After a half century in Miami, the Ferretti-owned boatbuilder moves its production to Merritt Island
After more than 50 years in Miami, Bertram Yacht is relocating to Merritt Island, Fla., where it plans to build more and better boats in larger buildings and on a bigger piece of land on a navigable waterway.
Alton Herndon, president of the legendary builder, outlined the company’s plans during a May 9 press event at the company’s new home.
“Over four years ago the decision was made to relocate,” Herndon told a gathering of about 150 media members and Bertram employees. “A little over two years ago we got serious about [it]. We’ve outgrown the facility in Miami with the size [of yachts] we are building.”
Bertram looked at more than 30 plant sites from North Miami to Virginia Beach, Va., Herndon says. “At the same time we were looking, we cleaned up and reorganized the Miami facility” and sold it.
“We were looking for properties that were on navigable water and that preferably had large, tall buildings,” he says. “We wanted property that had at least 30 to 40 acres. And it goes without saying we were looking for a community to hire good employees. Thirty-five sites later, and ba-boom, here we are — Merritt Island, Fla.”
Herndon says the new 37-acre home satisfies all of those requirements, and it’s only 45 miles from Orlando International Airport. “In addition … we were able to stay in Florida,” Herndon said during the 30-minute presentation, which also saw several government officials speak, as well as Norberto Ferretti, chairman and founder of the Ferretti Group, Bertram’s parent.
Bertram already has begun the move, which officially starts this summer; the new address is 1230 Sea Ray Drive, Merritt Island, FL 32953. The molds for the Bertram 80 are on site. The company expects to begin work on the first boat in late September and complete the move during October and November. A yacht already begun in Miami — a Bertram 64 — will be relocated on its own bottom to Merritt Island for completion, says Bertram vice president of manufacturing Ken Beauregard. The first yacht to be built entirely at Merritt Island will be a 54, he says.
The move coincides with Bertram’s increase in production, Beauregard says. “We are almost in a ramp-up mode in Miami because of some sales orders that caused us to actually hire some people to finish the business we have [in Miami],” he says. “So it is an exciting time for us. We have been working our crews six days a week down there.”
Bertram has operated out of the same plant since 1951. “It’s old and has low ceiling heights — those are the biggest issues,” Beauregard says. “The 80 is a very tall boat once you put on the enclosed flybridge. Our tallest ceiling [in Miami] is 32 feet, compared to 60 feet here.”
The Miami facility is too small to launch the 80, Beauregard says. “A 500-ton crane must come in on 11 semi-trucks and it takes another crane to assemble the boat,” he says. “They actually lift this 180-ton boat up over a two-story building and into the water. As you can imagine, it is very expensive.” (Herndon says launching an 80 costs $75,000.) “But this [new] facility is perfect for launching our boats,” Beauregard says.
The company will try to relocate as many of its roughly 125 employees as possible and hopes to expand its work force to about 220 in the next few years, Herndon says.
The builder initially will operate out of an 87,000-square-foot building, and the company plans to erect a second building, Beauregard says. “We’ll have 111,000 square feet [operating] by the end of the year,” he says.
The Miami site has about 200,000 square feet. “But, again, a lot of it was unusable due to the sizes of the buildings,” Beauregard says.
The business climate in Miami is not conducive to growth for a recreational boatbuilder, Herndon says. “For us to spend the millions of dollars necessary to bring the [Miami] facility to the size it needed to be would have been a bad choice,” he told the gathering.
Bertram agreed to a seven-year lease and an option to buy with the Merritt Island site’s owner, Vectorworks Marine LLC (www.vectorworksmarine.com), which bought it from Sea Ray, says James Henderson, Ferretti Group chief marketing officer-North America.
In addition to Bertram, Ferretti owns several other boat brands, including Pershing, Riva and Mochi Craft.
“Vectorworks is going to provide us with infusion parts, so we are going to subcontract a segment of our parts production to Vectorworks,” Henderson says. “So it is a nice relationship in terms of the operating structure.”
Bertram uses no resin infusion processes in Miami, so the move also means the builder will run a “greener” operation — one that provides a better working environment for employees, too, Henderson says.
“We have a number of things going for us into the future,” he says. “One of those is the manufacturing facility, which is huge for us. Putting the brand here in Merritt Island — keeping it in Florida — keeps the heritage of the brand here. With a 37-acre site, we have significant opportunity for growth and expansion. It’s very accessible to Palm Beach, Stuart and Fort Lauderdale. The second step for us is a new model line, and we are working on that now. You can expect some great [yachts] coming out. And we will slowly start to rebuild the presence of the brand from marketing initiatives. Our goal is to bring the brand back to where it was in the 1980s.”
Henderson estimates that Bertram “will build 25 boats a year initially and then expand from there.” (Beauregard says the company will build 12 yachts in fiscal 2012.)
More specifically, Bertram is working on three new models from 50 to 80 feet, Herndon says.
“It’s hard to put in words the excitement we feel,” he says. “This is just one step.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.