Q&A with Jeanneau America president Nicolas Harvey

As president of Jeanneau America, Nicolas Harvey is responsible for several of the brands in parent company Beneteau’s growing portfolio.
“Resolutely timeless and easy to handle,” the Leader 36 is particularly well suited for short cruises with family or friends, Harvey says.

“Resolutely timeless and easy to handle,” the Leader 36 is particularly well suited for short cruises with family or friends, Harvey says.

As president of Jeanneau America, Nicolas Harvey is responsible for several of the brands in parent company Beneteau’s growing portfolio. He oversees Jeanneau sailboats, which have grown market share and presence in North America during the past seven or eight years, as well as Jeanneau’s powerboat operations, which only recently began a push in the North American markets.

Harvey is also responsible for Prestige, a brand that has taken off since it arrived in the Americas in 2011. Glastron and Wellcraft, two of the brands Beneteau picked up after acquiring Rec Boat Holdings, also have been added to Harvey’s portfolio.

Born and raised in France and having worked assignments around the globe, Harvey now lives with his wife and two daughters in Annapolis, Md. Soundings Trade Only caught up with him to ask about the success Prestige has enjoyed in the short time it has had a presence in North America, plans for the other brands and differences between American and European marketplace demands.

Q: Can you tell me about your background? Where were you prior to joining Jeanneau? How long have you been with the company?

A: I joined the group in 2003 after having started my career in the automobile industry in England. My first assignment in Group Beneteau was here in Annapolis, working on developing the dealer network and sales for Lagoon catamarans. They’re cruising cats, sailing boats and powerboats, ranging from about 30 to about 62 feet, and they are part of Beneteau Group, as well. I did this for six years.

Then I left the Lagoon division of the group to join Jeanneau and Prestige as a regional sales director covering a range of countries. That job was based in Europe, so I left Annapolis and moved to Jeanneau’s office on the west coast of France. I managed Spain, Portugal, part of the French market and South America for Jeanneau and Prestige.

I did that for about five years, and in late summer of 2014 I came back to the U.S. to take on my current job, which is president of Jeanneau America, to oversee the distribution, sales and marketing for Jeanneau and Prestige in North and South America.

I was already in charge of the South American market, so I hired a guy to take my old job but reporting to me, and began to manage the whole of the American continent from the Annapolis office.

Harvey and his family enjoy the water, getting out as often as time permits. Here they relax on the stern of a Jeanneau 64.

Harvey and his family enjoy the water, getting out as often as time permits. Here they relax on the stern of a Jeanneau 64.

Q: That’s a lot of moving. Do you have a family?

A: Yeah, actually, I got married here in America during my first stint. My wife is from this area, and we have two kids. I brought everybody to France with me for five years, and then everybody back here almost two years ago. My wife knew the French culture. She worked for 10 years at Jeanneau America. It’s actually how we met. I was in the Lagoon office and she was at Jeanneau in the same building.

My kids grew up speaking French and English, so transitioning was pretty easy. Being in France is good because I was born and raised there, and my family is there. But it’s hard to complain about life in Annapolis. I love it here.

Q: The group made a major announcement in Miami regarding the companies and brands moving forward. Can you update us on that? Are dealers adding brands as planned? How are they accepting the added brands?

A: The decision was basically made when Roch Lambert, the previous CEO of RBH [Rec Boat Holdings], the legal entity that owned the three plus one brands, departed. You’ve got three traditional brands — Glastron, Wellcraft and Four Winns, and more recently there was a fourth brand being launched, Scarab jetboats.

When Roch left, he was not replaced and the decision was made to put two brands under the umbrella of Jeanneau and two under Beneteau. Laurent [Fabre, Beneteau America president] took on Four Winns and Scarab jet. I took on Wellcraft and Glastron.

There are opportunities on a national level, and a lot of opportunities on an international level, of course. Because as you can imagine, the network of Jeanneau in Europe is extremely dense, so integrating those brands on that network is going to create humongous opportunities for Glastron and Wellcraft. Here in the U.S., the story’s a little bit different because they have established dealer networks for those two brands. We’re actually looking for synergies the other way around, where the Glastron dealer network could help us establish, in a faster way, some of the French product that we’re bringing in.

Q: Can you tell us about manufacturing? Have you begun to leverage some of the synergies in terms of former RBH brands?

A: Naturally people are expecting that one day we might manufacture some of the European product in the facility that we have building Glastron and Wellcraft. At the moment we have not yet started that. It’s at the second stage [of the integration process].

Q: I imagine there would have to be facility changes or upgrades and changes in workforce and training before that can happen.

A: Yes, definitely. It will take some adjustment before we can carry that over. I don’t manage any of the production aspects, so I couldn’t even start to tell you what adjustments would be needed, but I imagine it would require an adjustment.

