SuperYacht Times chats to Julia Skoptsova, yacht broker and founder of Russian brokerage firm, Smart Yachts, about her entrance into the profession, the foundation of her firm and what it is like to be a woman in the superyacht industry.
How did you come to be involved in the yacht brokerage business and how did you come to open Smart Yachts?
To give you the short version, as a student I got a receptionist job at the 2006 Moscow Boat Show. My duties were mostly to register clients at the desk and bring coffees to meeting rooms. At that time the market was particularly active and the sales team was extremely busy, so I started to do viewings for the clients while they waited for a broker to become available. As a result, on the third day of the show I sold my first yacht, a 33-foot Canadian Doral Intrigue, for $254,000.
From then I began working as a sales manager’s assistant, and worked my way up to a full sales position and then head of sales a few years later. In 2012 my friend and I started Smart Yachts — the first office was in my kitchen and the logo was made by a friend for my birthday.
When I worked as an employee, I was really disappointed by the company's strategy to push options we had in our list or in stock. So the idea for Smart Yachts was to offer smart solutions for our clients, by checking the client’s needs first and finding the proper yacht for their mooring place and their lifestyle. We look at a range of parameters, such as the draft, nearest service point to their mooring, fuel capacity, weather conditions in their region and quantity of guests they want to host aboard. In fact, when clients email us about a specific yacht that they’re interested in, we respond with a selection of vessels within the same category which would also be potentially great options, to show them a broader range of the market.
I would say that finding the proper yacht for the particular client is the biggest inspiration for me. Happy clients and their happy days on board makes me feel that, as a company, we are moving in the right direction. With 14 years in the industry – how have you seen yacht brokerage change?
The market has changed completely, from this crazy fast Mangusta & Leopard with jet or Arneson propulsion and huge consumption, to the idea of long range and Explorer style yachts. Also new technology such as hybrid or diesel-electric, and the increased use of glass. Yacht owners have become more responsible to the environment, carbon footprint and sustainability.
Also conversion has become more and more popular in recent years. When I started the business, conversion was not even heard of, but now our clients are more educated about yachts and have clearer access to information than they did before. This means that they have a better understanding of what is out there, and the potential for conversion yachts is huge, especially since the launch of Ragnar, so there are definitely more people asking about that!
Do you have any standout yachts sales that underline your career and that you’re particularly proud of?
Any sale in my company I’m proud of. Again, it’s a long journey and we are very concentrated in long-time relations, preferably life-time relations. I’m very proud of all our repeat clients and their friends who have decided to choose our services by their recommendations. So, it’s less about the yachts, and more about the people and relations.
As an example, we have a client who I sold a 28-foot yacht to in 2012, and over the years we have brokered his purchase of gradually larger vessels and he is now on the hunt for an 80-footer. That is a wonderful relationship and the best compliment we could have as a brokerage.
Some notable yacht that we can mention are the 45-metre MMGI superyacht Blade, the 39-metre Custom Line superyacht Amelia, ex. O, and one of the Majesty 120 line from Gulf Craft. Photo: Gulf CraftSmart Yachts are now in London, Monaco as well as in Russia. How do you find the Russian market compares to the British and Mediterranean market?
I would say that we have about 70% Russian speaking clients, not only from Russia but also from Ukraine, Belarus, etc., though we do have an increasingly international client base. Russian clients are an unusual market because in Russia, most buyers start off with smaller yachts, up to the 24-metre mark, which can be used for inland cruising on the rivers and the Black Sea.
Gradually the size of their yachts increase as they get comfortable with cruising, and they tend to move onto superyachts in the Mediterranean after a few years. That's another reason why it’s so important to build a loyal client base who come to you for all of their yacht purchases over the years, as well as their refits and restorations.As a young woman in the yachting industry, what advice would you give to other women starting out in the majority male field?
I would say that it’ll be a long journey and there is no sense to start out in this industry without a passion for yachting. And you would need to go deep into the details, I would say much deeper than your male colleagues, because during most of the meetings you’ll be examined for your technological competence and knowledge.