In the upcoming issue of The Superyacht Owner, Co-founder and CEO at Y.CO, Charlie Birkett sits in conversation with myself to discuss his time working in the world of superyacht brokerage and gives his candid feedback on what owners, new and old need to understand about this crazy business. Starting from humble beginnings, Y.CO has surpassed their 10 year anniversary and remains committed to doing things just a little bit different that most.

How have your personal experiences shaped how you work as a broker?

I began my career in yachting at 16, working as a sail maker and boat builder, before moving on to race sailboats professionally in the UK and the USA and working as crew on superyachts. This experience has absolutely shaped how I work as it has taught me about 360 degrees of the industry as well as what really matters to owners, clients and crew.

Is the industry making more bridges with other luxury markets? Is this the way of the future?

At Y.CO we believe that luxury is all about choice, and by partnering up with other luxury markets, we give our clients access to a whole network of services and brands that are like-minded and will only add to clients’ experience with Y.CO.

How has Y.CO changed its services over the years?

Our core values – to create a highly experienced team with a boutique mentality, that offers exceptional levels of service in the sale, purchase, charter, management and construction of the world’s most exclusive superyachts – have remained the same but we continually endeavour to improve the experience that we offer our clients. Innovation and evolution are principles I live by. I believe the world, and the superyacht industry, are developing too fast not to move and grow with them. This takes the form of pioneering new software, dynamic brand partnerships, strong, visual marketing and key technological advances.

Our expanded office presence around the world – we now have teams in Monaco, London, Fort Lauderdale, Newport and Doha – also allows our highly experienced staff to reach clients across the globe.

What are your thoughts on the brokerage industry as a whole and how it looks after its clients?

Like any industry, there will always be a small minority who put a quick deal ahead of a client’s welfare. Overall though, tough market conditions over the past few years have highlighted the importance of building long-term client relationships and going the extra mile to win and retain customers, as well as improving efficiency, transparency and professionalism. I don’t believe there is room in this business in the long-term for brokers who operate unscrupulously. At Y.CO, our philosophy was always to offer our clients the best possible service, on shore and on board and remains that way.

Who were each of your first clients? What did they buy? Are you still in touch?

This is very topical as the owner of Katrion was our first ever client and 10 years later we still take care of their yachting interests. Today, we are working with the owner of every yacht that my business partner Gary Wright captained in his career on board. For us, retaining a client for a decade is the norm, rather than the exception. Our first clients were yacht management clients, but we have moved on to handle their CA management for sale and charter as well as acquisitions and new build projects for them. Every area of the Y.CO business operates on the same principles: using knowledge and experience to earn a client’s trust, and going forward, always putting their interests first to retain it. 

Y.CO really refocused its marketing strategy in the last two years. How have owners responded? Have you noticed a change?

As we approached our 10 year anniversary we wanted to capture on paper all the elements that had made Y.CO the company it was. The visual result of this internal branding exercise is the marketing we use today. If you’re going to run a marketing campaign in a publication like The FT: How To Spend It, your advertisements have got to stand up against those from the likes of global brand powerhouses such as Louis Vuitton, Rolex and Range Rover. Our clients are the most sophisticated consumers in the world and many run corporations that are global ‘brands’ themselves. Their feedback has been very positive and enquiries for all services have leapt, including a host of first time charterers, so we’re pleased with the direction we have taken.

What about owner involvement in marketing their yacht? Do you think they understand the investment required?

In the years following 2008, several yachts sat on the market for sale, price reduction after price reduction. Sensible brokers and their sellers soon realised that in a slower market, marketing needs to be better planned and better executed – a yacht will no longer sell itself. At Y.CO we have introduced a number of yacht branding and marketing initiatives, centred around building a pack of outstanding marketing assets. Our owners have responded with enthusiasm and the results, especially in our charter fleet, have been notable. With sales, our analysis has shown that with a reasonable investment in photography and advertising, a yacht’s time on the market is roughly halved.

What do you think the next generation of yacht owners are going to want? Do you think expectations are changing?

They are looking to push the boundaries of technology and sustainability, allowing them to reach further-flung destinations whilst limiting their environmental footprint. We will probably see some significant shifts in the use of interior space, perhaps move away from the traditional layout and division between service and guest areas. On the cruising side, clients who may have enjoyed the more conventional destinations of the Western Mediterranean and the Caribbean for many seasons  are now looking for unexplored, unspoilt locations for cruising with family and friends somewhere really extraordinary.

What are your expectations for the market in the next 10 years?

We anticipate that the market will grow in the next 10 years – the industry is certainly feeling more buoyant even coming into 2014. There is a large pool of potential customers that may not yet be aware of yachting as an option for them. We hope to see growth in emerging markets that have not yet reached their prime and will continue to see the growth of a new generation of charterers and owners.
If a brand new owner came in to you with 30 million Euros, what would you advise them to do with it?

No two clients are alike so there is no one ‘fit-all’ answer to any budget. Anyone can find a yacht to buy for any amount of money. The key is to establish how to achieve the most enjoyment per dollar, and that’s going to be different for every client – depending where they want to go on the yacht, who with, what their hobbies are, how often they want to use it, if they want to charter it out and so on. A first time buyer might have an idea of a certain size and spend based on charter or experience on friends’ yachts, but when we dig deeper this can develop into something totally different. My advice would be: don’t think about the budget, think instead about what you love, and how you see your yacht representing and enabling that. Then we start from there.

Look for more comments from Charlie in issue 13 of The Superyacht Owner.