“Resolutely timeless and easy to handle,” the Leader 36 is particularly well suited for short cruises with family or friends, Harvey says.

“Resolutely timeless and easy to handle,” the Leader 36 is particularly well-suited for short cruises with family or friends, Harvey says.

Q: How do you see the various brands playing out in the future?

A: We can’t forget that we benefit from an excellent position in the market with our sailing boats. It’s no secret that the new sailboat market has been reducing year after year over the past 10 years, which is a shame.

Certainly the cruising sailboat market over 30 feet has reduced significantly, but Jeanneau enjoys a very solid second position in that market behind our sister company, Beneteau. The objective we have for Jeanneau is to clearly maintain that No. 2 and inch as close as possible to No. 1. We have actually had amazing market share growth with Jeanneau sailboats over the past seven or eight years, gaining about 10 points of market share. We have gone from about 16 percent market share to about 26 percent, according to Info-Link registration data, excluding Delaware.

The great thing about Jeanneau sailboats is we benefit from having an excellent image, which helps accelerate Jeanneau’s powerboat business. Obviously we try to leverage that image to Jeanneau powerboats, which is the latest venture in the United States. The objectives that we’ve set out for the coming years for Jeanneau power is to continue to develop that dealer network — hence the importance of our association with Glastron and Wellcraft.

Jeanneau power is a competitive segment. We’re talking about sport boats between 27 and 45 feet. There are so many actors in that market — Formula, Sea Ray, Monterey, Chaparral — there are so many of them that it’s a very tough market to crack. But we have a very different product that has some unique features to it, such as the use of space.

And also we are unique in what we bring to market from a fuel-consumption standpoint. When you talk about fuel consumption, it’s not just about how many gallons an hour you burn. It’s also important because the less you burn, the less you have to carry for a similar range. The less you have to carry, the more you can use the space on board for things other than fuel tanks.

We have three lines under Jeanneau power we’re focusing on. As a reference, the brand that’s spearheading Jeanneau power is a brand called Leader. Just to give you an example, Leader in France is a brand that’s about as established as Kleenex for tissue paper. Here people walk down the dock and see a 30-foot hardtop or a sliding-roof sporty boat, and you’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a Sea Ray,’ but in France you’d say, ‘It’s a Jeanneau Leader.’ So we know we can leverage that and try to reproduce the same thing in the U.S.

Then we have Prestige — woo hoo! That’s a whole other thing because we have continued to gain market share in a big way since we introduced the brand in early 2011. With Prestige Yachts from 42 to 75 feet, we literally went from being nonexistent in the market to being in the top three between 50 and 75 feet, which is just amazing.

I don’t want to say it’s beyond our wildest dreams because we worked hard for it, but certainly it’s been a great success. I’ve actually got the latest extract from Info-Link in front of me right now, and among selected brands that are comparable — so we don’t include things like Down East-style boats or trawlers — but amongst the usual suspects in express cruisers and flybridge boats like Sea Ray, Azimut, Sunseeker, Riviera, Tiara, Maritimo, Marquis, Fairline, Ferretti, Regal, Meridian, Cruisers Yachts, Carver, all of those, amongst all of those guys between 50 and 75 feet, we are a very close second to the No. 1 in registrations. It’s very encouraging for what we are continuing to do with Prestige and what we are now trying to do with Jeanneau power.

Q: What are some new models in the lineup, and which ones seem to be resonating with American consumers? I know Beneteau has a strong presence in North America and listens to its American customers and dealers to make boats specific to this market, but what is it about these brands that consumers like that is causing them to pick up market share?

A: Some of the elements I mentioned about Jeanneau power apply to the Prestige lineup, as well. Certainly the use of space and the timeless design is an absolutely key factor. If you look at all of our competitive set out there, I think of all of them — of course, I have a slightly biased view, but I’m trying to be impartial — the design of the Prestige is maybe a little less radical or contemporary. Actually, it’s contemporary, but it’s not too modern.

Some designers get confused between fashionable and contemporary. They want to design a contemporary boat, but they end up designing a fashionable boat. The problem is, fashion passes, whereas you can buy a 1950s piece of contemporary furniture and it’s still current. That’s really what has been the noticeable difference and has set Prestige apart from a lot of competitors.

Also if you look at the outside design of the Prestige you’ll see we have continuous windows around the salon area. Not on the hull area, but on the upper part of the boat, which gives almost 360-degree visibility around from the inside out. Plus we use all the technology that allows us to build a light but strong boat — vacuum bagging, resin-infused from 55 feet and up, and I think the American market recognized those advantages.

When you think that we are penalized about having to pay transport to bring the Prestige all the way from France, you can imagine how much headway we would make if we didn’t have to pay transport. It’s a great testimony for the recognition Prestige has received.

