As an old brokerage warhorse, I remember (as a VERY young trainee broker) the days when all yacht particulars were printed on an alarming looking photocopier which could only manage black and white. To add to the presentation of particulars, a colour photograph produced externally was stuck to the front of each set of particulars. Every evening the postman came to call and took away a massive pile of pulped tree which was dispatched to all corners of the globe to people who had enquired on the telephone (or who had written a letter!). Faxing was also a temporary modern means of speeding the process.
I was reminded of this recently when one of the brokers in the UK, asked why our morning Sales meeting was called Post… always has been. I started to explain about letters, telex and rest, his eyes glazed over, and I quickly changed the subject to more interesting things…
Through the years, blazers, yacht club ties and yacht brokers in launches going out to yachts on swinging moorings has given way, like all else in life, to the lure and inevitable grasp of the worldwide web. We were told that yacht brokers would be redundant – no longer needed in an age where everyone had access to yacht information at the touch of a button. But of course the web like a craftsman’s tools is just that – a facility within our armoury to enable us to do our jobs.
We have covered all this in a Market Report that came long before and it is old ground. The reason to mention this again, is that Covid 19, the various lock downs and all the limitations on the human race has meant that in the last couple of years, as a species we have adapted. Rather as geese developed webbed feet to improve their swimming and therefore hit rate in finding food, humans have become adept and reliant on their iPhones, laptops and the like, and are driving them more efficiently than ever before. Working from home became a painful reality for so many of us, so it is rare to find a house today without a study, home office, workspace, office shed or workroom bedroom which is a shrine to the worldwide web and its ability to connect us with people, our business, our hobbies and as a means to buy, bank and research just about anything.
Now that we are emerging from this crisis (ready to face the brunt of a myriad of little challenges awaiting the human race in 2023), we are more used to shopping from home than going shopping. We are more familiar with all the platforms and even the luddites amongst us must admit that we are doing more online than ever before. This is not going to change and it is why the way that yacht brokers work and information that is delivered by us has changed more significantly than I can ever remember. More so even, than when the first dedicated computer arrived at the Berthon International offices, with one station and one email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – and actually we still use the address today!
Granular, well written and accurate particulars remain key. There is a massive amount of information available about yachts on the web so a broker has nowhere to hide now with sloppy presentation and scant information.
We were delighted with the novelty of having our own professional camera man and videographer on the staff when he arrived pre-Covid. Harry is a fantastic resource, although when he first showed up we weren’t quite sure how we could use him. He took photographs of yachts and talked a lot about film. We humoured him and gave it a go. Harry is also able to improve imagery not taken by him or our team and is able to edit raw footage and make sense of what is sent by others.
From our first baby steps towards better imagery and some moving imagery, we learnt to walk, then a little faster and we are now galloping down the worldwide motor way of moving imagery which is where yacht sales presentations are heading. The technology is scaling quickly and it is now an essential, compulsory ingredient in any marketing campaign – rather like the coloured photographs that we stuck on yacht particulars all those years ago.
In the old days, a yacht owner told his broker to sell his yacht and then left him to it. After multiple trips out in the launch and yacht club lunches, magic would happen and the job would be done. In this new world of instant information delivery and fast moving life, things have changed significantly. The relationship between yacht broker and client (the yacht’s owner) is a partnership in which the owner requires (quite rightly) to understand exactly what is being done to market his or her yacht, what the market’s reaction is and what is going on in the market place. The yacht owner is a savvy person and at Berthon, 2023 sees the implementation a new marketing system to enable us to better do the business of yacht brokerage with our clients and not to them.
Any decent yacht broker will be in touch with his or her client regularly but with the ability for us to monitor interest, follow potential buyers better, look at what else is happening in the market place and to assess the sale process closely, it is only right that they have access to this information too. At the point of listing, a full marketing campaign is devised for the yacht with time lines and we work against this programme.
We believe that market updates are important. We also believe that with the ability to generate wonderful imagery that correctly reflects the condition and status of the yacht, that this should be updated regularly. Whatever the wonders of the worldwide web, the reality is that a significant yacht still takes 6 months or so to sell and her offering should be kept fresh and current.
