2013 Riviera Update —

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Carver 2807 Riviera Aft Cabin

2013 Riviera Update — Exclusive

Some 18 months down the track, Longhurst stamps his mark on Riv

Last year’s exclusive Riviera catch-up was sub-headed “Lunch with new owner Rodney Longhurst (left in above pic). Since that nosh-up, a lot of water has past under the bridge and down the mighty, miry Coomera River, where the boat-building yard is located.

For starters, the Longhurst family has acquired the 14-hectare luxury boat-building facility, the largest of its type in the Southern Hemisphere, from the banks. You couldn’t ask for a more resounding vote of confidence in Riviera and Australia’s boat-building industry in general.

When we arrive, almost 18-months from his initial purchase in late-June, the difference is obvious. The gardens are neat and tidy, the hedges trimmed, there’s a spring in the step of those working on site… and boats are being built again.

We’re early, so I entertain the thought of calling this “brunch with Rodney Longhurst. Only he doesn’t drink coffee. In fact, I’m unsure of his vices other than, perhaps, workaholism and an obsessive/compulsive eye for detail. This is what you want from a boat builder.

Over the past 18 months, Longhurst has been focused on Riviera’s future, restructured the business, reviewed internal processes and procedures, invested in new-model development, recruited new and better people for the job, and grown Riviera’s presence from that of a business in receivership to one that’s driven by his personal quest for perfection.

This differs from how boats, including Rivieras, were built in the distant past. When it was purely a numbers game, hulls were cut and shut, ‘new’ models were rushed down the production line to market, and then the bugs were ironed out.

The new Riviera 50 Enclosed, which is set to debut at the 2013 Sydney International Boat Show opening August 1, heralds a seismic shift in the way Rivieras are built.

The first all-new boat from Longhurst and returning CEO and good mate Wes Moxey has been more than a year in the making. To garner would-be owner input and get things right before pressing the ‘go’ button they created a full-sized walk-through mock-up of the interior.

Longhurst has been instrumental in the fine tune of the design and you can see his mark in respect of attention to detail. It’s no longer acceptable to build a boat and wait till the 10th model to get it right. We have to get it right from the beginning, he explains, echoing that Field of Dreams’ slogan that if you build it (right) they will come.

Indeed, it’s no longer a numbers game — it can’t be in this market — which ultimately means greater attention to detail. The upshot is less boats of greater quality. And that’s got to be good news for Riviera buyers.

NO LONGER A NUMBERS GAME

In the 2012/13 financial year, Riviera delivered 50 boats, we’re told, including five Belize motor yachts. At the time of our visit, just over 20 boats were in build at the factory. They start at the ‘entry-level’ $900K-plus 445 SUV. We jump aboard the 43 Flybridge sistership (just over $1 million) to conduct our interview at the Riviera’s marina, as the rain pounds the tin roof above.

At the same time, boats are in build right up to a Riviera 63 Enclosed. Longhurst says Riviera is in discussion with some prospective buyers of their 75 flagship. Eventually, there is suggestion Riviera could go bigger.

While bigger boats are propping up the market, the new 445 SUV (launched 2012 Sydney boat show) has been a success. There have been 11 built in less than a year. South Australia has been a good market. But while Riviera still builds stock boats these days, mostly they are made to order.

The R Marine dealership model has changed. Riviera was finalising the sale of the last (Perth) dealership at the time of interview. This will see the boat builder withdraw entirely from the retail business. Riviera was working with GE Finance at the time of writing to create a product that will assist the new independent R Marine dealers to hold floor stock.

But it’s not a numbers game any more. It’s not about building a whole bunch of boats and sticking them into the dealers hoping they’re going to sell, says Stephen Milne (right in pic), Director of Brand and Communications. Everyone enjoys the whole approach of customising their boats and doing different things to them. So we’re a little bit more of a bespoke boat builder these days.

MORALE IS UP

Meantime, 18 months down the track, Longhurst says his team has performed remarkably well. “The guys know there is an owner, the property has been purchased, there’s some real security and good morale. And that’s continuing day-by-day after these guys have been working under that fear of what’s going to happen through almost three years of receivership, he says.

When asked if expectations and goals have been met after purchasing Riviera more than a year ago, Longhurst is philosophical. If you were to ask me what the economy is going to be like in a year, I don’t really know. So I have to do the best I can with the team, week in and week out, and that’s the way we try and work. We focus on what we can control and do it the best we can, he adds.

