Luxury yacht maker is riding crest of the wave

Updated: 2012-02-10 09:37

By Lu Chang (China Daily)

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Luxury yacht maker is riding crest of the wave
Sunseeker's boats are moored at a yacht club in Sanya, a destination for winter breaks in Hainan province. [Photos Provided to China Daily]

German looks to build on success for sunseeker after overcoming challenges a decade ago

When Traugott Kaminski brought two yachts to China from Britain nine years ago, he knew full well that he was in for anything but plain sailing. The challenge that lay before him was to sell the idea of yachting in a country where it was still barely known.

But the 50-year-old German has a strong faith in the market and subscribes to the dictum of the former CEO of Siemens Heinrich von Pierer, who once said: "The risk of not being in China is bigger than the risk of being in China."

Luxury yacht maker is riding crest of the wave


"It was quite a challenge in the first years," says Kaminski, CEO of Sunseeker China, the agent for the British yacht maker Sunseeker International. "Now everyone talks about how big the market is, but 10 years ago there were no yachting marinas, no regulations and not even private yachts."

Indeed, Kaminski started from scratch. It took him three years to sell the first vessel, a Manhattan 64 (at a length of 21 meters or 64 feet) with a price of 15 million yuan ($2.38 million, 1.92 million euros) in Qingdao, Shandong province.

Since then he has been doing research and building his own client database. He has invited groups of Chinese CEOs and mine owners to European boat shows and organized trips to the Sunseeker factory in Poole, southern England, to see how yachts are built.

He says China has a growing number of millionaires who are looking for ways to splash their cash, and "buying a yacht is definitely one of their options once they get to know the benefits they can have if they have a yacht".

Kaminski's pioneering spirit has paid off. His company, Sunseeker China, hauled in more than 60.5 million euros ($80.3 million) last year, accounting for about 30 percent of market share in the super yacht industry, Kaminski says.

With a price range from 10 million yuan to 150 million yuan, its client list includes Charles Zhang, chairman and CEO of and Chinese food and beverage giant Want Want China Holdings.

"Our target customers are the top 5,000 of China's super rich, and (it's) no easy task to approach them," Kaminski says.

Much of his time is spent organizing dinners, parties, cruises and meetings with affluent Chinese because, he says, "in China people have to make friends first, gain their clients' trust, then the business will follow".

Since 2008, the government has targeted the development of the yacht industry in coastal provinces to encourage tourism, and a lot of infrastructure is being built. Kaminski sold 14 yachts last year, and more than 30 yachts in eight years.

He credits his success with service, a word that falls easily and often off his lips. Since he set up his office in Shanghai in 2003, he has devoted a lot of time and energy in training ship engineers how to repair yachts and formulating training programs for his team, including managers, crew and captains.

Such high-tech vessels demand a proper captain and a trained crew if the owner has no interest in being at the helm, he says.

"Everything should be linked (like) gears on a watch. Our customers only fly in, pick up the boat, enjoy it and leave the rest of the work to us."

In 2008 he opened another office in Sanya, a destination for winter breaks in southern Hainan province, where Sunseeker has a shopfront. It is located in the Visun Royal Yacht Club and includes a Sunseeker China owner lounge, an after-service center offering spare parts, and a captain and crew training center.

Not only will the store shorten the time for repair and maintenance but provide a place where customers can meet and probably create more business opportunities.

"It's all about service," Kaminski says. "A lifetime of a yacht is normally 20 years or even more. It's not like a car, (where) you buy it and two years later you change it easily. That's why we built such a flagship store. It's our commitment to the clients."

Not content with that, Kaminski says the plan is to open Sunseeker China flagship stores in every coastal city to better serve customers. Sunseeker has invested more than 6 million euros in setting up its operations in China.

"China is now the key market for the Sunseeker, especially after the recent economic downtown in the UK, which is a blessing for the sales figure in China."

Sunseeker now produces 250 yachts a year, but that figure is shrinking as boats get bigger and bigger.

"Before it (was) 20 meters, 30 meters, now it is 40 even 50 meters," Kaminski says.