In my last article you may have read about the exciting aspects of true craftsmanship, dedication and love for what you do. An elegy to the incredible outcome, when a team of motivated people altogether work on a common project. This goes for any project, in boat building as well as in any field you can imagine. Looking at boating, dedication, passion and pride in what you do is not just limited to small companies, like the place where my Omega 42 is built. It can also be created withing huge organizations. A prime example of this may be Beneteau.
For the world´s leading manufacturer of pleasure craft 2024 is a year of great significance: It marks the 140iest anniversary of the birth of the shipyard. I work as a Beneteau dealer and I take pride myself being a (very small) part of this family. And a family it is: Still family-owned and run, Beneteau stands out among the big production boat brands, something, we as professionals can experience every day and I think our owners as well. In the course of producing the second season on our podcast, I talked with Beneteau brand director Jean-Francois Lair – and I want to share this interesting conversation with you, dearest reader.
Talking to Beneteau brand director Jean-Francois Lair
NO FRILLS SAILING.com | Lars Reisberg: “Jean Francois, we are here in the Sailboat stand at Boot Duesseldorf and looking around I can see a lot of people roaming not just our boat, but the halls are full … what is your impression of the watersports and boat building industry right now at the beginning of 2024?”
Beneteau | Jean-Francois Lair: “It´s a very interesting time right now, Lars. Before 2024 and especially during the Covid-era people were doing exceptional stuff! Now we are pretty much back to normal and it feels great to be back at Duesseldorf, seeing all these people coming on our stand and visiting our boats. Regarding the boat market and watersports in general, as I said, I would say we are back to a normal situation in terms of delivery times, supply chain issues and quality of the products. Price level, of course, is very high due to several factors and we will get into this maybe later a bit more in detail.”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “We Germans are especially well known for, let´s say, a very conservative view on things: Despite undeniable economic problems here in Europe, as well as in my own country, it seems that the stream of people into boating is uninterrupted, isn´t it?”
Jean-Francois Lair: “I like German owners and clients, I must admit. Because they seem to have a true sense for what is right and what is good. Their view on quality and perceived experience of service is often expressed in a strong and straight manner. Which helps us as a company to constantly improve. Of course, we value the feedback from all of our owners in the whole world, and all are special, but Germans tend to be somewhat more special in that regard.” (laughs)
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “… what would you say is pulling so many families, singles, younger and older people? What are the main factors for our clients to buy a boat?”
Jean-Francois Lair: “That is a very difficult question, Lars, as you are in reality speaking about three different types of owners and buyers of boats. First, the families. I would say that for most of those clients the aim is of building memories. Either by buying and owning a boat or by spending vacations on a charter yacht. What is most exciting and interesting for us is to find an answer to the question: How can we give interest and dedication to the young generation? You see, I have kids myself, great kids, teenagers. And they like the water. But they also love to play on their smartphones, watch TV or stuff like that. So, being on a boat with kids and young adults is special: How can we attract them? Again, I say this is about creating memories together.”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “The main topic of our podcast season 2 is “Seamanship from A to Z” – are you a sailor yourself?”
Jean-Francois Lair: “Oh yes, definitely! Unfortunately, because of the workload, I don´t own a boat myself but I love to charter yachts for our vacation time and sail with my family, explore different areas of the world and – as I said – build good memories with the people I love.”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “That´s an interesting aspect: I mean, you are the “boss” of Beneteau but you don´t own a boat yourself. Talking about getting a boat, what would be your prime advise for newbies regarding this project? Where would you begin?”
Jean-Francois Lair: “Well, the first and most important question is: What do you want to do? Meaning you may have some people who want to buy a boat to sail around the world for several years – luck people indeed! – or you have people who can sail only during some weeks of the holidays. Some others live very close to a lake and enjoy sailing in the afternoons or during the weekends. So it depends. There is not a simple answer. It really depends on their lifestyle and what they want to do with their boat. But finding a question to that answer should be the first thing: What do you want to do with your boat?”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “We already had in another part of this podcast a professional skipper and one guy from B&G marine electronics talking about classic and modern style of being a Captain, especially in view of the future and the “applification” of yachting. What will the future boat be like for BENETEAU? And what does this mean for the buyers, the owners?”
