Written by Scott Alle
Branding is an investment vital to any company’s success, though all too often it’s overlooked until there is a serious problem (think Uber’s recent horror run of negative stories).
Of course, if you are rebranding it helps if you have a good story to tell, and even better if you have a long-established product with a well-deserved reputation for excellence.
Fortunately, that’s the case for Ocean Alexander, the respected Taiwan-based builder that’s refocusing on the Australian and New Zealand market after several years of consolidating its position in the United States.
“In a sense we are starting from zero,” acknowledges Todd Holzapfel, Director of Alexander Marine Australia. “We have to establish brand awareness and brand confidence,” he adds. “We should be able to do this based on our brands in other markets.”
Holzapfel can probably relax a little bit. There’s a lot of residual goodwill in the Australian boating fraternity toward Ocean Alexander, given they have been turning out hulls of extremely high quality, generous beam and standout craftsmanship since 1978. Pre-owned Ocean Alexanders enjoy very solid resale figures due to the company’s core values of advanced engineering, quality construction and attention to detail.
The Americans have been big fans of Ocean Alexander since its inception. Indeed, the company’s first hull, the Mark 1, was a 50-foot classic pilothouse design by renowned naval architect Ed Monk Jr and intended for cruising Seattle’s Puget Sound and beyond to Alaska. It proved a success and there are still Mark 1s safely delivering their adventurous owners to remote anchorages today.
More than 2,000 vessels and 40 years later, Ocean Alexander has evolved into a global yachting powerhouse. The popularity of its model range from 70 to 155 feet (21.3 to 47.2 metres), has propelled OA into the top ranks of the world’s motor yacht builders where it currently occupies seventh position in terms of output of boats above 70 feet.
The company’s successful strategic direction and organic growth is very much driven by CEO Johnny Chueh, who has headed the group since 1999, taking over from his father and company founder Alex.
Interestingly, Australia is familiar territory for the Ocean Alexander boss. His parents’ desire for Johnny to obtain an international education led to him spending his high school years in Sydney, before heading to the University of Chicago to undertake an Economics degree.
Backing up his credentials from the top economics school, the younger Chueh spent a diverse factory-floor apprenticeship including learning fiberglass lay-up, woodworking, mechanical systems, electricals and boat finishing. He also gained front office experience, handling OA’s communications.
According to Holzapfel, his CEO’s grounding in all aspects of the business (including time owning his own dealership in the US), has given Chueh a rare grasp of the multi-faceted aspects of boat building.
“He’s been around boat-building his all life,” Holzapfel notes. “The retail arm in the US is called Alexander Marine USA. In a sense he’s a very sympathetic boat manufacturer, he distributes a lot of brands. With his other hat on he’s a dealer for Azimut, Regal, Tiara, Galeon and Aquila Catamarans. He is one of the largest boat retailers in the world. It’s important because dealing with retailing concepts and consumers he’s genuinely interested and can add genuine value to that. We are in a lifestyle business and we know if we are not doing a good job at the point of sale and in service our business won’t flourish,” he says.
While Ocean Alexander has diversified its retail portfolio, it has never built yachts for other companies. It’s an important distinction – one that CEO Chueh is extremely aware of.
“From day one, we worked on our own brand,” was his response when asked for the reason behind OA’s success. “That has given us a deep understanding of customers’ needs and trends. Also, we’ve been among the first in the world to introduce certain technologies to yachts, such as resin vacuum infusion, aerospace electrical systems and aerospace-grade paints,” Chueh states, justifiably proud of his company’s ability to embrace new technology and processes.
With Alexander Marine Australia is now wholly owned by the Taiwanese parent company, potential owners can be reassured they can draw on the significant resources of one of Asia’s biggest and best recreational yacht builders.
OA employs nearly 700 people in four separate factories spread across the huge southern port city of Kaohsiung. In 2016 it opened a new, state-of-the art factory on Merritt Island, Florida. The company is pushing into new markets, including Europe, helped by very solid financial underpinnings of a recent annual profit of AU$18 million, on a global turnover of AU$180 million a year.
The Australian arm of the company is also set to benefit from the brand’s release of edgier products like the 90R (R for revolution) and 70E (E for evolution).
