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Insight: Sunseeker, not a one-off manufacturer

Business
Written by
Gemma Fottles

Phil Popham, CEO of the British shipyard Sunseeker, entered the superyacht industry for the first time towards the end of 2014, leaving behind his position as Group Sales Director at Jaguar Land Rover. We spoke to Popham at Yachts Miami Beach at the beginning of the year, who discussed the differences between the industries, and whether Sunseeker intends to follow their dedicated clients higher up the superyacht size range.

Before you entered the superyacht industry, you held several esteemed positions in the automotive industry. How are the two comparable?

There are a lot of similarities between the two. Sunseeker designs, engineers, manufactures, markets, globally sells and services their products, which is a very similar model to the company I came from. Obviously the differences lie in terms of volume. One of the appeals of me coming across to this industry is to actually transfer some of that learning from the automotive industry.

How does Sunseeker intend to grow within the industry? The larger segment is probably a difficult one for you in terms of your business model, especially in regards to customisation.

The 131’ is a good example. The first two are now in the water and they are both about to be handed over to their clients, but we have had five in build at any one time. So four or five will be sold each year. We’ve sold into 2017 now, and that is more of a production line. So we’re merging continuous production techniques and processes with a high level of bespoke, and we believe that is a good model in terms of creating a boat that is tailored to the clients’ requirements, but is also profitable for the business.

Obviously the 155’ was built in a different way, and as we progress with that model, we do want to be in a situation where we have a continuous flow of products. We’ve been successful in breaking through the 100’ threshold with well over 100 sold vessels over that size, but we have an efficient build process. We are not a one-off manufacturer.

Do you intend to follow your clients through their superyacht journey as they inevitably opt for bigger and bigger vessels?

We would obviously like to keep our customers, but equally we’ve got to look at where our strengths are. We continually look at our long term product creation process, the segments that are developing, where we can make money at Sunseeker, where we can have a distinctive offering in that moment. We’ll have the debate about how big we can go, but we haven’t made the decisions on that at the moment. At some point, perhaps, if a customer does want to go to a very individual superyacht beyond which we can do, then he might leave the brand, but I think we’ve got a lot of opportunities to actually keep on developing our products based on consumer feedback in order to keep them in the brand.

In terms of sales right now, which regions are very strong?

We’re doing very well in Asia at the moment. The order book is very strong in the Asia Pacific region. It’s also going very strong in the U.S., we experienced tremendous growth in 2015. We’re about 300% up, and we’re going to grow again this year. The economy is strengthening, and certainly the luxury yacht market is growing.

Europe is fairly consistent, some of the developing markets have struggled economy-wise, exchange rate-wise, Russia being one of those, so there is an element of instability around the world, but we’re seeing a very solid base in Europe which has always traditionally been our stronghold. There is a lot of growth opportunity in Asia and in the U.S. but our intention is to be truly global. That is why we’re looking to expand our dealer network around the world.

The full interview with Phil Popham is featured in the latest edition of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe here and never miss another issue.

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