Courting U.S. buyers with a British pedigree

Posted on Written by Jim Flannery

sealine1Sealine returns to the American market after a 10-year hiatus, calling itself the ‘Range Rover of boating’

A decade after pulling out of the U.S. market, British luxury yacht builder Sealine International is back — under new ownership, with models geared to American tastes and a plan to woo buyers with British artisanship and rugged reliability.

“We’re coming here with something different: luxury British craftsmanship,” Sealine president Bill Griffiths says. “I think we’re the Range Rover of boating.”

Sealine’s soul is definitely not Italian, but it may have a touch of German, he says. The yachts aren’t dowdy, but they are stoutly built, with more angular lines than the ultra-contemporary European designs. And their fit and finish are excellent. “The United States is a tough market, but it’s a whole lot better than Europe right now,” Griffiths said at Sealine’s American debut in July in Fort Lauderdale, where it has opened its first U.S. sales office. “We see more growth opportunities here.”

Sealine is betting that Americans will like its C48 coupe (www.sealine.com). Leaning toward the traditional in looks, the coupe “is one of the quietest boats I’ve ever been on,” Griffiths says. “It’s got a great hull form. It’s a great-performing boat.”

The C48 has a sliding hardtop that opens the saloon to the outdoors, and like all Sealines, it is light and airy inside. It has 360-degree windows in the saloon, sliding-glass doors aft and lots of open space, with its beam of 14 feet, 8 inches. The 48, which is also available in a flybridge model, is “very practical, very comfortable, very quiet,” Griffiths says.

The builder also will offer a 42-foot version of the C48 — the F42 — in the U.S. market.

‘Our new DNA’

Sealine, however, believes its future lies in its new sport cruiser, the SC42i, with its sleeker lines and full-beam cockpit with an electrically operated sliding fabric sunroof, opening side windows and aft area that can be enclosed with clip-on canvas screens. “That’s our new DNA,” Griffiths says. “That’s what Sealine really is today. Our new line is about light and space.” And “sociability.” The cockpit is integrated with the saloon and can seat as many as eight at a retractable dinette on seating that can be electrically moved into different configurations, including a sunbathing area.

sealine2Griffiths says the new Sealines are fitted out for the American market with good-sized refrigerator/freezers, a microwave, dishwasher, barbecue, washer/dryer, wine cooler, icemakers and LED televisions. “We [Americans] do like to sit in our cockpit on Sunday and watch TV like we do at home,” Griffiths says. “In Europe, they don’t understand why we do that. They say they go boating to get away from that stuff.”

The 48 and 42 are powered by twin Volvo IPS 600s with joystick controls, again to appeal to Americans. The 48 cruises at 22 to 28 knots and tops out at 28 to 30; the 42 cruises at 22 to 28 knots and tops out at 33 to 35. Sealine also will be offering the T50 flybridge motoryacht — powered by twin 600-hp Cummins diesels or twin 575-hp Volvo D9 diesels, both straight-shaft drives — in the United States.

From the land of Land Rover

Sealine is based in Kidderminster, a part of England notable for its craftsmen and for the manufacture of high-end automobiles — Land Rover, Jaguar and Rolls-Royce. The company historically has considered the United Kingdom and northern and western Europe as its core markets, Griffiths says. With those economies on hold for the foreseeable future, Sealine has embarked on a campaign to tailor its product for a global market, focusing first on the United States, then on Asia and South America — primarily Venezuela. It already has sales offices in Singapore, Hong Kong and Dalian, China, Griffiths says.

The company is celebrating its 40th year in 2012. Brunswick Corp. bought Sealine in 2001 as part of a drive to mine global markets, but Griffiths says Brunswick withdrew Sealine from its American lineup to avoid competition with its own domestically produced boats — chiefly Sea Ray but also Bayliner.

Oxford Investment Group, an international investment firm with offices in San Diego and Bloomfield Hills, Mich., bought Sealine from Brunswick in March 2011. It was the first of what Griffiths expects will be more recreational marine acquisitions at Oxford. “The strategy is to buy additional brands and companies where the opportunity exists and whenever it makes sense,” Griffiths says. “We are interested in further acquisitions, but we have a lot on our plate right now, launching new products and new markets around the world.” He expects Oxford to acquire more marine properties in 2013.

Griffiths, a protégé of Selwyn Isakow, Oxford’s founder and CEO, says he specializes in strategically repositioning companies — buying and refocusing them. He has worked around the world, first in mining and then in flow technology and automotive parts. His most recent project for Oxford: serving as president of Champion Enterprises, a $1 billion company and the largest manufacturer of modular homes in the United States.

Griffiths says he had retired from Champion to Fort Myers, Fla., to indulge his passion of 30 years — boating — when Isakow asked him whether he’d like to take the helm of Sealine. As much as he had been enjoying his boating, he says he couldn’t turn down the chance to “use a skill set I’ve built up over a number of years with a product I love.”

Sealine is seeking “distribution partners” — perhaps as many as 10 dealers that can carry yacht inventory — but Griffiths says that in this economy it is hard to find retailer floorplanning for luxury yacht inventory that is new in the market. He says he may start with “strategic partnerships” with yacht brokerages that deal in new as well as preowned boats. His target markets to start: the East Coast and, “to a lesser extent,” the Midwest. “We have an open mind as to how to distribute them,” Griffiths says. “It will depend on how receptive the retail public is to the boats themselves.”

He plans to show boats at the Sept. 13-16 Newport (R.I.) International Boat Show, the Sept. 20-23 Norwalk (Conn.) Boat Show, the Oct. 11-14 U.S. Powerboat Show in Annapolis, Md., the Oct. 25-29 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, and the Feb. 14-18 Miami International Boat Show.

“I can’t look at this as returning [to the U.S. market],” Griffiths says. “We’re starting over here. It’s a different world completely than 10 years ago.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue.

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