YARD UPDATE '07: Sunseeker International

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Yard Updates

Record £230 million turnover for ‘06/07 and £26 million budgeted for ‘07/08; plus progress on a new 39m flagship model… September 2007 For the most recent Sunseeker Update, check out the January/February 2009 issue of Yachtbuilder International, the page-turning e-magazine just one click away from the right side of your screen.

With a portfolio that now includes some 20 or so powercruiser and motoryacht models from 10.4-39m (34-128ft), Poole, Dorset-based Sunseeker International, the world’s second-largest privately owned yacht builder, reported annual sales of £230 million on the sale of 310 boats for its year to the end of July ’07 — a 14 per cent rise over last year’s figure of £202 million. Moreover, the company’s operating profit also rose significantly — up 71 per cent from £7.3 million to £12.5 million, which equates to 5.4 per cent of sales.
And, yes, the budget for ‘07/08 is yet more growth.

Chairman, Robert Braithwaite: "Our order book is strong… In some cases delivery slots stretch through until 2011…"  

“We expect to see turnover reach around £265 million,” says CEO and chairman Robert Braithwaite. “Our order book is strong… In some cases delivery slots stretch through until 2011… The net profit figure for the coming year will also have increased. It should end up close to £16 million. So obviously our investments are starting to pay off too as regards efficiency too!”
There is no question that ever-bigger boats are the principal source of all Sunseeker’s sales growth over the past decade and more. Indeed the production tally has fluctuated around the 300 mark for years now. Currently the operation delivers something like 45 boats a year that are 24.4m (80ft) or longer. It currently builds a dozen — or one a month — of each of its popular Predator 82 and 82 Yacht models. Then it turns out another 10 — or one every five weeks — of its 90 Yachts and some four Predator 108s a year.
And remember that the 2007 London International Boat Show in January saw the first of its new flagship 37m (121ft) tri-deck motoryacht models shown for the first time and that the second handed over during the summer and the third should leave before the end of the year; and three of them a year is ‘to plan’. Plus another six or seven more of that particular model are on the order book.
There’s a lot more big stuff to come too. The 2008 London Int Bost Show should see Sunseeker show the first of its new 34m two-and-a-half-deck raised-pilothouse model, 14 of which have already been sold; it plans to build four of those a year. Then April will see the launch of the new Predator 92 and there will be a two-and-a-half-deck raised-pilothouse 30m (100ft) to unveil hopefully for London ‘09.
And looking even further ahead still, a new 39m (128ft) flagship model, probably to be known as the Predator 128, is in the ‘business plan’. Two orders for that one are already in ‘the bag’. The first Predator 128, a 30-knot-plus machine pushed along by twin 4000 Series MTUs, should complete for late ’09/early 2010 and number two, which follows a little later, will be capable of 43 knots or so thanks to a twin-waterjet installation.
As to Sunseeker going bigger still, Robert Braithwaite admits it is inevitable, although he stresses no firm decision has been taken. “Yes we will probably go to a composite 43-45m (140-148ft), but the first thing we do will be to start a tank-test programme.”
The other new models for ’07 included the 70 Yacht, 52 Predator and 52 Manhattan. The biggest of the three launched first at Cannes ’07 and the other two unveiled at Southampton at the end of the same week.
Beyond the considerable funding of model-development work, significant capital has also been made available for expansion of capacity, including the acquisition last year of the former Legend Yachts facility at Osprey Quay, Portland, on the UK’s south coast, which has already produced two Predator 108s that were fitted out in Poole and the new 34m was moulded there.

  Overall the company now employs around 2,000 people directly... 

Plus further expansion is also underway at New Quay Road in Poole, with the building of two new shipyards — not to mention a new 300-tonne hoist — at an estimated total cost of some £10 million over the next two years. The first of those halls comes on line in April and eventually the site should be capable of accommodating four 34m (112ft) models at any one time.
Overall the company now employs around 2,000 people directly – which means a sales-per-worker ratio of £130,000 — and the budget for the coming year will require another 140 staff or so to be found.
Earlier this year, Sunseeker received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for the fifth time, having increased its exports by more than £50 million over the last three years. Its exports now account for around 99 per cent of its production and come from literally all over the world. The overseas business comes some 60 or so international dealers.
“Geographically things remain good just about everywhere, save not surprisingly for the USA,” says Robert Braithwaite. “Overall our business in the States is slightly down, just some 25 boats a year now whereas a couple of years ago it was a consistent 30 or so and before that even more… But then everything we budget for the USA we still sell; and just about all our boats destined for the US are 70ft (21.3m) and above… It’s surprising considering the economy and the atrocious exchange rates, but the US market is still amazingly good when it comes to the bigger stuff.”
Sunseeker’s European market remains incredibly strong. “Just about all our dealers there could have taken more boats had we been able to build them, says Braithwaite. “Russia continues to do well… And the Far East continues to surprise… We’ve now sold a lot of boats to China and Hong Kong, many of them 60ft-plus… Australia is also very good.”
Certainly Sunseeker has come a long, long way since it first came into being in ’69. Indeed Robert Braithwaite started the company importing boats back then. It was only after the American giant Brunswick closed its Arundel speedboat plant in the UK and Braithwaite acquired a set of that operation’s tooling for a 5.2m (17ft) model that it finally embarked on its journey to become one of Europe’s biggest boatbuilders and certainly one of the world’s best known motorboat brands. The company’s first boat was completed in ’71, although the original company name back then was Poole Powerboats.
The quantum leap for the operation came in the mid ‘70s, when the Sunseeker brand found its way on to the boats. “We’ve never looked back really since we introduced the Sunseeker name,” says Braithwaite. “The boats we built were always good, but the brand really hit the mark, capturing the very essence of the market we’re chasing.”

  The Bank of Scotland has 15 per cent of the company... 

Significantly, despite years of rumours regarding an imminent acquisition, and there have been many, plus a few potential deals that came close to seeing the business sold, Robert Braithwaite told us recently that he had finally made up his mind to hang on to the his business. To that end he recently increased his majority shareholding with the help of Bank of Scotland Corporate Finance, buying his younger brother John’s share of the business, although the latter remains Sunseeker’s technical director. Bank of Scotland has 15 per cent of the company. Then members of the company’s top management team also have minority shares — for instance, finance director Peter Hennis, sales director Jonathan Macklin and production director Wayne Moore each have five per cent.

© Phil Draper