Expansion – in business terms – can come in many forms. For a boatbuilder, it could mean a general enlarging of the business in response to growth, broadening the reach of the brand due to market opportunity, or even adding further depth to a model line-up due to customer demand. For UAE-based shipyard Gulf Craft, expansion over the past couple of years has meant all three.
Off the back of strong H1 figures for 2021, Gulf Craft entered the re-opened European autumn show season in a strong position. “It’s no secret that the past year has been tricky for a lot of people,” begins Talia Maggi Schabilon, VP of Gulf Craft’s Commercial Division. “But Gulf Craft was dedicated to continuing moving forward – we continued building and we never shut down the factory as our operations team was very fast putting safety measures in place and staggering the shifts.
“So we were able to keep pushing forward, developing projects and building stock boats,” she continues, “which really put us in a great position toward the end of last year when we saw a real shift in the market and people were ready to get back out on the water.
“They saw yachting as a kind of safe space, away from all the crowds and the hustle and bustle. So it gave us a really good edge up at the beginning of 2021, when we saw a real uptick in the market.”
The trend – Gulf Craft reported that in the first half of 2021 alone its order book value was up 42 percent on the whole of 2020 – is something that Schabilon expects to continue over the next 12 months. In part, this is thanks to the development of the yard’s dealer network that has included eight new dealers signed up in the European market, and the extension of its reach to 12 new territories.
“As a company we are growing very rapidly, we’re expanding dramatically,” she explains. “We have our new dealers, we’re expanding our product range and we’re continuing to innovate – we’re developing new technologies and we’ve increased production capacity. So we really see that this is a very good time for us to be looking toward the future.
“Historically, we’ve been concentrated in one geographic area, but we’re moving further away from home.”
“We’re building our footprint in Europe, which is really important, and we’re seeing a lot of development in North America as well.”
That said, it is clear that Gulf Craft is also looking firmly at Asia and Australasia and recognising the potential that the region offers. It has expanded its dealership network in Asia, working with a few big companies, and it now has presence in Hong Kong and Vietnam.
“It’s not quite a mature market like Europe or the US, but we’ve gotten in on the ground floor,” Schabilon states, “and we’re working with some very strong partners. I think over the next three to five years we’re really going to see that market become much more important to us and our portfolio.”
It’s not difficult to see some of the synergies between a yacht designed for the Middle Eastern market and those for heat of Asia or the harshness of the Australian sun, but clearly diversifying your brand to appeal to a global audience can bring with it problems of style, design or typical usage. Here, too, Gulf Craft is taking a measured but progressive approach.
“We work very closely with our partners on the ground and we get their feedback,” Schabilon says. “They’re part of a product development committee. So we’re always looking at trends and seeing what’s new and what each market needs. And we do our best because we build so many boats – we have a huge product range from 31 feet to 175 feet, which nobody else does – it’s unheard of.
“Because we do so much, for our strategic markets, we are building something specifically for them. And obviously, depending on the market, people have a lot of special requests and a lot of cultural requirements, but because we do such a high level of customisation, we’re able to accommodate that.”
So what next for Gulf Craft? “We’re focusing on modernising our designs and you can see that in our latest Majesty models, the 120 and the 140,” Schabilon offers. “We sold hull number 17 of the Majesty 100 at Cannes, and we’re also targeting different markets. We’re looking very closely at North America – we went into the Fort Lauderdale at the end of 2019 and the Majesty 140 won Best In Show, although we did have a bit of a stumbling block with COVID.
“But since the beginning of the year we’ve sold another Majesty 140 into the US which is due to be delivered any day now, and we’re also working on Oryx, our small sport cruiser, which has huge potential there. Florida, South America, we’re even talking to people in Canada and California, so we really see that we have a lot more expansion opportunities over the next three to five years.”
And that’s not all. “We do have a few new projects up our sleeves,” Schabilon teases. “We’re really trying even further to expand our product range and fill in all the gaps – so we will be announcing some exciting new models in the next few months, in the lead-up to the Dusseldorf show in January 2022 …”
Watch this space.