This Great British brand has big plans for the future, as new MD Russell Currie explains
Who are Fairline Yachts?
Fairline Yachts is a brand new company set up on January 25 2016 by two British-based Russian businessmen, who bought the assets of Fairline Boats after it was placed in administration by the previous owner Wessex Bristol.
Alexander Volov and Igor Gyanenko paid around £4.5 million for the assets which included the Fairline brand, the intellectual property and manufacturing rights to the full range of Fairline boats, the tooling, the inventory (including boats in build) and the freehold to one of the three manufacturing plants on the Nene Valley site in Oundle.
What didn’t it include?
The two other Nene Valley plants and the Corby site, all of which were leased rather than owned. The new office block, built specifically for Fairline Boats in 2008 when the yard was selling 250 boats a year and employed over 1,000 people, was handed back to the freeholder last year. Crucially, because they only bought the assets and not the company itself, the deal didn’t include any of the previous company’s employees, debts or outstanding liabilities, enabling the new owners to make a completely fresh start. According to the Mail on Sunday, when Fairline Boats collapsed in December 2015, it owed creditors around £6.2 million.
Did any Fairline customers lose out?
No. Although Fairline Yachts had no legal liability to honour contracts made with Fairline Boats, the management team were adamant that customers who’d put down deposits or made stage payments should not be left without either their new boat or their money. One of their very first decisions was to complete all the boats in build on the same terms agreed with the previous company at considerable cost to the new shareholders.
So who’s in charge these days?
After six different CEOs in five years, the new owners wanted a safe pair of hands with in-depth knowledge of both the Fairline brand and the marine industry. The new MD Russell Currie has over 30 years’ experience in the boat business, most recently as the boss of Fairline North Mallorca, one of the brand’s most successful dealerships. Russell was one of three people brought in by the new owners to help rebuild the company. The other two were Karl Gilding, the boss of Fairline Boats’ yacht sales division, and Martyn Hicks, who was responsible for Fairline’s former test facility in Ipswich. Speaking to MBY, Russell Currie described the moment he took the helm: “We picked up the keys from the administrator on January 25, opened up the door to the building, and the only noise was the roof vent flapping in the breeze. But within an hour of our arrival, people started applying for jobs at the gate and by the evening, we’d had our first boat order confirmed.”
What have they achieved since then?
Fairline Yachts has recently taken on its 137th employee with the majority of them working on the factory floor building boats. Many of them were previously employed by Fairline Boats and have now been re-employed on fresh contracts. By the same token, all bar three of the existing Fairline dealer network have chosen to stay with the brand but again, under new terms and conditions. The lease on the other two Nene Valley sites has been extended, while the Russian owners try to negotiate purchasing the freehold. The lease on the Corby site, meanwhile, has been allowed to expire and all the machinery and stock moved back to Nene Valley.
What about all those disgruntled suppliers?
The new management team recently held a suppliers’ conference to try and win over some of the businesses which lost money when Fairline Boats collapsed. “We know some suffered as a consequence of the debts left by Fairline Boats and we knew it might be difficult,” concedes Russell. “In fact, the majority of them embraced our honesty and even though we’ve had to agree new payment terms with some, I’m not aware of any supplier who has refused to do business with us.”
What does the future hold?
Fairline Yachts is committed to building 38 boats this year, two thirds of which have already been sold. Russell admits that this is a mix of retail sales and dealer stock boats but is confident the market will quickly absorb these. Many of the boats in build at the time of the collapse have now been completed and when we visited the yard in early June, there were at least another eight boats in various stages of build including Targa 38s, 48s, 53s and a Squadron 65. The Squadron 78 line will also be up and running soon. Production plans for 2017 will rise to around 50 boats, the same year in which they hope to become profitable, with 80 planned for 2018 and 100 for 2019.
How will it hit these numbers?