Prestige is one of the fastest-growing lines Harvey oversees. This is the Prestige display at the Dusseldorf Boat Show.

Prestige is one of the fastest-growing lines Harvey oversees. This is the Prestige display at the Dusseldorf Boat Show.

Q: Some of the Leaders are somewhat smaller, as well. How does it make sense to pay freight on those?

A: Well, the smaller the boats for sure, the more impact the shipping cost has. But the transfer of technology from one boatbuilding unit in one country to another is very hard to do. So it’s not something we can do easily or very lightly. We are not ready right now. We’ve been building sailboats in the U.S. for 30 years almost of the Beneteau brand, and I think six or seven years for the Jeanneau brand at the factory in South Carolina, so we have experience in transferring the technology, but we take our time and don’t rush into it.

Q: What are some of the goals for the brands moving forward? I know you talked a little bit about Jeanneau and Prestige already.

A: To summarize on Prestige, we want to continue to get market share. The 40-plus segment is an extremely active segment. We’re looking at double-digit growth in that sector in terms of registrations. It’s an everyday fight. There are lots of new entrants every day. People are looking at the success of Prestige and thinking, we want a piece of that pie, too. So our objective is going to be to continue to gain market share and stay in the top three in that 50-to-75-foot range.

And since I inherited two more brands, I’m the lucky winner that has to establish some objectives for the other two brands. But it’s pretty easy, actually, because Glastron and Wellcraft are absolutely fantastic brands with a big heritage. Wellcraft is a brand that had been left dormant for so many years, so our No. 1 objective is to establish this iconic fishing brand, and we’ve launched a lot of new product in the past 12 months — four new boats, as a matter of fact — two new center consoles and two new bay boats. The bay boats are those type of center consoles that have a lower freeboard, and you typically see them on smaller bodies of water.

And then Glastron is also a deep-rooted 60-year-old brand, much like Jeanneau, actually. The objective we have for Glastron is to bring the excitement and exhilaration of a boat that’s fun to drive and that has a modern twist on your typical runabout.

The heritage of Glastron is massive. Glastron was the James Bond boat in “Live or Let Die” in 1972. There’s an iconic jump in that red, I think it was a 15-footer. Actually that jump earned Glastron a world record for jumping on a boat. I think the record stood for several years before somebody did a bigger jump.

A less known story about Glastron is it was the original Batman boat. I took a picture at the factory up in Michigan; the Batboat was built specifically for Batman and Robin in the television series and the 20th Century Fox production of “Batman. “It doesn’t look like any of the Glastrons we sell today, but it’s a fun PR opportunity.

And I didn’t mention Wellcraft made the news in a big way in “Miami Vice” because the Don Johnson boat is a Wellcraft. It used to be called a Scarab Offshore Edition. It was a 38-foot go-fast boat. We don’t build them like that anymore, but everybody knows about the Wellcraft Scarab offshore boat from “Miami Vice.” Not a lot of people know that “Baywatch” also had a Wellcraft on their show.

Q: I always thought that the “Miami Vice” boat was a Scarab.

A: Yes, that’s a little confusing because Roch thought the Scarab name was strong, so he relaunched a whole new brand using that name. The Scarab jetboat line has nothing to do with the Wellcraft Scarab. Scarab Offshore is still a name that we use on the sporty packages of the Wellcraft, but also the name of a jetboat line that was started from scratch three years ago. So there’s a little bit of confusion there, but maybe this story will help clarify that.

Q: What are some of the challenges ahead? And what do you think you’ve accomplished thus far?

A: The biggest challenge for me is facing the growth you can see for Jeanneau and Prestige, and now including Wellcraft and Glastron. I would say the major achievement we’ve been able to do here is build a solid team in Annapolis. Since we were confronted with the rapid growth of our brands, we faced many, many challenges. The biggest thing I think I achieved is rebuilding a solid team around me because, as you know, having people you can rely on is absolutely key. When you look at the growth of Jeanneau and Prestige, without even talking about Glastron and Wellcraft, in the space of about five years we went from having to support a dealer network of 18 or 19 dealers to having to support a dealer network of, like, 45 dealers. Since I moved here two years ago that’s been the hardest thing to do, but also the more interesting.

The other thing I feel quite proud of is having attracted some of the heavyweights in the industry from a dealer standpoint to represent our brands.

Q: How do the various brands incorporate “American” stylings and preferences? What are some things that Americans like that are considered unusual or different from other parts of the world?

A: Over past years we’ve constantly improved features of our product to match global, but also local American demand. An example is the Prestige 550. Up on the flybridge, the boat originally had a soft Bimini, but all of the clients in this segment demanded a hardtop, like a fiberglass top. To the guys in France, it would never have crossed their minds to do that.

