From time to time I mix my professional job with NO FRILLS SAILING.com although I try not to misuse this magazine as a marketing tool for my company. As you may know, I a working as Sales and Marketing Director for a German Beneteau dealer. This time I am telling a tale in the life of a boat dealer because what is currently going on here may be a very valuable insight for you, dearest reader, a rare and honest look “behind the curtain” of this industry. It´s a story of extremes, but one that maybe helps to understand the specifics and peculiarities of my business.
Whilst writing this article I am sitting in a sparsely decorated holiday flat, no WiFi available (I am creating a hotspot via my own cell), sipping a cold beer near the hot heater. I am in Southern Germany at the Lake of Constance, one of the biggest inshore sailing areas of my country. Outside it´s 2 degrees Celsius below zero. Right now I can enjoy a beautiful view over the lake – this is new, as during the last four days we´ve had one of the worst onsets of winter I can remember since years. Snowflakes as big as the glass of my spectacles, temperatures of 10 to 13 degrees below zero. Welcome to my job: We are delivering no less than four sailing yachts right now.
Working the „Corona Queue“
Now, why is this? Well, you may have read my articles about the boating industry and how it may tackle the Corona-crisis and the follow-up article – some weeks later – how we come to terms with the “new normal”. Well, this may be the third article (and I fear not the last) regarding the Covid 19-crisis and the impact on our business. This time I´d like to show you how it affects our daily work. Now, four yachts in 10 days. That´s a big punch. Under normal circumstances this would be a schedule we´d considered being crazy and infeasible. Well, not so in Corona-times.
We´ve had a great selling season 2019 which was the season before the virus hit. Even before Corona waiting times of 9 to 10 months for a boat (at least for a French made Beneteau) was normal. We use to put the deliveries in a queue with a well-paced schedule: Tight, but with enough buffer time to being able to react to circumstances. Such may be a delay in production at the yard, a delay of the yacht transport or delays we are accountable for in commissioning, applying antifouling or simply an outage of staff due to sickness or else. This is how we handle it in normal times. Now, Corona came. A lockdown followed. A halt in production in the yard, a delay of 4 to 6 weeks. Yacht transports had been prolonged by waiting times at European borders … let´s put it first: What was planned with buffers had been eaten away in an instant by the virus.
With borders open at least for commercial traffic and we – as professionals – kind of “free” to travel, everything slowly began to start over again. Our clients, following the news, impatient to receive their boats, which is normal. This is how the queue became a jam. And this is how we end up here at the feet of the Alps pushing hard to deliver four boats in a 10 day-timeframe, which is crazy.
Polar Class PC-1 for Beneteau?
Of course doesn´t have the Beneteau Oceanis 30.1 a Polar Ice Classification but this is how we feel. These dramatic pictures show how bad life can play you: Instead of nature being a bit affectionate to our unfortunate situation, extreme weather kicks in. We are getting two-digit temps during the night and snow like hell. Arriving at the boats in the morning is a dangerous undertaking: The jetty is icy-slippery, a hard cold biting wind freezes tears at an instant. This is how our team has to work in the outside to step the mast, trim the rigging and put on sails to the boats. We have to stay true to the schedule.
Why? Because the next boats are due to be delivered soon. We simply cannot shift dates any more because each change creates new changes for the next projects too. There are too many now and simply not a single day buffer left. And this is how we force ourselves out in the cold, stormy, icy boats: Every screw that has to be turned is an ordeal. It has to be done with bare hands, frozen instantly. The heating systems in the boats are running all day, half an hour working outside – followed by twenty minutes of re-animation at the heater´s outlet. What a crazy venture!
There is no straight project in boating. I have never ever experienced one single boat in commissioning where we didn´t had to improvise, organize and be creative. Sometimes a block is missing, a scratch must be polished, a line spliced. We have four boats right now on three different places in commission – the Lake of Constance has covers an area of 540 square kilometres – that´s a rough 2 hour drive from one end to the other. One of us is always in the car to sprint to the next boat in order to solve all these little and big problems which pop up instantly.
Crazy extreme weather events: Bring it on!
I don´t want to fish for your pity. No way. I am writing this to show you how Corona has affected my business and what is going on behind the scenes. We are taking on this challenge to deliver the boats in time, knowing that there are two more waiting in Slovenia for handover next week, a 50-feet power boat that needs to be skippered inshore to being shipped to the Balearic Islands and two more boats in the Baltic Sea awaiting handover. Free weekends? What is this? Our clients are demanding a proper delivery in time – and rightly so – but I wish they´d understand what it takes us to make this happen in these times.
We are happy that one of our partners here has a working shed where the boat can be commissioned sheltered from the weather. There´s heating. No snow or cold winds biting our faces. But at some point the boat has to leave this haven and be put to the water – no matter which weather is battering us. On the other hand, it still is the best job in the world, indeed! I wouldn´t change it (well …) for nothing in the world: Our boats are the first in the water. And believe me: Our clients are among the happiest of them all.
We tackle the situation, we take on Corona. We are not escaping into endless excuses, we go out and do our job. Can you imagine how much more difficult it is to co-ordinate a team of four people in a world where there is no breakfast served in the morning, no restaurant or take-away is open for lunch and dinner must be cooked in cramped, cheap holiday flats? This job used to be kind of glamorous and cocky at some time, right now I am feeling like a construction worker in Alaska laying a pipeline …
Buying a Boat in Corona-times
But these times will also go by. And indeed, we all get awarded from time to time. Like yesterday when the God of the Weather was graciously sending a clear blue sky and had the sunshine like it was summer. I handed over a First 24 SE to a happy owner and was also able to welcome two parties for a sea trial, which was a bliss. It was cold, though, but warming my heart as well hoisting a sail for the first time in 2021.
Yesterday I handed over the first Oceanis 30.1 at the Southern end of the lake. The owner is happy. Today in the morning I handed over the second Oceanis 30.1 at the Northern end of the lake. Again, a happy owner and his family are now enjoying their first night aboard the warm boat. On Monday I will hand over the third, Tuesday the fourth and last Oceanis 30.1. We will make it, no matter how much snow will fall and how slippery the deck will get: It´s a hell of a team, full of dedication and joy. And honestly, I now know that no lockdown, no virus, no political play and no storm can stop us. Think about this the next time you are buying a boat and ask for a discount.
You may also like to read these articles:
Corona and the boating industry
Is this my new boat? (Nope, she isn´t – but she´s a blast nevertheless!)