In Pole position [Gulf, The (Bahrain)]
(Gulf, The (Bahrain) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) At the end of this month one of the world's most prestigious yacht shows will cruise into Monaco. Amid the glitz and glamour of the iconic location, super yacht manufacturers and luxury product and service providers will be hoping to make a splash with the wealthy clientele who will tread the piers at the famous Monte Carlo port on the lookout for their next purchase.For one luxury yacht maker, the Monaco Yacht Show will be a now-familiar step in an extraordinary expansion story which began in Poland 13 years ago, and which recently extended into the Gulf, its first overseas foray.
Last month, Sunreef Yachts opened its second Middle East representative office, following the 2013 establishment of its first regional office in Dubai. The Gdansk, Poland-based luxury catamaran manufacturer sees its new Bahrain sales and marketing hub as another strategic launchpad into a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) super yacht market from which much is expected.
The wealthy Gulf provides rich pickings for global super yacht manufacturers like Sunreef. Not only is personal wealth growing more quickly than almost anywhere else on earth, but yachting infrastructure is keeping pace. There are said to be more than 60 marinas in the region, with more in the pipeline as prestigious waterfront developments such as Lusail in Qatar are completed, providing an infrastructure and services network to support the market going forward. Last year the Wall Street Journal reported that there were at least 31 super yacht owners in the region whose vessels exceeded 110 metres. Sunreef's vessels, available both as sail and power boat models, are up to 250 feet in length.
Francis Lapp, Sunreef's president who founded the company 12 years ago, says there is a clear market opportunity in the GCC for luxury catamarans.
"Our first boat was the world's first luxury catamaran," Lapp recalls of the first vessel to roll off the production line in Gdansk in 2003. "There was a real niche for this kind of boat," he adds, claiming the catamaran offers superior stability, custom design, interior accommodation space, speed, range and fuel efficiency than the traditional monohull models.
He now hopes that the strategic move into the GCC starts paying dividends. Already this year the company has delivered a luxury catamaran super yacht to a customer in Abu Dhabi, and a 90-foot power boat to a Riyadh-based buyer, and Sunreef has been working hard to build brand awareness - showing off its models at major international boat shows in Kuwait and Dubai earlier this year.
While the GCC market is competitive - local manufacturers control roughly half the market (the UAE alone has 25 manufacturers, making it one of the world's top 10 yacht building countries), leaving overseas manufacturers such as Sunreef to compete for the remaining share, Lapp says there is no substitution for bespoke craftsmanship.
"We custom design, we offer top quality, and we provide service for our vessels at any point on earth," Lapp explains, pointing out that the manufacturing capacity of Sunreef's Gdansk shipyard is deliberately limited by the focus on built quality rather than quantity. Today, there are more than 80 Sunreef-built vessels on the seas around the world. Orders are currently split roughly 50:50 between sail and power boats.
It has been a long journey for Frenchman Lapp, who discovered his passion for yachts in Europe, where he had other business interests, in the 1990s. He bought his first catamaran at the Paris Boat Show, shipping it to Madagascar. And he set up a luxury yacht charter business in the Indian Ocean. Business went well, but with limitations - with customers demanding ever larger, more comfortable vessels, Lapp soon realised there were no suitable products on the market, so decided to build his own. In 2003 Sunreef completed its first catamaran at its shipyard in the historic Polish port of Gdansk - and so began the journey for a company, which today claims to be the world's leading designer and builder of large, customised luxury catamarans. "Our success is due to several factors," Lapp explains. "We operate in a niche market, and all design and production is done in-house - we don't outsource anything, enabling us to customise our products."
Sunreef's rise to prominence in the rarefied air of the luxury boat market has not been without its challenges. Like many sectors, the yachting market suffered during the 2008 financial crisis and economic downturn which followed. After an unsteady few years, the industry is finding its sea legs again, with the organisers of the Monaco showpiece claiming that order books and demand for super yacht finance are approaching pre-crisis figures.
Lapp has noticed a change in consumer behaviour and tastes since the onset of the global financial turbulence.
"Since 2009 people don't want the publicity that comes with owning a super yacht. They want to be discreet, not to show off their wealth," he observes.
Sunreef's president says he has no plans yet to set up manufacturing facilities in the Gulf, though does not rule out the possibility one day. For now the Gdansk yard, where some 400 workers, from architects to craftsmen and administration staff, create vessels up to 250 feet in length, will remain the nerve centre of its international expansion plan.
Lapp says a visit late last year to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE by Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski has helped raise the profile of the country's exporters and manufacturers in the region, and in particular the 'Made in Poland' tag. He hopes this kind of exposure will help the company as it markets new innovative models to prospective clients.
Lapp reveals that Sunreef has pitched a 150-guest floating catamaran restaurant concept to a customer in Dubai, custom designed with Islamic architecture. And big things are also expected of the company's futuristic 210 Sunreef Power Trimaran model.
The latter part of this year therefore looks like being a busy one for Lapp and his team, with boat shows, private presentations and special marketing events - including at the Jewellery Arabia exhibition in Bahrain in early October and an event in association with Bentley and Ferrari after that.
(c) 2014 Al Hilal Publishing & Marketing Group Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).
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