Discussing business and entrepreneurial success with Jan Meyer of Yachtwerft Meyer

Written by Francesca Webster

While the superyacht industry can be dog-eat-dog, the tender industry is a microcosm of competition within that already narrow niche. Many companies fail and every year more businesses are launched, only to close down a few years later.

One business which has not only lasted but thrived, is the German shipyard Yachtwerft Meyer, an exceptional company situated on a tributary of the River Weser in the city of Bremen.Yachtwerft Meyer, Bremen, GermanyThe secret behind the business’ success may well be that it stuck true to its roots, retained the family feeling that is at its heart, and consistently innovated in composite construction, year in and year out for more than 28 years.

We sat down with Jan Meyer, half of the husband-wife duo who have driven the company to success over the decades, to find out how Yachtwerft Meyer has stayed above the fray.

Can you share your entrepreneurial story, what was the origin of Yachtwerft Meyer?

Yachtwerft Meyer as a company was originally started in the 1980s by my father at the Burmester Shipyard, which is now part of Lürssen’s naval facility. In 1994 I joined the business and took over from my father, joining together with my wife Michaela Meyer who brought a huge amount of commercial expertise to the company.Jan and Michaela Meyer of Yachtwerft MeyerWhile my father was focusing on winter storage and small repair works by his own after we built the first superyacht tender – a 4.5-metre clinkered open sail dinghy boat – I realised this could be a business in itself.

We have now delivered 120 boats from the yard, between superyacht tenders and fast boats made for the German Navy. We specialise in composite construction, working hard over the years to grow the team in a sustainable way and focus a large amount of energy on testing and development.Yachtwerft MeyerHow do you stay on top of your game in such a competitive field?

Our main priority is to ensure that we always have the latest technology on hand at the shipyard. 15 years ago we were one of the first companies to have our own milling machine in-house, meaning we’ve never had to rely on subcontractors to move forward with our projects. 

In 1997 we installed the first spray shed on site which allows us to heat the air to 90 degrees and make the most accurate post curing for composite parts. In 2005, we founded Fibretech Composites in partnership with Jens Brandes for components for the superyacht industry, which analyses elements of composite materials and has helped develop the patented method for heating moulds which has resulted in a number of awards for the shipyard.Yachtwerft Meyer, Bremen, GermanyToday we are using sustainable materials for 10-15 percent of every boat. We have our own laboratory on site and for four years we have been working to ensure that these alternative materials are durable and reliable – it is this kind of innovation that keeps us cutting edge and I am always looking toward the future.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced since you founded the business? 

Establishing the Silverline series, which has been designed in collaboration with Hamid Bekradi from HBD Studios, and bringing this idea into reality has certainly been a challenge, and a rewarding one – we have now delivered around 15 of this range.Yachtwerft Meyer SIlverline SeriesBut also building the business that we see today from what my father originally built. We are a long way from the winter storage and repair work that we once were and that has really required a straightforward and honest approach.Yachtwerft Meyer Silverline SeriesHow have you managed to balance that growth while retaining the brand’s family feeling?

My wife would say that our partnership has created a business with a soul; we’ve created and managed it with our own individual fingerprint and that has kept us down to earth. Everyone that comes to our shipyard sees that the team here is treated with respect for their skills and abilities and even though we have more than 50 staff, everyone knows one another; it is these things that are important to us.

It is also a credit to our teams that so many of our clients continue to return, the family feeling is in more than just the people, it's also the individual attention given to every boat that creates that sense. 

Many entrepreneurs fail, why haven’t you?

Michaela and I have been careful over the years with the business strategy to take on the right partners and clients at the right time. Many people in this side of the industry forget what it takes to fulfil a custom project, particularly when working with external suppliers. Bringing so much of the business in-house has allowed us to be very flexible and also reliable for our customers.Jan and Michaela Meyer of Yachtwerft MeyerFinally, what would you say to budding entrepreneurs in the tender industry?

First, be careful, and secondly, you always have to swim faster than your competitors!

This article was originally published in Issue 42 of SuperYacht Times newspaper. To read more stories like this one and to never again miss another issue of the SuperYacht Times newspaper, subscribe here.

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