I’ve come in here because I’m aware that Riviera is seen as a bit of an icon and seen as a premium brand. And the fact that it weathered those almost-three years [in receivership] is certainly a strong reason why I was willing to come in here. I also had total belief in the team. I knew Wesley [Moxey, returning CEO] well and believe that with the team — I’ve worked in construction, hospitality and tourism — we can do something special here. That hasn’t changed, Longhurst says.

FINESSE AND EXPERIENCE

Rodney’s attention to detail is taking Riviera to another level. The ultimate expression of that will be the launch of the 50 at the Sydney International Boat Show. That’s an entirely new boat inside and out and in every respect,” Milne says in support of his boss.

Longhurst makes the point that Riviera is paying a lot of attention to experienced people these days — from dealers to owners and prospective buyers — to come up with practical solutions and continually finesse the boats. It’s on this basis that Longhurst forecasts business will improve this financial year because we are going to give them [would-be buyers] reason… if we’re good enough the Riviera family and new customers will see that.”

My view on all that is we are here to build Rivieras as the absolute premium brand and give fantastic support and we believe that will show in new-boat sales, Longhurst says.

SECOND-HAND MARKET

Longhurst doesn’t consider the thousands of Rivieras in the second-hand market as competition so much as a marketing opportunity. We’re continuing to adopt new technology and to build better. We’re working on improving that great Riviera legacy. Every single new boat is a learning from the past,” he says.

As for resale values, Longhurst says that’s a supply/demand question and more boaters in the marketplace will drive up used-boat values and, ultimately, help make the trade up to a new Riviera more accessible. In respect of new boats and their intrinsic value, the best thing he can do is build the boats the very best he can.

We’re the only manufacturer in this country that puts its hand up to fund educational programs like the Riviera Festival, with the Women on Water, Riv Kids and other things to teach people how great boating can be, Longhurst says, adding that Riviera is not an elitist brand, it’s a premium brand.

MANUFACTURING PLANS

As for manufacturing, the new Riviera 50 Enclosed had its moulds made in Taiwan. This is a first for Riviera and Longhurst says that remains an option going forward on a case-by-case basis. The reason for building the new 50 moulds in Taiwan was partly because of the scaled-back Riviera business and the difficulty in suddenly finding contractors here.

CEO Moxey, who has had prior dealings with the Taiwanese yard, fast-tracked the mould making. But Longhurst stresses that all the Rivieras are built in Coomera by a team of master craftsmen with decades of experience. That is what they have concentrated their effort at doing on the new 50.

As Riviera moves forward with renewed vigour, backing and resources, former employees who took flight are returning to the company. There’s a mix of young guys and grey hairs on the floor, with Riviera saying it’s getting more involved in [government-assisted] apprentice programs.

Less but more considered boats is the way forward. “You can’t have a situation where you build the first boat and get it right by the 10th. I’m not interested in that. If we can get it right on paper and through mock ups and that NPD (new-product development) process then the final finessing is much easier,” explains Longhurst, as his new 50 Enclosed approached launch day after more than a year in the design and planning.

FUTURE RIVIERAS

Longhurst is playing his cards close to his chest, but says: We are definitely working on new concepts. At a Riviera press conference in May, CEO Moxey said Riviera was having internal discussions about smaller boats and where to set the point of ‘entry level’.


But there have also been strong suggestions about a new class of motor yacht or passage-maker branded Riviera. The drawings were published on the company’s website prior to it going into receivership. We understand some kind of announcement will be made at the 2013 Sydney International Boat Show.

Longhurst admits, conceptually, they are looking at other styles to potentially answer [ageing] customer demands. But in keeping with the new modus operandi, Riviera doesn’t want to rush anything. Longhurst says the design process is more protracted, considered and richer than before. This, he says, will lead Riviera to consolidating its position as the premium boat builder in Australia and establishing a sustainable manufacturing model.

But you also get the feeling it’s something of a personal quest or journey for Longhurst. If I can build something that people take away and say: ‘I’m so happy with this’ then that’s the ultimate. I get to work with a team of people and show what Australians can do. That’s exciting. Because some people say: ‘you can’t do this and you can’t do that’… it’s all hogwash.

We can build as well or better than anywhere else in the world. If we’re good enough in the way we manage our processes we can build cost effectively, he says, just days after Ford announced it would be closing its auto factory in Melbourne in 2016.

