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ShowBoats International - May 2011 - Efficiency By Design: Production Builders Meet Demand

Written by Rebecca Cahill

Today's production builders offer designs that cater to various types of people Winning models stand the test of time and provide stable resale potential for their owners, but how do builders refresh the package without ruining the recipe?

ShowBoats International - Westport

Mind-boggling arrays of choices face any buyer looking to move into the 100 to 154ft range of semi-production (or semi-custom) series yachts. Once limited, this segment of the market virtually exploded in the last decade, following the demand for bigger yachts and shorter construction times. Some once-custom builders scrambled to refine their methods to efficiently meet the demand, while already successful smaller production yards races to the drawing boards to whip up new, larger versions of their most popular products.

The recent economic crisis put the brakes on the party, and while the industry held its breath, those yards that had hedged or were too far leveraged quietly closed their doors. Production boat models that were either unproven or undistinguished in a sea of hundreds pitched silently in the marinas. Today, a handful of true production method builders capable of semi-custom conclusions have remained at or risen to the top, but their philosophies, and hence, their products are anything but identical.

Re-Designed to meet today's Demands

Perhaps no company has refined itself more or is more competitive on the production market than Westport Yachts. Since 1964, this Washington State builder has been producing turnkey yachts and dominates the 112 and 130ft market with its competitively priced and solidly built fiberglass models. What makes the Westport model so successful and allows the company to stand behind its mantra of quality builds delivered on time and on budget? "The engineering blueprint and the nuts and bolts of our boats don't change," says VP of Sales, Phil Purcell. The Westport models are building all inclusive with all of the specs handled in-house at one of the yards three facilities and are delivered fully equipped. Because the company emphasizes its internal efficiencies, its boats are fitted with proven equipment and change orders are few and far between. "We've taken the time to listen to our clients and to incorporate subtle changes over time to continually enhance our product," Purcell says. "Sometimes we have to pass on a client because the changes he might want to incorporate would harm the boat's performance, its residual value, or the production process — which in turn would affect builds underway for other clients."

Two years ago, after making a series of more subtle changes such as removing a divider between the salon and dining area and opening up the staircase — both at customer request — Westport refined its 10-year-old 130ft model to incorporate an extended sun deck, on-deck master, commercial-grade galley, and a striking new exterior profile — which features a unique bi-level seating area in her bow. Most notable, however, is that this model is now built to ABS and MCA classification, which opened a new market by making it suitable for charter.

Last year, the company took a look at its 112ft model and carefully adjusted its interior layout to offer an on-deck master with a sunken en suite in lieu of a country kitchen and VIP forward. These are a few calculated amendments Westport incorporated because the not only reflect the cruising lifestyle of today's owner, but they expand the model's appeal to an international new and brokerage audience. "When the market tells us it wants change, that's what we do," says Daryl Wakefield, Westport's president. Hull #52 of this line is now in the mold. "We can do this-boat-only changes if we know about it early in the build, but we really try to stick with the plan and stay on schedule."

Keith Maling, sales manager at the Miami office of Oceanstyle, a brokerage firm specializing in 60 to 130 footers says, "Westport has been a survivor of the recent downturn, although several yachts are now on the market, the turnover and value retention has proven very strong. Brokerage sales of the 112, 130, and 164 series yachts are steady with late models bringing seventy to eighty percent of their new retail value in resale. With the U.S. market, this simple production brand stands tall when compared with the European counterparts."...

Designed to "Re"-Sell

According to www.boatinternational.com's market analysis, Westport and Benetti production builds accounted for two of the top five selling builders on the resale market in 2010. "The market has absorbed thirteen pre-owned 112s over the last fifteen months and six pre-owned 130s over the last sixteen months," says Purcell.

"The semi-custom motor yacht market in the 100-foot-plus range has recovered well following the financial crisis. Although there has been a focus on competitive pricing, well-established brands such as Benetti, Sanlorenzo, and Sunseeker have all managed to secure strong advance orders. In more troubled times, investment and innovation with new models proves to be a key element of success," comments Oceanstyle's Managing Director Richard Lambert.

"There is good reason that production builders will weather the storm of market swings," states Cromwell Littlejohn of Merle Wood & Associates. "Buyers often gravitate to the quicker delivery times offered by quality production builders."