ASMEX Interviews: Matthew Johnston of MUIR Windlasses
SuperyachtNews.com sat down with Matthew Johnston, MD of MUIR Windlasses. Fresh from MUIR’s win of ‘Exporter Of The Year’ at the 2014 Club Marine Australian Marine Industry Export & Superyacht Awards, Johnston discussed the secrets to export success and MUIR's plans for the future.…
What has been behind your export success?
“The main thing is that you have to have a quality brand and you have to work with your customers. In the early days our founder John Muir walked the beat all through the US and Europe and was dogged in his determination, which ultimately gave us a break. The first boat we put a superyacht mega system on board was for the refit of Adix that Pendennis did in the early 1980s. The project manager for that project was Australian and he knew John and gave him an opportunity.
Halfway through that project John and his design team realised that what they had proposed for the yacht was probably too small, so they beefed it up and developed a larger system, which worked exceptionally well. Afterwards the owner and his team were having a discussion with John and they were rapt with the system and commented, ‘this seems a little bigger than what was proposed.’ John came clean and said ‘yes, it’s bigger, but I’ll wear the cost, it was down to me not wanting to under-spec it.’ But they said ‘that’s not right, we owe you the difference,’ and they paid it the next day. From there word of mouth spread of John's commitment to quality all round; it’s a small industry and you start getting a name.
At the same time Oceanfast were building yachts in Western Australia and they gave the MUIR brand a similar opportunity and from that we got into European and US yards. Throughout that time, we became more and more known for our reliability – you don’t have a lot of issues with MUIR. Certainly we are not the cheapest, but we offer a total package from the early design stages, and we want to work with the yards from the naval architect stage and identify the best solution for the yacht."
Are all your packages custom solutions?
"For our smaller megayacht range, from 80-100-feet we tend to do more standardised packages. Once you get to the 40 metre mark the demand is usually for a more custom solution. We will work with the yards and clients on exactly what they want, whether it's custom or a standard package. To date our biggest project has been for the Swift 141 for Abu Dhabi MAR; that was a big project, with our biggest ever anchor winch.
Superyachts are a big part of what we do. About 55 per cent of all of our work, in terms of revenue dollars, is now for superyachts. We are well established in America, Europe and Australasia but new regions are always important. The Middle East and Asia, particularly Taiwan, are growing focuses for us. We recently exhibited at the first Taiwan International Boat Show, which went well. We definitely want to continue to grow our superyacht share. There are yards in Holland and Germany in particular that we would like to work with and will continue to target. At the same time the commercial business is also a focus and many of our commercial customers buy megayacht systems, just with a commercial finish. Having those two arms is important business-wise."
Who would you say are your biggest competitors?
"Depending which market we are in we tend to bump into local competitors. Over the globe, probably Maxwell because we both offer a similar range of 6m-150m+, although we build bigger and have a commercial arm too, which they don’t. If it was over 50m in the custom build market, it would be between us and Steen. We are often the choice for the more custom yards."
For Australian exporters the biggest challenge is the dollar and the distance, correct?
"Yes. I think the last couple of years have seen a strong dollar and a second wave of the GFC so it’s been reasonably tough, but over the last few months the dollar has eased a bit. The last two years have given Australian marine manufacturers the opportunity to look at their businesses and reduce the overheads where possible and do things smarter. For MUIR we have invested heavily in R&D. We have our own 3D printer, we are looking at robotics, particularly for labour intensive processes such as polishing. As things have become quieter it’s become a buyers market. Builders have to work more to a budget, and they expect their suppliers to do the same.
I think more and more people are turning to proven reliable companies, because they no longer want to take a risk that they might be buying something that will have issues. We push pretty hard the fact that once our product is installed we provide a comprehensive installation manual and training package. There’s not much that can go wrong. We always tend to over engineer and over spec the systems, and certainly, with custom builds, you have the ability to do that. So we don’t have a lot of warranty issues, which means one less worry for the yard. Having a quality product is probably the biggest key to export success."
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