The Revolution series opens up the OA brand to a new group of buyers who are more interested in contemporary interiors,” Holzapfel explains.
The 90R, which debuted at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show late last year, attracted long lines of dockside admirers and a swathe of positive reviews, including ours. Ocean praised attributes such as the plumb blow, curved glass doors which open out to large beach club, along with expansive hull windows as ‘striking… exciting and different.’
The plumb and high bow configuration creates extra space on the 90R’s accommodation deck. Similar highly desirable traits say Holzapfel will be shared by the new 84R, which is in build, with one unit destined for Australia.
Meantime though, Alexander Marine Australia’s flagship for boat shows and events in 2019 will be a brand new 88 Skylounge. The Skylounge model boasts a fully enclosed flybridge, a desirable option for extended cruising along the Australian coastline. Replacing the 85 Alexander, the 88 is a long-range, self-sufficient blue water thoroughbred with elegant appointments, four staterooms and heads, a massive country-inspired galley and voluminous lounging space.
Holzapfel is in the very enviable position, from a dealer’s perspective, of being able to offer products which are genuinely different from the competent but somewhat monochromatic offerings of other big global players.
Two cases in point: OA’s new Divergence Series and the Galeon brand, both new products under the Alexander marine Australia banner.
For the uninitiated, one of the big recent trends in the huge North American boating market is the explosion in upmarket sports day boats powered by three or four hulking outboard engines.
The attractions of these kinds of craft – speed, access to the water, party-sized deck space – makes them an ideal fit in many of Australia’s top boating destinations. An afternoon out on the Gold Coast Broadwater or Sydney Harbour will quickly convince you we already embracing the centre console “quad-rig.”
“There’s a strong demand for this kind of boating,” agrees Holzapfel. “The 45 Divergence is a customisable, 45-foot luxury sport boat which combines performance and style,” he outlines. “Outboard quad-rig. Fold-out gunwales. Day-boating in comfort. The simplicity of the dynamic is attractive.”
There will be a shining new 45 Divergence, fresh from Ocean Alexander’s state-of-the-art Florida factory at this year’s Sydney International Boat Show. Moored nearby will be one of the distinctive Galeon brand – either a 46 or a 51.
Built in Poland, Galeon are a new, welcome entrant to our market. The fact Germany has traditionally been the main destination for these boldly-styled, gadget laden offerings is a selling point – the Germans are big on quality. Galeons have received an enthusiastic reception in the US.
“The brand has achieved considerable success in the US, it’s a 30-year-old business,” Holzapfel backgrounds.
“Their performance and sea-keeping is on par with any of the European competitors that are offering similar products,” he continues. “The point of difference with Galeon includes the fold-out balconies and glazing. When you are on board the boats they are really refreshing.
“Galeon will not be just another European boat in a crowded marketplace. We believe it’s a game-changer. People will see the functionality,” he says confidently.
“Galeon stands out with these features. In that size (46 and 51 feet), I think they will be really well received in Australia. Galeon’s CEO will be joining us at Sanctuary Cove. It will be interesting to receive market reaction to the models we will be exhibiting.”
Engaging and interesting designs are vital ingredients to creating consumer interest, but luxury boat buyers’ expectations in a global marketplace quite rightly extend to high quality after sales support and service – another grafted feature of the global car brands.
Large, truly ocean capable boats are sophisticated and complex engineering creations, requiring specialist technical knowledge. Alexander Marine Australia is only too aware of this and has set-up a comprehensive facility at The Boat Works in the Coomera Marine Precinct on the Gold Coast.
“Our service capabilities are as good as they get,” Holzapfel says. “Our strength is the yard we have here and the relationships we have. As the business grows we will make further investments in that area.”
It’s one of several key areas highlighted in a tailored business plan to ensure Ocean Alexander achieves its potential in Australia and New Zealand.
“We definitely swim in our own lane. That’s a combination of the product we sell, and people getting more confidence in the brand,” he observes.
In brand terms, Ocean Alexander has the architecture, put solidly in place by decades of consistent delivery of a product of uncompromising quality.
It can now overlay that with a diverse range of new head turning boats which guarantee a favourable first impression.