Through a combination of refining its existing models and launching new ones. Russell acknowledges that the previous owners neglected new model development in an attempt to reduce costs. Fairline Yachts is now pursuing an aggressive programme of new model launches starting with a new Targa 53 Open at the Southampton Boat Show in September, followed by a Squadron 53 at London 2017. Although work on both these boats started under the previous regime, they have been substantially redesigned. The Squadron 53 has been given an entirely new deck moulding (previous plans involved grafting the flybridge from the old Squadron 48 on to the hull of the 53),creating more headroom in the fullbeam master suite, a flat floor in the saloon, a foredeck lounge and a much larger flybridge. A number of different galley layouts and the addition of Caterpillar engines, including a top-of-the-range 850hp option for speeds up to 35 knots, will help it appeal to the widest possible audience.
What other new models are planned?
The only other one they’re prepared to reveal now is the brand new Targa 62 GTO shown on p10. This is scheduled for launch at the Cannes Show in September 2017 and will be the first boat conceived and designed entirely by the new company in association with Alberto Mancini and Vripack.
Why choose an Italian to design a British boat?
Although Fairline Yachts still employs its own small team of in-house designers led by Andy Pope, it was determined to encompass the very best talent that Europe had to offer. Russell and his team drew up a list of 12 design studios from the UK and Europe, which were asked to put forward their design proposals. This was narrowed down to a shortlist of four, all of whom were invited to London to present their ideas to the board and ten of Fairline’s biggest dealers. The two strongest contenders were then given ten days to come back with a final proposal. As Russell puts it: “Mancini showed genius from the start but when he showed us his final proposal on the big screen, it was a real wow moment.”
How will Vripack affect Fairline’s legendary hull design?
There is no plan to make any radical changes to the way Fairlines ride and handle. Seakeeping will still be at the core of any new boat design but Vripack has been briefed to make sure that the new Targa 62 has a low running angle with maximum comfort under way and at anchor with particular emphasis on reducing hull and engine noise.
What else is in the pipeline?
Russell is reluctant to reveal his hand too early: “Our priority is to build boats our customers want.” Still, he admits they are looking at ways the company could get round the current size limitation of 78ft forced on it by the height limit of the road bridges surrounding their land-locked factory. One option would be to transport the hull and deck of larger boats separately and then assemble them nearer the coast. Russell tacitly acknowledges this: “There are 78 owners needing somewhere to go to so we are looking for additional waterside facilities.”
Might they build a smaller boat?
“We haven’t ruled out anything over or under our current size range [38-78ft],” explains Russell. Pressed on whether he thinks it’s still possible to build a smaller boat profitably in the UK or whether he might have to look abroad to make this viable he replies: “We’re certainly not going to lose money building a small boat but currently our focus is to build boats here.”
Is there still room for three big British brands?
Russell certainly thinks so but has no desire to try and compete directly with Sunseeker and Princess in terms of numbers. “We think there are four different areas of the boat market. Niche yards like Hardy who build a handful of boats per year to order; mass market manufacturers like Jeanneau and Bavaria; large production yards like Sunseeker, Princess and Ferretti building 200-300 boats a year and mid-size companies like Fairline Yachts building no more than 100 boats a year. At that level, we can be both profitable and sustainable.”
What will differentiate Fairline from the pack?
“With fewer overheads and a more flexible manufacturing base, we can respond quicker to the market. Our plan is to deliver the latest technology and world-class design with traditional Fairline craftsmanship.”
Will that change the way Fairlines are built?
Up to a point. The 48 and 53 are already resin-infused and all future models will adopt this more efficient method. In other areas, they plan to revert to more traditional hand-crafted techniques. For instance, they have recently sold the multi-million-pound lacquering machine because it couldn’t cope with curved surfaces. They also plan to introduce more detailing first seen on the Targa 53, such as diamond-stitched leather and real stone surfaces.
Is the plan sustainable?
“When we set up the company in January, our immediate goals were to survive, stabilise and sustain. To date, we have delivered everything we have promised to our customers, our shareholders, our employees and our dealers. We are all committed to continuing to deliver on our plans and ensure a sustainable future for Fairline Yachts. Failure is not an option.”