One of the constants of my career as a yacht broker has been that of brokerage advertising copy deadlines. They leer at you from the pages of your diary (and now from your diary on Outlook, helpfully forwarded to your phone so there is no escape!). Every month a page of advertising must be planned and text written. At Berthon we make it harder with the Berthon house style, so unique and freshly written text appears in every publication and for every entry. Writing advertising text has been a right of passage for the trainee yacht broker at Berthon since Noah centrally listed the Ark with one of my forebears. Of course it was harder then as the copy had to be carved in stone…However, this staple of the yacht brokers’ toolbox, is now in the decline. Many yachting magazines have sadly become less relevant as people take their iPads aboard planes and don’t pick up magazines, and subscriptions are on-line and not in print. Most importantly, with the instant delivery of information, the magazines’ news and views are weeks out of date before the publications hit the news stands. Circulation is falling and without a strong web presence or other unique features – expert technical articles, good boat tests or events – they are becoming less relevant.
Unfortunately for the 21st century trainee Berthon broker, the need to master the art of writing the unique Berthon text is still current. We have now developed a series of in-house publications which we discovered were well read, sent to clients that we know and current enquiries and which are capable of being effectively optimised on line. We are continually evolving these, and copyrighting is a key part of these today.
Because we have total control we can deliver in hard copy and soft copy. We can alter articles and the yachts appearing to suit different markets across our 5 offices and we can offer a compelling and up to date offering, updating in real time and printing in small print runs. Like this publication, we are grateful for wonderful external contributors who can write knowledgeably about what is current in our market place and what worries clients. We can tailor the content to suit the needs of now.
In addition to this publication, we run a Winter Collection tailored to our local markets, and our Berthon Book which is full of lovely articles as well as the full Berthon fleet. In the Market Report for the first time we feature the Berthon fleet – because we can and because the wonders of modern technology mean that the information is in date in real time.
Sales organisations selling anything from houses to bicycle clips to widgets have marketing departments that wax lyrical about social media. Another big subject which is much misunderstood, and which is by many considered to be a wondrous black art, only effectively managed by people with marketing degrees who wear pullovers. It is no such thing. It is just another tool in the yacht brokers’ armoury. At Berthon we are big fans of LinkedIn for communication and information delivery and we love Instagram which enables us to post wonderful imagery and outtakes from our videos and short sequences which show our fleet at its best. Facebook is a moving postcard, enabling us to tell our clients about the fun stuff that happens in our world from the 3 Kings Festival in Palma to Magnus Kullberg from Berthon Sweden’s arrival in St Lucia after completing the ARC this December, to the jazz festival in Newport, Rhode Island.
For all of these tools, the one thing that has not changed is that product knowledge and a passion for everything to do with yachts are things without which a Berthon broker cannot operate.
The Berthon team works in a pack, chatting together about yachts, and what’s going on at every opportunity. We actively promote yachts through our network and look at what is best for our client the yacht owner, in terms of positioning his yacht for the best market conditions. We also run a local broker system so that an American buyer looking at a Berthon yacht in say, the UK can work with our office in Newport so they deal with a yacht broker in their time zone, send money to an American client account and sign an American contract. The yacht’s sea trial, survey and on the ground management is done in the UK and everyone is happy.
Technology has also not altered the need to keep in touch with yacht buyers and to follow up enquiries, work effectively with other brokers who may have a buyer for a member of the Berthon fleet and to keep up with the hurry scurry of 21st century yacht sales, where things happen super quickly and you have to respond accordingly. The olden days where a written enquiry would be received in the office on Monday, replied to on Tuesday and the enquirer would receive the details on a Wednesday (Royal Mail willing) are long gone. An emailed enquiry from one of the many yacht sale portals on which Berthon yachts are listed will be responded to within minutes or within a couple of hours and never in days.
Yacht brokerage and indeed life is a process of constant evolution and I feel that in the last 12 months in our business, we have again jumped from dinosaur to space rocket in terms of the way that we deliver the information that is available to yacht buyers to help them with their search. Better information than ever, wonderful imagery, film, direct marketing and a very much more developed tracking of the progress of the marketing of the yacht on her voyage to a sale. At the same time the level of contact, accountability and involvement with the yacht owner has grown enormously, driven by our wish to work with them for the best outcome and quickest sale.
For a bunch of yacht mad brokers who like to do the best job possible, what’s not to like?