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The Odd Couple?

Fraser Yachts booth at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

Fraser Yachts booth at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

While it seems like an odd partnership, both parties in the acquisition of Fraser Yachts Group by MarineMax are happy with the marriage. MarineMax is the consummate U.S. boat dealer, with 67 retail locations, a healthy charter division and even a boatbuilding business under the Aquila Yachts brand. Besides its BVI and Bahamian charter bases, it has no operations outside the U.S., not even in Canada.

By contrast, Fraser is one of the world’s largest yacht brokers, headquartered in Monaco, but with 20 offices and 160 employees around the world. It has a strong presence in Fort Lauderdale, as well as Hong Kong, Sydney, Spain and London. The business, sold by the Azimut-Benetti Group, has a largely European culture, since most large yacht and superyacht sales are transacted in Europe.

The odd couple?

Chuck Cashman, executive vice president at MarineMax who will oversee the Fraser business, doesn’t think so. “It’s an absolutely perfect marriage,” he told Trade Only Today. “We had a void and we filled it. We don’t do a lot in the segment where they live—brokerage yachts, crew placement, yacht management and large charter vessels. Fraser is a top-tier company that knows who it is. We’re not going to touch the name. The synergies will be awesome.”

Paolo Vitelli, chairman of the Azimut-Benetti Group, has spent the last 15 years building Fraser into one of the world’s top brokerage firms. “It’s several times bigger than when we bought it,” Vitelli told Trade Only Today. “It might sound strange, but we sold it because we want to use it more.”

Vitelli said that owning the Azimut and Benetti brands always gave Fraser a tint of divided loyalties in the yacht market. Owners and other brokers felt like they were doing business with Azimut, rather than an independent brokerage house. “The sale to MarineMax allows us to be totally independent,” says Vitelli. “Despite the appearance, owning Fraser did not give us any advantage. In fact, there was probably some disadvantage and I’m sure we lost business to competitors like Sanlorenzo and Ferretti.”

Vitelli said there were multiple buyers in line for Fraser, but he chose MarineMax to “provide a strong shoulder for this jewel.” Azimut has done business with MarineMax for 15 years. “They’re serious people and have the business knowhow to make this work,” says Vitelli. “If only one of every thousand MarineMax clients became a client of Fraser’s, the firm will have many new opportunities.”

MarineMax was thinking the same way about expanding business between the two companies. “Our yacht business is growing as fast as any other in our portfolio,” says Cashman. “We’ve sold thousands of yachts and sport yachts, but we seemed to lose them once we got over 60 to 110 feet. We’re super strong until that point. We’d often referred the business out when owners wanted to move up. We got tired of seeing them drift away at 120 feet.”

Yacht charter was the same way. “Our charter business remains very active, but when it got to the 100-ft.-plus size, many owners didn’t trust us as charter agents for their boats. They saw us a smaller yacht charter operator,” says Cashman. “That will all change.”

A side note of the agreement is that MarineMax now becomes the official dealer of the Benetti yacht line, which manufactures yachts from 85 to more than 300 feet LOA. MarineMax has ordered three Benetti Class yachts as stocking vessels for its boat shows.

“If the boats are in stock, we can sell them immediately instead of an owner having to wait two and a half years,” says Cashman. “You never find a dealer stocking superyachts. We’ll become far more relevant in the big-boat world through this stocking model. It takes some intestinal fortitude, but it will be an absolute game-changer.”

Cashman said the new Benettis on order will be designed “very thoughtfully,” so they appeal “to the largest number of people.”

The Fraser deal, said Vitelli, gave it more resources for new-product development, a key to competing with the Ferretti Group, Sanlorenzo, and Groupe Beneteau.

Fraser’s management will all remain. “It’s our hope that 100 percent of our company stays in place,” says Cashman, who is going to Monaco next week. “They’re a professionally run company, with a reporting structure and strong management team. We think the relationship will be phenomenal.”

Vitelli, who remains on Fraser’s board of directors, says the current Fraser management team is key to its continued success. “They have to be left to do their jobs,” he says. “And if they are, the relationship between the two companies will create opportunities. MarineMax will give an enormous advantage to Fraser.”

Cashman says that being a publicly traded company will also provide reassurance to Fraser clients. “Being listed on the New York Stock Exchange gives a certain pedigree and the assurance that we run a good business,” he says. “Our balance sheet is incredibly strong and the financial information is transparent and public. We think that will only help the business.” 

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