YARD UPDATE '08: Dehler Yachting Group

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Enter Buchanan Capital and the ETAP acquisition...


The past six months have been important in the development of what we know as German sailing cruiser builder Dehler. Towards the end of ’07 the company’s owners, led since late ’04 by hands-on Dutch entrepreneur Wilan van den Berg (46), sold a minority stake in their business to German private-equity operation Buchanan Capital. Then in late January it was announced during the Boot Dusseldorf 2008 show that moneys raised had been put towards the acquisition for an undisclosed sum of 100 per cent of Malle, Belgium-based boatbuilding operation ETAP yachting.
“We are very proud to be taking over this boatbuilding operation and such a strong brand,” says Wilan van den Berg. “Our intention is to reposition the ETAP brand to compete with the likes of Scandinavian portfolios of Hallberg-Rassy and Najad… To use an automotive analogy, we see Dehlers as Porsches. ETAPs will be the new Volvos… We will be emphasising the quality and inherent safety of the ETAP construction approach and an easy, safe sailing concept to match… It’s an exiting time… The synergies between the two brands, Dehler and ETAP are enormous.”

'Buchanan Capital managing partner Peter Blumenwitz says ultimately the aim is to create a powerful network of small boutique yards. And he says more investment will be made available for right-fit businesses...' 

A similar turnaround has already been achieved with Dehler over the past few years since van den Berg got involved. Everything he and his management team have been doing with that operation has been geared to competing head-on with the likes of X-Yachts at the premium end of the production performance sailing cruiser spectrum. Prior to Wilan van den Berg, Dehler was in a sorry state, offering old models and too-low prices to make money.
The ETAP deal marks the start of a serious build-up strategy for what will forthwith be know as the Dehler Yachting Group, under which currently will be the Dehler and ETAP brands, but down the line may well include other brands.
Wilan van den Berg says Dehler and ETAP Yachting certainly fit very nicely together. “The target markets for Dehler and ETAP are completely different,” he says. “ETAP is about double-skinned unsinkable hulls, laminates on the interior that won’t scratch, no teak on the decks and so on… Dehler is about a richer, flashier experience - more wood, teak decks and so on.
Buchanan Capital managing partner Peter Blumenwitz says ultimately the aim is to create a powerful network of small boutique yards. And he says more investment will be made available for right-fit businesses.
“We expect to see more consolidation in the market in the future,” says Wilan van der Berg. “And the bigger we are, the more powerful and secure we’ll be… We will be looking for ‘back-office’ synergies as regards purchasing, production, marketing, administration and finance… We’d like to get the group up to the point where we’re doing 500-plus boats a year with three of four brands… I believe 500 is an important milestone, the point where everyone starts to take you seriously.
Beyond catering to its own growth, ETAP’s Malle facility, which has spare capacity, will help out with the expansion of Dehler operations… We’re undecided precisely how things will develop between our production facilities in Germany and Belgium. I don’t think it is important where the boats are built. Dehlers could be built in Belgium and ETAPs in Germany. It doesn’t matter… What is important is the finished product, the build quality and service support for them that we put in place… I am far more interested in brands than facilities… We envisage keeping dealer networks separate, but in areas where an ETAP dealer is under-performing we would probably look to offering the brand to existing Dehler dealers.”
Dehler hasn’t bought the land and buildings that the ETAP Yachting operation occupies. It rents those from the former parent company, the 400-employee ETAP Lighting operation, which is based on the same site. And note Dehler will only be a licensed user of the ‘ETAP’ brand, although there is no time limit for that agreement.
Certainly plenty is being invested in new products. Dehler has introduced a few new models drawn by Simonis-Voogd and plans to have rejuventated the whole range with that studio by the end of ‘11. The first new model from this new creative partner studio was the Dehler 44 and the first of the new Dehler 34s went in the water in September ’07. Then the first of a new flagship Dehler 60 should be seen imminently, followed by a new 40 for ‘09, a new 37 for ’10 and a 54 for ‘11. At the moment there are six mostly older Judel/Vrolijk-designed Dehler models available from 8.5—18m (29—60ft). They are the Dehler 29, the new 34, the 39SC, the new 44, the 47, the old flagship, and the new flagship 60.
For calendar ’04, prior to Wilan van den Berg’s impact, Dehler sold 85 boats to a value of €10.5 million, although note those numbers included 15 or more old Dehler 25s and 29s that were built by subcontractors in Poland. For ’05 the numbers were boosted to 120 boats to a value €15.3 million, so effectively up 50 per cent, a very good start to the Wilan van den Berg reign. Then for ’06 it managed 140 boats to a value of €21.7 million. And for ’07 Dehler did around 150 or so boats and close to €30 million in sales. The target for ’08 is 215 boats — incidentally getting on for 100 of which will be new Dehler 34s — and a turnover of €44-45 million.
The ETAP range includes the 21, 24, 28, 32, 37 and 46DS sailing cruisers and the 1100AC motorcruiser.
ETAP did 94 boats and around €10 million of turnover in ’07 with 65-70 employees. And the target for ’08 is not much more, say somewhere between €10-12 million.
So overall Dehler Yachting Group now employs some 220 people directly and should yield a total turnover for ’08 of €54-57 million.

For more, www.dehler.com.

© Phil Draper