Learning to listen
Is advisor influence negatively impacting the superyacht market’s variance?
Could it be that those advisers that have the owner’s best interests at
heart are actually having a stagnating effect on innovation and progress?
Few and far between are the projects that truly stand out from the crowd and, in those instances, the designs have almost always been heavily
influenced by the owners themselves rather than accepted market norms.
“It is a true pity. When you look at the opportunity the market has with shipyards that can build nearly anything and extremely wealthy clients, how come the industry is producing so much that is that same?” asks Bart Bouwhuis, co-creative director of Vripack. “Consider you are walking Monaco Yacht Show and thinking about how much is the same and how much is truly different, I think you would reach the conclusion that the projects are very predictable. I believe that the similar designs that we see around us have much to do with those people that influence owner decisions.”
Bouwhuis argues that the circle of individuals around any given superyacht buyer, those that genuinely influence their decisions, is having a negative impact on design and innovation as charter, resale and other such factors have such a profound influence on superyacht design. The market, it seems, is happier selling concepts, projects, layouts and amenities that they know to be popular, rather than interpreting what the buyer is asking for. Who is to say that a new style of design wouldn’t prove to be popular on the second-hand market or for superyacht charters?
“We know the typical makeup of a superyacht. However, given that a large new build project could take anywhere from three to five years, there is not enough time given to exploring new options before the final decisions are made,” continues Bouwhuis. “Why not take the opportunity to explore exciting options? Sometimes decisions are made purely to fit with the market’s accepted norms, regardless of whether or not they are even functional. If you look at main deck layouts, for example, 90 per cent of them are all the same, is this driven by functionality? No, I don’t believe so. It is driven by the influencers around the owner and the accepted norms.”
Much of the market’s rhetoric in recent years has been about the need to attract new buyers and new ownership demographics to the superyacht market. However, to attract new groups of individuals, how much sense does it make to continue creating the same products with only superficial differences?
“For the production side of the market, it is more acceptable, given that the business model requires them to appeal to a broad spectrum of buyers. As the manufacturer you need to consider the target audience and be aware of the competition,” says Bouwhuis. “However, beyond the production and semi-custom markets there is almost endless opportunity, but the vessels are still so similar. The industry needs to be braver, influencers more open-minded and designers have to provide feasible inspiration, not fantasies.”
Another focus for the market in recent years has been a greater emphasis on experiences rather than specifications. What does the superyacht enable the buyer to do? How does the project highlight the client's values? How is the project a reflection of the owner themselves? However, is the influence of advisers actually detracting from the market’s desire to focus on the owner and their experiences? Are the projects actually reflections of the advisory body rather than the buyers?
“The market needs to learn to become better listeners. There are too many factors that are determined by the ‘this is how we do it’ approach. Unfortunately, true listening is not something that all human beings are good at. Listening to truly understand is a rare skill,” concludes Bouwhuis.
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