We were able to push that demand through, and we’re now offering the Prestige 550 with a hardtop Bimini. That’s a good example of us being able to adapt the boats to the local demand. Actually, believe it or not, to a European boater it does not appeal to them to have a hardtop Bimini. However, for an American boater it’s a must.

Q: Why does that appeal to some and not others? I feel like I see soft Bimini tops on flybridges where I live in Boston.

A: When we talk about the market for yachts 45 and 50 feet plus, you know that 50 percent of that is in Florida. It’s so hot, you can’t stay in the sun in Florida. You need a hardtop over your head to give you shadow all the time. In Europe, if the sun doesn’t shine and if they’re in the shade, generally they’re cold. They need a way to open up that Bimini so the sun is shining while they’re boating to compensate for the fact that it’s a little chillier.

The hardtop — some do have an opening on the 75- or 80-foot boats, but on a 55 it’s too small to have an opening in the middle. So the Europeans want the ability to fold up the canvas to have the sun up there. It’s a major market need difference that we had to adapt. There might be more soft tops where you live because it’s probably a little more like the European market. But in Florida, I can assure you it’s 100 percent of the boats with hardtops.

Another difference is the general output of systems. We now have three different levels of air conditioning — a basic air conditioning that gets sold in countries that hardly need air conditioning. Then we have what we call the Mediterranean air conditioning, and then there is what we call the tropical air conditioning. The tropical air conditioning was developed specifically for the U.S. market. You know how you like to walk into a store and have that gush of cold air. The French hate that.

Q: I hate that, too.

A: But the guy that’s spending a million and a half on his toy wants that gush of cold air like right down his neck when he walks onto his boat. Even in Chicago. We have tremendous success with Prestige in Chicago, and they need that AC there, too. Everything needs to be stronger for American buyers.

The original Batboat was designed from a Glastron V-174, complete with flashing beacon and glowing eyes and a tail fin Bat signal.

The original Batboat was designed from a Glastron V-174, complete with flashing beacon and glowing eyes and a tail fin Bat signal.

Q: What shocked or confused Americans about the French boats? Or what surprised you about this market?

A: The biggest thing is the use of space. They just cannot believe how much we can fit in a 50-foot boat. On a 50-foot Prestige, you have three staterooms — one master, one VIP, one guest. The master stateroom on the Prestige 500 has a separate staircase. And you even have some kind of a fourth cabin because on a Prestige 500 Fly there is a crew quarter, which most of our owners actually use for storage. You’re asking me what shocks an American buyer when he walks onto the Prestige — that does — that along with the 360-degree visibility that we talked about earlier. That’s available in the 550 hardtop. All of that shocks American buyers.

Q: I know your focus is on the Americas, but what are some emerging markets, or what’s the general feel around the world?

A: Europe is having a great comeback this year. It’s really great news. It’s still a little harder, even though we’re one of the world leaders at Group Beneteau, along with Brunswick Group and some of the Italian builders. It needs to work everywhere for us to be sustainable, and Europe is back on. Spain is enjoying double-digit growth in terms of registrations of new boats. Italy is really coming back. England and Germany are doing amazingly well and it all helps.

Q: Can you talk about consumers today, versus prior to the recession? Have people changed how they purchase? What are they looking for? Is that different in Europe versus America?

A: I think they’re changing a little bit. I think that in America they’re probably moving away a little bit from owning the biggest gas-guzzler V-8 to taking a more sensible approach. I think that also they’re looking at the boat to bring them more functionality. It’s a more versatile approach.

Q: Do you think Americans are starting to prefer the more environmental approach, or do you think that’s just a result of emissions regulations?

A: I think they are changing. I mean, look at the incredible success of Tesla cars. Who would’ve thought that in America you could have such huge success from an electrically powered car where, come on, V-8 is the king. I think the American mentality is changing a little bit toward being more reasonable and looking at getting more functionality out of what they buy. We’ve been lucky in that this has actually been a demand of the European market for years, so we’re just coming in at the right time.

It’s starting to change, big time. And in Prestige and Jeanneau boats we were already doing that because that’s what Europe has been demanding. And I think the mentality is definitely shifting in the U.S.

Q: How is the group’s season going so far? How have the shows been?

A: It is a good year. I think the boat shows, more than ever, are where clients buy boats. Our budget spend at shows has increased enormously because of that. We’ve enjoyed some really good shows. Of course, it’s not like it used to be because there used to be so many more boats sold in general. Between 2006 and 2009 the worldwide boating dollar amount was literally cut in half.

So of course you no longer go to a show where manufacturers sell 20 of this and 20 of that, but I think the proportion of boats sold at shows is higher now than it ever was. We’ve definitely increased our boat show presence. Of course, the range of boats has increased so dramatically that we’ve had to take up more space.

In general, we are happy. We’ve received the number of orders that we would expect to have at this time of the year to meet our yearly target.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue.


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