Leopards And Spots...

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Sanlorenzo is being driven by a very smart management team. Don't believe them when they say they're going to keep it small! Phil Draper.

JULY 2006

I just recently completed a major report on Sanlorenzo. The story’s got all the right ingredients. There is plenty of photography and captions to show how this well-established Italian flybridge motoryacht specialist goes about building its boats, plus there’s a rattling good business development story to go with it. It’s all about how this rather traditional small-to-medium-size operation is now to be taken to the next level by an all-new management team. It’s about vision and ambition in equal measure and not the stuff of chancers, but of serious players, guys that already have considerable boatbuilding achievements under their belts and are now embarking on their next big adventure.

“It’s about vision and ambition in equal measure...”

 Since the previous longstanding owner-president Giovanni Jannetti sold out for retirement, the driving force behind Sanlorenzo is Max Perotti, who for many years sat alongside Paolo Vitelli on the board of Azimut-Benetti and played a considerable part in the growth of that business — which bear in mind is now Europe’s third-largest boatbuilding operation. Perotti cashed in his six per cent stake in Azimut-Benetti just over two and a half years ago and used the proceeds 18 months or so ago to acquire Cantiere Navale Sanlorenzo.
What Perrotti and his assembled team intend to do with the brand is certainly impressive. For a start the existing ‘SL’ flybridge motoryacht portfolio, which always begun around 60-foot mark and currently stops at the flagship 108, will be retained and gradually reinvigorated. The declared intention there is to maintain the status quo for a loyal and rather conservative Sanlorenzo owner’s club that now numbers around 500; undeniably a valuable source of potential clients for the future. So we are told there will be no sudden moves on that score. Product development will be ‘gently, gently’, and the models will remain strictly semi-custom offerings.
No. The declared big moves are to be made towards the top end, where two major brand initiatives are already well progress. The first of those concerns a new semi-displacement or ‘SD’ line of composite ‘navetta’ motoryachts that will be added to the portfolio. These will compete principally with the likes of the composite Benettis and Custom Line Navettas. They will be built not at the main Sanlorenzo plant in Ameglia, but at new and dedicated premises in the heart of Viareggio. Then at the very top end and also in Viareggio a new ‘metal division’ will build aluminium and steel/aluminium superyachts all the way up to 50m and beyond.
And all these developments are not talk. They’re in progress right now.
This means that the single Sanlorenzo brand could soon end up covering an amazing 60ft to 60m sector. No other operation can make such a boast.
Usually when big schemes like this are laid before me, I tend to be sceptical; because most business plans of this nature tend to be over-optimistic in terms of either scope and timeframe or both — but not so in this case. Having heard what the new Sanlorenzo management team has come up with I find my self doubting its tremendously ambitious plans for a rather different reason.

“I don’t actually believe Sanlorenzo’s ambitious plans for the long term. I think they are probably too pessimistic!” 

The top-end stuff all seems to stack up well — very ambitious certainly, but all achievable seeing as the right people and facilities are already in place. No. The doubt creeps in as regards the plans for the bottom half of the portfolio, the planing flybridge models that Sanlorenzo says it intends to keep strictly semi-custom affairs and for which it will keep volumes purposely low.
I understand the avowed logic of the ‘keep it small and exclusive’ decision. It is just I can’t quite believe the individuals concerned are capable of not scaling things up and perhaps in the process reducing the level of customer choice. Because guys like these do indeed know better than many of their customers. And the old adage about leopards not changing their spots springs to mind!
Remember Perotti’s Azimut days were all about delivering a relatively high standard of series-built boats to a global audience. So I find it inconceivable that the same person will be able to resist whipping it all up as he has done in the past and knows that he will be able to do in the future. So just for the record, and in the privacy of this column, I will say that I don’t actually believe Sanlorenzo’s ambitious plans for the long term. I think they’re probably too pessimistic!
And I don’t believe this is completely fanciful on my part either and I’ll tell you for why. Over dinner with ‘Max and Co’ during my two-day visit to Ameglia and Viareggio to research my feature, we ended up running through once again the detail design of the SD92, the first of what will in the medium term be a three-model navetta line-up. They brought out proudly the standard-choice GAs, which thus far have not yet been made public, and started enthusing about just how good they were and why buyers would be cueing up. Indeed, they told me that four SD92s had already been sold off the drawings and all four of those clients had gone for the yard’s standard proposal.
We were pouring over the exterior rendering when Perotti started enthusing about the hull colour in the image, a creamy-yellow that was chosen, he said, to provide some ‘distinction’. Having been totally absorbed by proceedings, it was at this point that a thought suddenly dawned. I had to interrupt. “Hang on a minute,” I blurted out, half laughing. “You guys are supposed to be semi-custom builders. Are you now telling me you’ve fixed the interior of a 90ft-plus model and you’re not even letting your clients select their hull colour?”
“Not at all,” is Perotti’s reply, his smile widening. “It’s simply that we have spent the past two years doing a serious amount of market research, analysing precisely what the owners of yachts such as this really want, and have worked through the best possible compromise, a winning formula… Now I guess a client could chose something different, but why on earth would they want to when this is so good?
And, of course, he has a point.
But, as said, leopards and spots!

© Phil Draper