Turnaround strategy shows Sunseeker making progress

The British builder is expanding U.S. sales with new dealers
Sunseekers are known for their luxury, from the staterooms to the saloons to the bridges.

Sunseekers are known for their luxury, from the staterooms to the saloons to the bridges.

Sunseeker International, the U.K.’s largest boatbuilder, has turned the corner and is showing a 44 percent increase in orders for its yachts this year and saw sales double in the United States last year, CEO Phil Popham says.

Popham, who took charge at Sunseeker two years ago after 25 years in management at Jaguar Land Rover, says he was hired to turn the company around after it suffered post-2008 recession reversals. The 50-year-old builder is making headway, he says.

“We reduced losses 70 percent the last two quarters and have shown a 20 percent growth in revenues this year,” he said in an interview at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

Purchased by the Dalian WandaGroup, a Chinese conglomerate, in 2013, Sunseeker has 50 million pounds ($62.5 million) to fund a five-year growth plan that will include extensive new product development, Popham says.

“We’ve built a new team and developed a turnaround strategy,” he says. “We’re investing in product, taking control of production, reducing losses.”

Sunseeker is expanding its U.S. sales through a new network of dealers — Strong’s Marine and Tri-State Marine on Long Island, New York, and Rick Obey & Associates in Dania Beach, Fla. — that are representing its brand.

He says the business had lost ground in sales over the years, but the brand remained strong, drawing on a DNA that combines British craftsmanship and performance with distinctive designs that feature large hull-side windows.

Sunseeker builds boats from 48 to 155 feet in Poole, England. It was displaying a 116 Yacht, 95 Yacht, a Manhattan 52 and Predator 68 MkII at the Fort Lauderdale show. The Manhattan 52 and Predator 68 MkII were making their U.S. debuts.

Dalian, Sunseeker’s Chinese owner, provided guarantees so the builder could borrow money cheaply to finance the turnaround, Popham says. The company has two main shipyards in and around Poole, employs 2,100 workers and builds 130 yachts a year.

About 50 percent of its production goes to Europe, mainly the Mediterranean, Popham says, 30 percent to America and the remaining 20 percent to the rest of the world.

CEO Phil Popham.

CEO Phil Popham.

“We think long-term a third of our market will be in the U.S.,” he says. “We’re almost there. We need to continue to grow that market.”

As the British pound has lost value after the U.K. decided to leave the European Union, Americans have been able to buy Sunseekers for less, he says.

Popham says 25 years at Jaguar Land Rover taught him well.

“There are a lot of similarities in the design, manufacture and service of luxury products,” he says. “I tried to bring a number of disciplines from the automotive industry into yachting,” including technology, planning and development.

There’s one big difference: Luxury yachts cost a lot more than luxury cars, he says.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue.


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