Jean-Francois Lair: “It must mean first and foremost more service for our customers and boat owners! I mean, who can imagine having a car nowadays without GPS navigation? Nobody. I think this is not just a trend but a necessity. But … just having an app for the sake of it, creating a crazy app only to say “we are connected” – no! Definitely not! Me must provide an app that give useful information to the owner. If we do this, it works. We have this app, you know it, Seanapps tells you everything you need to know about your boat: Fuel consumption, tank levels, battery and such. We are always improving this, it was a big push some years ago. Now our Seanapps boats comprise the biggest fleet of connected boats worldwide!”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “The company often mentions the “reduction of ecological impact” of the yachts. When I show pictures of new yachts arriving from your shipyard, I get frequent feedback about the protective plastic wraps which – admittedly – are a huge pile of garbage and single use. Wouldn´t that be a quick win to switch to re-usable, recyclable or even no plastic wrap at all? What is done by Beneteau in this manner?”
Jean-Francois Lair: “So, first of all, Lars, I hate greenwashing! There is a lot of pressure nowadays regarding sustainability, political and from within the society, but also a lot – sorry for my English – bullshit going on. We at Beneteau have a lot of projects and initiatives in many fields of the production to really make a difference and have a real impact. I can give you two or three examples: First is our big program together with Arkema regarding the use – in an industrial scale – of Elium reusable resin. You have seen our First 44 last year, which was a prototype and testbed. Now, after many years of big testing, we Beneteau Groupe launched the first Elium-made series production boat, the Jeanneau SunFast 30 OD. It´s an incredible thing! Second example: For many years now we have increased the use of natural fibers instead of synthetic glass fibers for many, many composite parts. Now we have 30 per cent (!) of all GRP parts made with vegetable fibers. A lot of things like that are going on. We have a lot of different things going on, trying to make our products cleaner.”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “Another aspect of this is the “electrification” of sailing. Groupe Beneteau already has a number of boats since years available fully electric or with a hybrid-option. How are sales going regarding the eOceanis? What are the main challenges in de-carbonizing sailboats?
Jean-Francois Lair: “Again, we have to look at what is happening in the car industry. I would say that the future of boating is full electric or at least hybrid. If you look at the Oceanis 37.1 we have here at Duesseldorf it´s a full electric boat, in fact this is our third cruiser available in full electric version next to the 30.1 and 34.1. Really what we are going to do is to prove that even going offshore fully electric is possible: This very 37.1 you see here on the booth is going to make the “Great Loop” in 2024. We will sail this yacht all around Europe from Sweden to Greece. Again, fully electric propulsion. A proof of concept that it is possible and safe to sail a full electric boat even offshore.”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “Can you give an impression of the ration of the sales figures of those “eOceanis”? Are customers accepting this option, preferring electric over Diesel?”
Jean-Francois Lair: “Yes, at the moment the sales figures are very low. Why? Because the current state of the technology and therefore certification allows the boats only to be used in lakes and inshore waters. Again, this technology needs to be refined and get better in many aspects, so right now we just sell to inshore-skippers. Again, we want to prove that this is safe to be used and further develop together with our industry partners and suppliers.”
NO FRILLS SAILING.com: “Jean Francois, I could sit and talk forever with you. So, last not least, back to this full stand here in Duesseldorf and those masses of people enthusiastically discovering the boats: Facing the inflation and really high prices, what is your advise to our readers who are eager to see falling prices?”
Jean-Francois Lair: “The first part of the answer is why we had this crazy price increase? Unfortunately we didn´t increase our margin. Unfortunately (smiles). It was because of the absolute staggering increase of prices for almost everything surrounding our product: For example, building a boat needs very, very much energy. So this is a big problem. Also, any parts, you name it, have therefore seen a huge increase: Labour cost as well. So, that´s for the reason of the high prices. At the same time, deflation reduced the value of the currencies. This goes for all products by the way, not just boats. To answer your question: I think we have reached an end now at least regarding the rising cost and prices. This seems to be stable now. At a high level, admittedly, but stable now. Falling prices? I don´t think so much. What I strongly believe is that the prices are stabilized. So, what the client should do? This is not an easy answer. I´d say, life is short – we have seen this with Covid – so do you want to take benefit of a boat now, start creating memories now? It´s a very personal question and a very personal decision. I can tell you that we – facing those huge prices – feel responsible to provide even more service, even better quality and stable value to our owners and clients.”
Thanks so much for this vivid conversation, Jean-Francois! It was a pleasure working for those intense nine days with you and your team on our beautiful stand.
You may find also interesting to read:
At the Beneteau shipyard: Oceanis 51.1 production!
Sea Trial base Ginesta – best way to experience the sailing properties of your Oceanis
Roaring forties: Delivery of a brand new Oceanis 34.1 in +40 knots of wind