We talked with Shane Grover of sales and marketing over at Seawind Catamarans who is located onsite at their Vietnam manufacturing facility. We are really happy to have him participate in our series of interviews with catamaran owners, builders, designers, and service groups. Thank you!
Please visit www.SeawindCats.com for more information about what they are currently building and marketing.
How many Seawinds are you building per year?
Over the last few years we’ve been building an average of about 25 catamarans a year.
We also built the Corsair so in total we’re doing about 60 yachts a year, but in the Seawind range, we’re doing about 25. That’s probably a good average over the last 20 years as well. That’s a pretty solid number for us.
At the moment though our sales demand is far greater than that, so we’re in the process of a three to five year plan of doubling and then further expansion from there to keep up with the demand. Obviously we’ve got some new models that have come online that again has increased the the demand across the range for Seawind.
Fantastic yeah I personally know several people on the wait list so it’s good that you’re looking to expand!
Has Covid 19 affected your business at all?
We’ve been – I wouldn’t say lucky is necessarily the right word.
But being based in Vietnam where we are, the government here has done a fantastic job of dealing with Covid, so that has had a very positive effect for our business.
We’ve lost zero days production last year. They just took action when everybody else was thinking this was still not a thing and yeah i think myself included thought it was a bit over the top, but then you know as the months progressed we started realizing that they did the right thing.
As a result we put in some some strict measures early on and everybody’s complied and we’ve been able to continue operating really completely unaffected.
The only impact it’s had on us which is the same for everybody has been the logistics impact of getting materials in because obviously our suppliers have shut downs in Europe, America, and elsewhere.
Obviously dealing with those logistics now when we’re planning to build a boat what used to be a one-month lead time something can now be six to eight months and so that just that just takes different planning different management and understanding that’s the way the world is at the moment and making sure we deal with that
It also has an effect on how you order your boat. We do now need to know the options that we’re putting on boats at a much earlier stage
Previously we’re able to make modifications to the build in the middle of the build. That’s a bit harder because we can’t do them but typically if we don’t have those items.
Somebody wants a generator three months before we are about to go out the door and there’s a seven-month lead time. That doesn’t work.
So it has changed the way we do business, but I would say it’s been a change not for the better or worse. We’ve managed to come through this without disability which has been lucky but also as a result of some good planning from many levels.
How about transitioning from building in Australia to Vietnam? I understand you were part of that transition phase. How has that been?
That’s a while ago now. That was 2010 when I moved to Vietnam and started production up here.
It was interesting. We purchased Corsair Marine in 2010 and that was our entry into Vietnam at the time. We had to do it. The manufacturing in Australia was becoming extremely difficult over the last 10 years.
All the auto industries left Australia. It’s a tough place to manufacture.
What was really putting pressure on us was the Australian dollar. We were building in Australian dollars at the time and in 2010 the US dollar had passed parity so what used to be a huge deficit in Australian dollars the US dollar so we could export to America suddenly became impossible.
Our export market from 2000 probably 2008 became non-existent in America so we lost a significant portion of our production and then also because of the the dollar imports are coming into Australia at a much lower rate.
If you’re building purely for the Australian market, it’s manageable and if you’re trying to deal on a worldwide stage you’ll have some years where it’ll be fantastic and some years ago be terrible and we needed a bit more stability than that.
We needed to find a way to have currency stability and so in Vietnam the local dollar is close and tied with the US dollar, but again most of our parts come from America or Europe so most of our purchasing is done on a US dollar base and and it allows us to therefore set our pricing based on US dollars and not have these crazy fluctuations here.
That was a reason for the move and the process was interesting. So we came here again and we started with an established business. Small much smaller business than what we got today, but we came in with a good team of at all levels.
The management team, the production team, everybody was here ready to go, and we could scale from that.
But definitely coming from Australian boat building to building in this environment which is far more of a production environment than in Australia.
We had most of our employees were shipwrights and it was the sort of thing where you had less documentation of those builds and somebody wanted you know a toilet mounted foot to the right you’d say, “Jim put the toilet in a foot to the right” and and it would be done.
There’d be no documentation for it. A lot of the bills was that way, but it would also mean that when when Jim moves into a different department or left and John came in he would install that toilet a different way.
It was definitely based on the builders standards as opposed to the company standards, so when we came here it was a lot of our work was on setting those standards getting the documentation in place.
Work procedures that we have today are ten times what we had when we were in Australia and that’s very much the difference here. We have to work with with engineers and technicians to design how to move that toilet a foot to the right make the drawing make it very clear before it goes out on the production floor.
Our workers are very good but they have us a smaller scope of skills so we’ll have people who will install toilets or do plumbing and that’s what they do. That’s fine. In Australia, they could do everything.
So we have now more people with a much narrower scope of skill here. We also find that our workers have a much higher appreciation for their work than what we did when we’re in Australia.
If they did the same job and installed that toilet every week for three months eventually, they’d say I need to do something different whereas here our guys don’t like to move.
They really take pride in being the guy that installs the toilet on the Seawind 1160. That’s my job and I don’t want anybody else touching that job. That’s mine.
That actually is helpful because it means that the skills are getting constantly getting better and better in that area with those people under the bed.
From our side it was more we had to change the way that we thought and approached it as opposed to coming in and saying you know we needed to do things differently. This is how we did it in Australia. That doesn’t work. You have to work on this.
