Hunt Yachts president Peter Van Lancker sees the launch of the Hunt Carefree Purchase Program as a sales incentive to move new boats, but also as a vehicle to take his company’s reputation for after-purchase service to new highs.
“It’s a competitive world, and we’re trying to differentiate ourselves,” he says. For customers, that means Hunt Yachts picks up the tab for nearly every expense during the first two years of ownership.
The program, included with the purchase of a new Hunt 44, 52 or 68 Express or Flybridge Motoryacht, covers all recommended maintenance, commissioning and decommissioning, winter storage and other services for two years at no additional cost to the buyer. The builder also extends its Hunt Warranty Assurance on structure and components to two years with the program. Hunt also picks up the two-year tab for Vessel Vanguard ship’s log service; remote vessel monitoring and boat monitoring by Siren Marine; and a two-year membership in BoatUS.
Van Lancker estimates that the Carefree program saves a customer between $80,000 and $120,000 in no-cost benefits over two years, depending on the model, personal design decisions and the home port. “But we feel the true value comes from the peace of mind that Hunt will take care of all service and storage costs for each yacht for the first two years of ownership,” he says. “That’s soup-to-nuts service. The customer just pays for insurance, fuel and dockage.”
Base prices for the yachts in the Carefree Purchase Program are $1.35 million for the 44, $2.055 million for the 52, and $3.22 million for the 68.
The impetus for the program comes from customers, Van Lancker says. “Some are moving up to a larger boat. For others, owning one of our boats is something they dreamed about, but boating is a completely new experience,” he says. “In either case it can be intimidating, so we’re trying to take that intimidation away.”
Hunt builds boats from 25 to 68 feet, and plans are being developed to extend a similar type of “carefree” coverage to its smaller models.
Van Lancker says the program, modeled after those offered by luxury car manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, is the most comprehensive service package he has seen offered in the marine industry. The program also includes on-water training, from gaining confidence in docking at Hunt’s Portsmouth, R.I., waterfront facility to understanding the boat’s systems and machinery.
“We have always been very concierge-minded about service after the sale,” Van Lancker says, “but this is really about taking that whole customer experience in building and customizing their boat to learning how to handle it. We’re already oriented toward servicing our customers, so this adds to the other part of the equation — after the delivery.”
If a buyer keeps a boat in a location where it’s not practical to take it to one of Hunt’s four certified East Coast yards, the company, through its Portsmouth headquarters, will make arrangements for service at an appropriate facility near the boater’s home port. At Hunt-certified yards, there is no ambiguity about what the program covers. “I got a call from one of our yards, and they asked, ‘What happens if [a customer] comes to us?’ I said, ‘I pay you to do the service.’ ”
Van Lancker says Hunt Yachts has done well to carve out a niche in the semicustom boatbuilding segment, and he attributes that to customer service and having a great product to sell. He says a goal for new-buyer sea trials is to take each client out in “snotty” conditions and run the boat hard.
“Our boats are so capable, so predictable, stable, dry and safe, but a new customer may never experience rough conditions, so we want to show them just how well our boats handle,” he says. “That’s part of the experience. If you run into conditions like that, you’ve got the machine to handle it.
“There’s a lot of sizzle and style being sold out there — sometimes style for style’s sake. But after that it comes down to what does the boat do in the water. We’re all about that,” Van Lancker adds. “Our edge is in the performance of our boats.”
The ultimate success of the Carefree program will be judged by Hunt’s circle of customers, Van Lancker says. “The real reward is, after all the work in designing and building a customer’s boat, to hear them express their appreciation for the boat,” he says. “If the customers are happy and satisfied and they have a great experience, that will drive future sales.”
Van Lancker says Hunt Yachts weathered the Great Recession and posted “our best year” in 2012. “We were able to grow in a down market, both in number of boats sold and total dollars,” he says.
New-boat and brokerage sales were made across all model lines, and the company’s service department also posted a strong year. “All cylinders were hitting it last year,” he says. “Nobody was immune to the recession, but the economy seems to be returning, and we still have no debt. Every year is a challenge, but it seems like we’re out of the woods.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue.