UK: Sunsail International - first flotilla. (4 of 4)

UK: Sunsail International - first flotilla. (4 of 4) - The company was not exactly quick to exploit its growing weight in the air charter market. By the time that YCA hove into view, however, Gordon was citing reduced flying costs as the most immediate b

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The company was not exactly quick to exploit its growing weight in the air charter market. By the time that YCA hove into view, however, Gordon was citing reduced flying costs as the most immediate benefit of the merger. Nowadays he takes personal responsibility for negotiating the prices of 15,000 to 20,000 aircraft seats each year that he cannot be sure he is going to need. "It's a total bitch of a job," he admits. "You can never get it right." This year, he is convinced, he has it nearer right than in the recent past.

But the fleet itself probably offers most potential for cost reduction. Surprisingly, Sunsail actually owns well over half of its 600-odd yachts, and the proportion in company ownership is tending to increase. (Last year 50% of the boats in Yugoslavia were company owned; next year 100% will be.) Gordon would like to see the proportion diminish. In the case of the bigger yachts, available on bareboat charter, he hopes to find "the kind of individual who wants to own a boat and talk himself into thinking that it's an investment." But the pool of romantic suckers has unfortunately shrunk with changes in the United States tax system.

The customary way of financing yacht purchase is via a marine mortgage, but there are special difficulties here too. Gordon and finance director Green are currently seeking to negotiate longer mortgages; if possible balloon mortgages, so that a greater part of the cost of acquiring a yacht is met during the period of its greatest earning power. As a very major customer, Sunsail also intends to lean rather more heavily on the big French boatbuilders.

But whatever the present problems, Gordon remains sanguine. Last year was "a lot better" than 1989. Next year should see the market growing again. And what of the longer term? The first option - if conditions were right - would be "to sell to a bigger business that wanted us to run the company for them". Alternatively, "we may sit back and grow a little less dramatically".

That Sunsail is already the biggest company of its kind in the world just goes to show that it takes someone really down-to-earth to sell dreams. The Gordons often sell dreams to the same people year after year: the incidence of repeat business is enormous. Sometimes the buyers are less than flattering. "I think they're a bunch of amateurs," snorts one flotilla veteran. But he will go again.

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