What we need to do to tap into those skill sets to make this work and really again that came down to having having the right procedures right standards. If everybody knows what they need to do, everything works well all the time. You only have problems when there’s ambiguity in what it is.
I expected it to be like this. So it’s getting rid of those loose expectations and setting setting very clear standards.
Ultimately the end result is the quality that we’re producing here is much better than what is in Australia. We’re able to put more later into the build. We’re able to put more time detailing and we made a conscious decision when we moved here that we had to increase the quality. We knew that if we built the same quality, an identical boat, and put it at the same boat show that people would criticize the boat that we were building in Vietnam versus in Australia.
So we consciously said we have to increase the quality and I’m not talking just the build. The real quality is that everything is engineered. No bad changes. Certainly finishing things to a higher degree. Polishing, removing flanges, and then taking areas together and getting a seamless finish as opposed to having a silicone wipe and things like that we took to a much higher standard.
Are there any challenges in building smaller catamarans like a 1160 versus the larger like 1600’s whether it’s construction marketing finances?
In building a bigger boat, there is this multiplication but typically it’s because of the systems.
You could build a bigger boat. You could scale a small boat to make it big and it doesn’t necessarily have to become more complex but that’s not what happens.
You get a bigger house and suddenly you want a dishwasher on it, but you didn’t have any smaller boats and you want a washing machine and the systems all become more complex.
That is really the main significance in going larger.
The process start to finish of working with a customer on an order through delivering the boat handing over the boat. It’s not entirely scalable.
The effort involved in a small versus a big boat is fairly similar, but of course in the building process the hours are dramatically different. The material costs are dramatically different.
I’m sure you’ve heard with each foot the cost goes up an exponential amount. Because typically you can’t just take a 40 footer and make it 45 footer by stretching it.
If you could no problem, it wouldn’t cost that much, but you also don’t really get those gains if you don’t do that.
You go, “oh it’s now 45 foot but I want a bit more space inside not just about so you make it wider and then and all this and that makes it heavier so then the equipment’s not off to scratch. The rigging and the hardware numbers now.
So it’s got to go up to the next grade.
There’s limits. It must go up in steps where you’ve got a range where you can get away with this model and this little winch and then you get over this weight, this length. It is typically weight as opposed to length, so you can have a bigger boat with the same hardware that you would have on a smaller load if the weight is is equal.
Typically the weight does increase with the length, but to answer your question a bigger boat it is more complex, but it’s mainly because of the systems involved as opposed to the lamination, the construction. That’s all very similar practices just on a larger scale.
Where do you see uh the future of Seawind? Any secrets you can tell us or any vision that you have?
We are on a mission to to be the go-to couples boat, so we we don’t want to build boats for the Charter market. And not necessarily boats just to go for a day sail
What we want to build is boats of any size not just our bigger boats.
We want to build our boats that can be their dream boat to eventually retire on and sail around if they want to do.
That’s what we want to be. We want to have the best products for that mission and i’m not sure if you’ve seen the twin 1370 that we just released followed up from the 1600 a few years ago?
These are all following that brief very strictly, so that means that performance is not a race boat but it has to sail well in light airs and most of the time you’re going to be sailing in light wind. Also you can sail close to the wind. And most importantly, it everything holds together structurally. The boat needs to be sound. It needs to be rigid and you need to feel safe.
What kind of feedback are you getting from new customers on on their boats?
Typically we get good feedback. I think by the time somebody has bought a Seawind typically they understand it.
They know what they’re getting. Most of our customers are quite well educated on the market, so that they’ve probably done comparisons on more than three to five boats and they’ve already understood that they like this on this boat they don’t like that and they’ve worked their way down to the line of it and everything’s compromised.
There’s more customers than there are boats, so there’s always going to be something that you do like but don’t love it.
It’s about finding the right balance where you’ve got the things that you really have to have and you open and compromise with other things and everybody will make difficult decisions, but we do find that most of our customers have already done quite a bit of research.
Many people say they have already looked at everything else making the conclusion that Seawind is the right thing, so when they get their boats typically there’s not many surprises. They’re getting what they were expecting.
What we do get good feedback on though is the service side of things. Joining the family.
We’re not just trying to build boats and send boats around the world and never ever see them again.
We keep good relationships with our owners and that’s an important aspect.
Obviously not everybody wants to be involved but some people might want to take the boat off and never talk to anybody again, but most people do like to have that support network available as well and we do typically get good feedback on that.
You do have a very robust group on Facebook that I’m actually a part of. The official owners group. That’s quite helpful in figuring little things out.
Do you want to let us know where we can find out more about Seawind Catamarans?
So www.SeawindCats.com that’s the place to go. Obviously 2021 is going to be a bit of a funny year like last year. We don’t have the locked-in dates for boat shows and things coming up yet. In Europe we’ve just heard the Le Grand Pavois boat show is being delayed till the end of April but it’s still planned to go ahead.
The next official boat show in the states will be the Annapolis Sailboat show in October.
That’s what we’re expecting. If you want to see some boats in the flesh they’re the places to go. Any of our dealers in Florida, Annapolis, Massachusetts, Seattle, California have boats available.
If you can’t wait until the next boat show, give one of our dealers a call.