As time proves, Longhurst is correct in forecasting the Australian dollar would retreat to more historic currency-exchange levels. Since our interview, conditions have improved for exporters. Riviera exported over half its boats in the 2012/13 financial year despite everything going against the yard.

Carver 2807 Riviera Aft Cabin

Meantime, Riviera may expand the aftermarket side of the business, inhabit more space for apprentice programs or build bigger boats. But the intention and vision is to keep the 14-hectare site for marine use as, indeed, it is zoned. It might also sub-lease space to other marine-related industries if there’s demand.

Virtually next door at Coomera, the marine-service centre called The Boatworks belongs to Longhurst. It caters for marine servicing, fitout and aftermarket businesses. New additions and upgrades are expected there in coming years.

POD POWER

Meantime, Riviera says since it first introduced the Volvo IPS pod drive system on the 43 Offshore Express and then the 4400 Sport Yacht in 2007, upon which your writer voyaged from the Gold Coast to Hervey Bay over the course of three days, the yard has experienced extremely good feedback.

Riviera still offers a mix of pod and shaft drives, the latter on its bigger boats, but it makes the point that IPS and Zeus pods have been instrumental in enticing new blood to boating. After building hundreds of boats with pod drives, it’s safe to say Riviera has been at the forefront of this revolution.

Longhurst adds that he’s been to Sweden, to the Volvo plant, and that they are pushing the technology hard and evolving it because they believe it’s the future. Additionally, Milne says: You just don’t go to a boat show these days and find people asking: ‘do you have a shaft drive?’

The benefits that you get in terms of fuel economy, performance, quietness, internal space, handling and docking are significant. It’s powerful stuff when it comes to selling a boat, adds Milne.

FAMILY BOATERS

We’re a united group here. It’s all about what we can achieve. The monetary side is important, but that’s the tool that sits behind everything we do. It’s exciting because every day we’re trying to improve. It’s not a matter of putting policy in place and sitting back. We’re actively striving and refining, finessing and improving every day, Longhurst says enthusiastically.

The Longhurst family has long been keen boaters. From the Riviera stable, they have owned a 40 Aft Cabin, 51 Open Flybridge and Mariner/Riviera M430 sportscruiser. But decades before that, they had Bertrams. And father John, who built Dreamworld at Coomera after working 12-hour days with a digger for two years, made Pride boats in Sydney.

Longhurst recalls the test runs on those early Prides, hanging on around infamous Jibbon bombora just outside Port Hacking, where he grew-up at the family’s waterfront home. He remembers building boats in the basement with a handplane and towing them around the foreshore at Yowie Bay.

His brother Tony, a subsequent Australian water-ski champion and successful V8 touring-car driver, used to tow Rodney on the waterway. His uncle on his mother’s side used to race boats, too, and now has a Riviera 51 moored at a Sydney motorboat club.

His father John also started his own mower company assisted by then fledgling retailer Gerry Harvey. There’s a story in the family about making the first lawnmower from which Victa sprouted. Such are the entrepreneurial roots.

YOU JUST FIND A WAY

But in terms of influence, his father John has had the greatest impression. He always said: ‘Never give up. Always try, be better, and a bit different. You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.’ And if you roll-up your sleeves and have a bloody good go, you can do it,’ he says.

That has been relentless. I’d come home from swimming races and be asked: ‘How’d you go today?’ I’d say: second. ‘Well, why didn’t you win?’ recounts Longhurst of the exchanges with his dad. ‘Because the other guy was fast,’ I’d answer. And dad would say: ‘So?’

But it wasn’t a matter of being a hard task master, he always had a belief that you find a way. You just find a way. Persevere and find a way, he says, taking inspiration from his dad, now 80 years of age, who told him that turning Riviera around will be difficult but that it can be done.

I remember people used to say my dad is crazy and he’ll never succeed, recalls Longhurst, adding that he’s hearing the same kind of whispers about his venture now. Then you notice the glint in his eye, the steely determination, that he’s out to prove them wrong. He’s passionate about boating and, with three young boys, there’s a big future ahead. Adversity, it seems, is just fuel to the fire.

Some 18 months after buying the iconic boat builder, Riviera has changed. For the better. Evidently, there’s plenty more to come. Check out the new 50 Enclosed Flybridge to see where Riviera is heading following its acquisition by Rodney Longhurst and the high-achieving family.

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Published. Friday, 19 July 2013

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Carver 2807 Riviera Aft Cabin

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