Facebook.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a strong trend, but there are definitely more younger buyers,” says Candler.

“We have customers in their early 40s who have bought boats up to the 60ft range, so I think there is more appetite for younger people to buy boats. This also helps long term as it allows us to gain further input in terms of customer expectation.

“With the Black Edition of the 55 and 60, for example, over 3,000 lines of communications between customers brought it down to nine key features to develop these new boats. There’s a lot of focus by us as a company to get that right.”

Candler, who has been with Maritimo for the past 11 years, has worked with Bill Barry-Cotter for more than 33 years. That includes a stint at Riviera which Barry-Cotter founded in 1980 and sold to private equity for $180 million in 2003 before starting again with Maritimo.

Barry-Cotter is executive chairman of Maritimo, assuming the hands-on role earlier this year after his son Paul resigned as CEO. A difference of opinion over the direction of the company has been cited as the cause of the split.

According to Candler, after two decades in business Maritimo continues to “refine and mature”.

“The type of product we offer and the technology has certainly evolved significantly over these past 20 years,” he says.

“The company is continuing to investigate customer expectations and needs. I think we are really finding our straps, particularly with the styling of our new models, and that will continue into the future.”

These days, Maritimo is less inclined to reveal the number of motor yachts it produces in a year, although the company confirms that it supports a workforce of about 350.

“We are continuing to grow in terms of the number of boats we produce every year,” says Candler. “Obviously when you make bigger models, like a 75-footer, you can’t produce as many of them.”

Maritimo is capitalising on strong demand for its largest and most expensive models, the M75 and S75, which sell for about $6.5 million each.

“In the first two years of the 75 we have taken orders for and/or built 17 of them,” says Candler. “At the moment we have four 75s sitting in the water in different degrees of sale.”

Candler notes Maritimo has a “good volume” of boats under way with its order book accounting for the next two years of production.

Maritimo founder and executive chairman Bill Barry-Cotter. Photo: Maritimo, via Facebook

The smallest yacht in the fleet is the M55, which retails at just above $3 million, while the S600 is closer to $4 million.

Chandler sees scope for the industry to grow further in Australia and particularly the Gold Coast which is the heartland of the nation’s luxury yacht industry that supports both Maritimo and Rivera within the Gold Coast Marine Precinct on the banks of the Coomera River.

The precinct, which employs more than 5,000 people, is also home to The Boat Works superyacht facility, owned by Tony Longhurst, which is arguably the fastest-growing business in the area and continues to expand its footprint.

Despite the industry’s buoyancy, Candler notes that the high cost of manufacturing in Australia remains a constant challenge.

“The cost of manufacturing in Australia is significantly higher than the US or Asia - there is no doubt about that,” says Candler.

“Therefore (to stay competitive) we have to design, develop and manufacture high-end products. There is always opportunity to reinvent what we are doing whether that is by hull design, by performance or by weight.”

Sustainability is high on the agenda, but Candler says its unrealistic to expect the EV revolution will be driving luxury yachts any time soon.

“Near term, sustainability is very much being driven by the engine companies themselves,” he says.

“They are aware of different power sources, but whether it is biodiesels, hydrogen and other forms of diesel and gas, the companies we are talking to say the combustion engine is going to be around for a long time.

“They are designing engines that take different fuels and that is the short to medium-term goal. As they develop engines that are more environmentally friendly, we put them in our boats.”

While the Gold Coast Marine Precinct continues to fill out, Candler says Maritimo still has capacity to grow its business in the area by about 10 to 20 per cent as it continues to capitalise on global demand.

“There is a lot of opportunity to continue developing in Australia,” says Candler.

“It’s costing a lot more money to do that though and therefore the cost of boats will go up.

“But what we are developing and the opportunity to do this is still significant as long as we keep reinvesting in research and development to keep ourselves on the global platform.”

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