Yachts Emirates - April 2011 - A Constant Presence
Written by Craig Barnett
Committing a significant amount of time and resources to building and servicing their clients in the Middle East is paying off for US builders Westport. We talked to their Vice President to find out how...
Omnipresent at the region's primary shows and strong believer in the future of the Middle East market, Westport yachts have enjoyed considerable success in the region, delivering four yachts to local owners. Their unstinting attention to detail and strong after sales ethic, coupled to a semi-custom series build programmed that allows owners to build to their own specifications within a tried and tested yacht — with greatly reduced lead times — has proven to be very attractive.
Founded in 1964 the yard commenced by building commercial vessels, with more than 200 under their belt, they then made the transition to building luxury motoryachts - of which they've launched over 100 to date. Operating out of premises totaling 400,000sq ft spread over five facilities, Westport counts amongst its highly skilled workforce many second and third-generation employees. Amongst its current range are the W98, W112, W130, W164 and the Pacific Mariner 85.
We caught up with Westport's Vice President, Phil Purcell, at the Miami Boat Show to discuss their recent activities, both internationally and in the Middle East. Phil opened by reporting Westport had enjoyed a busy year, "In terms of building and delivering, we're talking about eleven yachts," he explains. "That includes three 112s, three 130s, three 85s and two 164s, plus we launched a military boat. While everyone else was looking for a "bottom" to the market we repositioned our labor to reflect what we were building, and then while everyone else was 'redefining' their business, we simply continued to build and refine our products."
When discussing this refining process, Purcell tells us; "Our models work, the number we've sold throughout the range proves that. But we continue to improve and refine. For example five years ago you wouldn't find shore power converters, night vision, V-Sat and passerelles as standard, but now we do. As we move forward things like stabilization systems will be standard. We don't create a big launch and rename a model just because we added a new system, we simply get on with improving what we know works."
Throughout the turbulent economic times Westport continued to market themselves strongly, both in terms of advertising and adding boat shows to their roster including Singapore, Australia and Saudi Arabia. "Jeddah was a great show for us, the people were most accommodating, knew our brand and in addition to the yachts, we received good interest in our military products," Purcell told us. "Throughout the Middle East this year we've discovered that while some companies are trying to dump reduced price stock into the marketplace, the market is becoming more discerning and wants to work with brands they feel comfortable with. Also the liquidity of our used yachts provides confidence for owners; the residual value in our used yachts has remained on average at 83 percent — even during these tough economic times."
Spending a great deal of time in the Middle East certainly provides Westport with an edge, and this commitment underlines their dedication to after sales service. "We do love a challenge," Purcell grins. "We spend a lot of time working with the suppliers of components of our yachts, but occasionally things do go wrong. We had a situation recently where a yacht had a problem with the control system of its passerelle. Unfortunately the suppliers were no longer trading so we tracked down their ex-employee who wrote the original code for the system, and paid him write a whole code for the system." Such labors bear fruit, as the delivery of the 112 to Beirut, Lebanon for a Qatari owner bears testament. "Being in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, we built a relationship with Adecco at Team9 in Beirut and he later approached us with news of a potential client. We immediately set about drawing up plans for what he believed the client may like," explains Purcell. "We worked this up before any commitment was made, though we were confident we could achieve what the client desired. To be honest, it only took a few phone calls before everything was dialed in and a design agreed upon." Every yacht Westport build is designed to fully operate around the world in extreme weather parameters; up to 125-degrees air and 100-degrees water temperatures, big air conditioning systems and with both 50 and 60 cycle electrical systems — so no major changes to the yacht's infrastructure are required for it to function well in the Middle East. Regional cultural differences however do differ, so for the 112 destined for Beirut, Westport designed a layout that did away with the large 'country kitchen' popular in North America, and instead included on-deck master suite, which created space below for additional accommodation — resulting in a five stateroom 112ft yacht.
In terms of interior design, regional influences once again were taken into account. "The decorous themed along the same lines of a 50m we completed called Lady Katherine," Purcell states. "The interior is very light and all the honey toned onyx stone we used were more geared toward a Middle Eastern or European client. Doing all the stonework, upholstery, cabinet-work, in fact everything in house provides us with great flexibility in satisfying our client's requirements." While US news channels and media feed hungrily on the recent political upheavals in many Arab countries around the Middle East and North Africa, Westport remain unperturbed. "I read somewhere a while ago that 60 percent of the Muslim world is under the age of 25," Purcell explains. "So with social media and the desire for democracy, it is unsurprising. For us I believe more US citizens should get outside of our borders, visit other countries and experience the real warmth of hospitality that exists in the Middle East." Online interaction is in fact something Westport takes very seriously and spends a significant amount of time on analysis of the 10-14,000 hits on their website each month.
"It is amazing how I can see someone in a particular location, spending say 20 minutes a day on our site, checking out particular pages, and then we'll receive a phone call or email a day or two later. I'll already know roughly who that person is, what they are interested in... Google Analytics is a great tool." If like us you were wondering what percentage of Westport's website traffic originates in the Middle East? The answer is around 25%, a significant percentage that proves that committing yourself to a region, fulfilling your promises and spending time building real and "virtual' relationships pays off. If you'd like to find out more about Westport and the models they build, you can see them at the Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Lebanon shows... as we said, they are committed!