27 April 2023
In some ways, success can be hard to quantify at Riviera. Rodney Longhurst, who bought the ailing brand out of receivership in 2012, prefers not to talk numbers.
What cannot be denied, however, is that the Coomera-based yard is leading the charge both locally and overseas, building 160 yachts a year and opening up new markets as foreign boaters wake up to the capabilities of Australian-made product.
Just as the rest of the world has experienced swinging extremes since the pandemic hit in early 2020, so too Riviera has navigated the early troughs and is now riding the global wave of demand that has sent boatbuilding into overdrive in the past 18 months, even as supply chain issues, cost-of-living crises and conflict in Europe threaten to close out the break.
At Riviera, it has meant continued improvement and expansion at the 14-hectare yard site, as well as continued model development as the Riviera range goes from strength to strength, with a firm focus on customer boating experiences rather than statistics.
Ocean magazine: What do you have coming up in 2023?
Rodney Longhurst: We have two world premieres this year, neither of which we can talk about right now because we haven’t announced them yet. One will definitely be at the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show in May, and one will premiere later in the year.
We also launched the 46 Sport Motor Yacht in December 2022, which was extremely well received here – it’s having its American premiere at the start of March in Florida. Being an open flybridge boat with an aft helm, it pays homage to Rivieras of the past but with all the new technology, design, luxury and performance that people are drawn to with Riviera today.
Our only boat show appearance in Australia in 2023, Sanctuary Cove will be an 11-boat showcase drawn from our latest range of yachts from 39 feet to 78 feet.
It will be our largest showcase in the world this year, and we’ll also have our owner events happening, our Festival of Boating and our floating yacht club restaurant too. We haven’t laid an egg on exactly which ones will be there yet, but one will be the secret new model.
We’ll definitely be at the Cannes Yachting Festival in September this year, and will have some new model releases there. We’ve also got some new dealers and representatives in Europe, so it’s going to be an exciting show for us.
The market has been very strong across all sizes over the past 18 months – what are your expectations for 2023?
At some stage we expect it to normalise, although our enquiries are still strong and sales are still solid as of February 2023. In fact, we just finished the Miami International Boat Show in February, which was very strong for us.
The demand is a little overwhelming, it really is quite amazing, but we’re just going to stick to what we do. The market will be what it is, and no-one can predict it 100 percent.
When Ocean visited the shipyard last year, you were busy stockpiling components – how is the supply chain now, particularly given continued demand?
We were caught in the perfect storm last year. We’d pre-planned significant development works, building not only a large new lamination facility but also upgrading other buildings around the site, building a new paint booth, and adding large storage areas to cater for the expansion we’ve encountered.
We also had lockdowns and restricted travel and, on top of that, we also had supply chain challenges. In the past 12 months, we’ve seen the interruption from the Ukraine–Russia conflict have an impact, though they’re feeling that far more than we are, so I can’t say anything about that apart from how sad it all is.
We are seeing shipping and supply-chain movements improve. We’ve also been on the front foot by stockpiling or ordering well ahead of when we usually would. Our supplier relationships are mostly very long-term and mutually beneficial, so we’ve got good, strong relationships – we’re working together, which has certainly eased some of those issues.
Have you had to make any strategic changes to the business plan because of market conditions or supply-chain issues in the last few years?
Not really – we’ve focused on settling into those new locations in the yard and getting them up and running to the high level of productivity we know they’ll give us. You can’t run at full pace while there’s still a little supply chain disruption, so we’re fine-tuning as we go.
We look at it like tuning the car at the racetrack – the conditions change daily and we’re making refinements, constantly improving. Things are going well considering the challenges.
You mentioned the yard works undertaken last year – what’s planned for this year?
Taking a breath! We still have some work to finish – we’ve got a new storage area coming to completion, and we have some work to do on upgrading one of our travelift bays and the marina expansion.
We’ll give it a rest for a while and ease into all the changes. There will be some new and advanced plant equipment like CNC machinery and a laser cutter, but we’ll be more restrained this year.
The goal was to refine our already high standards and make everything run more efficiently; now we need to refine that investment to draw everything from it. We’re approaching 150 boats a year, with many in the larger sizes (60 feet and above).
Does that mean the new models are in the larger range?
Well, that’s secret stuff we can’t talk about right now. We can say that between 40 and 80 feet, exciting new models are coming.
Some of our customers who have had many Rivieras are involved in that feedback and fine-tuning. The new models have been fanatically accepted, so it will be really exciting for us to release them to the general public.
The question of sustainability and sustainable materials is being asked more and more – what progress do you see on that front?
Whether you call them innovations, inventions or perhaps just advancements, much has been said about sustainability. We’re staying extremely close to our suppliers, watching developments unfold or emerge, and we’ll be involved in some test cases of various products. Still, we won’t take anything to market until we’re 100-percent confident it’s well-proven.
We can’t talk about it, but there’s definitely new technology coming through – these are exciting times; it’s coming.
We know there are bio-products that will come into the composite world, and we know there are renewable fuels – the world didn’t say electricity would be the only option! There are a lot of smart people heavily invested in this area, progressing engines, drives and materials.
Do you think builders or customers will lead the change?
You’ve got to throw governments into that mix as well because it’s pressure, isn’t it? Pressure to be more sustainable and more environmentally friendly – we’re selling an incredible lifestyle on the water; the last thing we want is to have a negative impact on nature.
We’re excited about anything we can do. One of the reasons we had such strong adoption of pod-drive units was because of the desire to consume less fuel, be quieter and create a more refined feeling on the boat. We wanted to get that more luxurious feeling and experience – that’s why we’re so heavily invested in that drive setup, but we know there’s more coming.
What trends will come to the fore in regional and international markets?
In general, we watch what’s going on but believe there’s a large enough market for what we’re building. We’re targeting owner-operators. Yes, you can have crew, obviously, but we’re also targeting families getting together and that multifaceted boat where you can fish, go to the ball, scuba dive, and bring your friends. That’s what we want Riviera to represent; that’s our focus.
How are you developing the next generation of boatbuilders?
We’re training 112 apprentices right now, and they’re the master craftspeople of the future. As the largest trainer of marine industry apprentices in this country, we’ve equipped hundreds of tradespeople over the years. We build world-class luxury motor yachts and want to help create world-class tradespeople.
Is the government waking up to the benefits of the yacht sector?
We hope the awakening is happening. We’re going to keep beating the drum, and hopefully our results and the great boats we’re building will help reinforce that. It boils down to caring about our customers’ experience – we want our customers to have the time of their lives out on the water and in order to do that, we must have a great team.
This means constantly training and bringing in new people because some of our great older tradespeople are ready to retire.
In a way, Riviera has always been a quiet achiever; we’re just not really focused on blowing our own trumpet.
We innovate within our core wheelhouse of design and space in the marketplace, and we train people and we reinvest, but our entire focus has always been on the customer and around making the yachts as good as we can. We don’t want to be the biggest boatbuilder in the world, we just want to be the best.