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Keeping your yard neat and tidy says a lot about the sort of company you are... Are you sure that you're projecting the right image? Phil Draper talks dirty.

MAY 2006

I was lucky enough recently to get a second look round one of the biggest superyacht builders of them all recently. Its not often Lürssen opens its doors to the press, so when it does one can’t help but feel privileged. While wandering around four of its five sites in around Bremen and Rendsburg a seasoned correspondent pal of mine from the USA posed a semi-rhetorical question that set me thinking. “Is this spotless yard stuff a Lürssen thing or a particular German thing?” he asked. I suggested it was probably a bit of both and then started musing about how yard visitors react to what they see – be they press, suppliers or clients.
I guess reactions depend upon whether the viewer is the tidy or untidy type. But does tidy translate to efficient? Probably not. On the face of it my father’s study is one of the most chaotic places imaginable. His desk is piled so high with papers and clutter that he hardly has sufficient elbow room in front of his half-buried computer. But then he is one of the most efficient people I know, often irritatingly thorough.
For some strange reason my desk gets tidier the more pressure I’m under. But tidy doesn’t appear to improve my efficiency. Often I’ll be tidying rather than writing. I guess it’s a case of ordering my physical environment prior to ordering my thoughts — a psychologist could probably put me straight as to why.
So, back to the yard thread, efficiency is not necessarily the issue. What must matter, however, is visitor perception. My guess is that tidy is likely to impress nine times out of 10, particularly for clients and customers. And if that’s true, then a lot of yards out there could do better — a lot better!
I’ll say no more now than recount a personal experience.

“I mumbled something diplomatic about it being ‘interesting’, a euphemism for not interesting at all and actually rather shitty...” 

Getting on for 10 years ago I chopped my old cruiser-racer in for a brand-spanking new sportsboat one-design that was being built in the UK at the time. It came complete or as a kit, the latter option requiring holes to be drilled and deck hardware to be bolted down and so on. The kit option saved a few thousand pounds sterling, so made irresistible sense to my stretched budget.
On the day I turned up at the yard to take the boat away on its trailer, I was rather disgusted to see that my new boat — albeit just a bare hull, deck and keel structure with mast strapped across its deck and everything else stowed in boxes and bags in the cabin — was filthy. There was no way of even checking the hull to make sure that the gelcoat wasn’t scratched or chipped. I remember the sales manager that greeted us was quite surprised when I told him I wasn’t taking the boat away until I could check a clean hull, but he took my request onboard and rallied half a dozen of the yard’s 20 or so staff to wipe the boat down and buff up the hull.
While the cleaning got underway, our man offered to show us round. It was a memorable half-hour. Now one of my oldest pals and regular crew happened to be with me that day. It was his 4x4 that was acting as tow vehicle. A professional chartered engineer from the construction industry, he is a particularly dry-witted soul and one with no qualms about telling it like it is. When asked at the end of the tour what we thought of the place, I mumbled something diplomatic about it being ‘interesting’, a euphemism for not interesting at all and actually rather shitty. My mate Hugh was blunt. He turned a head nonchalantly in the direction of the guy enquiring and said, with heavy sarcasm, “I’ve seen more impressive turkey farms… And don't for a moment think that I won't be forwarding the shoe-repair bill!”
I still chuckle whenever I picture that guy’s face.
So was that yard particularly bad. No. It wasn’t good, far from it. But it wasn’t the worst I’ve seen either. At the bottom of a long unmade road full of potholes and puddles, close to a smelly creek, its buildings were shabby at best and dilapidated at worst and the offices looked as if a stiff breeze would knock them flat. Much of its hardstanding appeared to be mud and its lamination hall was very sticky underfoot; the smell of styrene was everywhere. As said, nothing was too dreadful really. Indeed for many that haven’t yet felt the need to go the close-mould route, such things are normal practice. And there will be plenty of yards around the world today that will recognize some or all of their own facilities in the above description.
I’m in the business and am used to this sort of thing. My pal Hugh was not. He wasn’t impressed at all.
Does it make you wonder whether a clean up may be a good idea? Certainly clean and tidy can do no harm. I’ll say no more now on the matter than cite Azimut-Benetti, undoubtedly the most impressive group operation I have ever visited, and much of the Ferretti Group’s facilities. Most of these two’s facilities look fantastic and are the result of serious investment. And they’re kept looking fabulous. Has it worked for them? Well both those operations have grown over the past 10 from being relatively ordinary players to become, according to my reckoning, the fifth and four-largest boatbuilding operations in the world with respect to turnover. And both have steep graphs.
So the smart yard thing is not just a German trait after all. It’s simply what the very best players do! Everyone else can either choose to compete or not.
New brooms anyone?

© Phil Draper