Living the dream on the Cote d’Ipswich
“We were fed up with living in France and also wanted kids,” says Josh. The couple moved to Ipswich – where they had family nearby – when Claire got a job with Oyster Yachts six years ago.
Although they’d distanced themselves from the South of France, they didn’t leave behind the superyachts and four years ago set up their own business – Superyachts Tenders & Toys.
As well as managing superyachts in France they had worked as captain and chef on sailing yachts around the world, sailing from the UK to New Zealand via the Panama Canal, and had spotted an opportunity for supplying yacht toys (onboard leisure equipment) and tenders (smaller boats to support or service larger ones) to superyachts.
Despite being based in Ipswich very little of the business has been local (or even in the UK), with more than 95 per cent coming from overseas.
“It makes no difference us being on the East Coast rather than the South of France or any other superyacht hub,” says Josh. “If an order comes in for Thailand we may as well be in Ipswich as in France. In some ways it has an advantage; we’ve just, for example, sent an articulated lorry to Holland, which is so easy and cheap from here.”
Since making the decision to go it alone they haven’t looked back. “We broke even from our set up costs in just six weeks,” says Josh. Their first order was from Spain, supplying a nine-metre tender power boat for the motor yacht Ecstasea, that had previously been owned by Roman Abramovich.
This got the business going and has led to sales from across the globe – but in particular from France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Holland and Norway. Josh says: “Sometimes people come to us and say ‘I’ve got this much money and this is what I want’, whereas others want something designed specifically for them and we work with different builders to deliver it.”
The rapid speed at which the business took off meant they were soon faced with the prospect of employing people – something they had had no experience of.
“The decision to employ people was quite difficult,” says Josh. “I think we drank a bottle of wine each the evening after we’d employed our first person.”
They now have a team of seven and growing. It was at this stage that they decided to seek some professional advice and approached UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) East.
Josh said: “We’d really muddled our way through until then but we were able to bounce ideas off our international trade adviser Ashley Almond, which led to us taking on a full time in-house accountant as the best way of freeing up my time. She also gave us some good connections including a list of all the new-build showrooms free of charge.”
The couple also had support attending the Boat Show and took the Passport to Export programme, which helps new or inexperienced exporters with training, planning and support to grow their business overseas.
Says Ashley: “Claire and Josh have built a really solid business in a very short space of time, converting their experience, expertise and passion for boats into commercial success.
“They have always been receptive to new ideas and are willing to make changes when necessary. Their focus on delivering the best products for the clients with the highest level of customer service allows them to compete successfully against other players in the market. And their move into design and manufacture of their own product ranges will generate massive gains for them in the long run.”
Taking this step back allowed the couple to refocus the company and they are now concentrating on fitting out new-build superyachts. Josh said: “Before we met with Ashley we’d only done one and now we’ve done 20 to 30; we’re on our fourth since Christmas including the sixth biggest boat in the world. There are just 6000 boats in the world that meet the criteria for a superyacht we are really interested in, which is typically from around 50 metres plus.
“The average spend for these boats is £150,000 for toys outfitting and if you include tenders it’s more like £600,000. Requests have included submarines, amphibious quad bikes, jet packs and even drones.”
The couple have also moved into designing and manufacturing their own products, starting with an inflatable landing craft. This is an area they’d like to expand into with other products already in design for a new range of superyacht tenders. They are also now going to work with UKTI on their Next Steps programme.
Josh and Claire have also started the family they wanted; they now have a three-year-old and a four-month old. And despite spending all day with superyachts, Josh is very happy with a dinghy, which he races on Alton Water.
“It’s wet and cold but I do it for the pure love of sailing,” he says. The Suffolk version of living the dream, then.