Gianguido Girotti, Bénéteau – Brand Ecosystem

Gianguido Girotti is Groupe Bénéteau’s Deputy CEO and Boat Division CEO. His observations mean he has a feel for the global market regarding sailboats and powerboats. He explained how he sees the future of the boating industry, plus what’s changed and how customer relationships have changed as a result of the pandemic

by Barche

The situation seems to be fairly untroubled, for everyone to some degree. There’s an inclination to display some confidence. How are you viewing the horizon? Without a doubt visibility is good. There aren’t many clouds on the horizon for the whole of 2023, not for us or anyone else. The market has to balance supply and demand, inflation is working against growth, rebalancing many parameters. By the end of 2023, we’ll know to what extent the figures could increase or stabilise, but we need to think now about how requests from boat customers are changing, whether that’s buying or hiring. Of course forecasting, an untroubled ride for the whole of the coming year is close to being a miracle, given recent times.

WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT HOW REQUESTS FROM BOAT CUSTOMERS ARE CHANGING, WHETHER THAT’S BUYING OR HIRING.

Yes but the problem wasn’t so much with demand as with supply. That problem’s called the supply chain. With the arrival of Covid, all producers stopped producing. The market went in the opposite direction though, with demand increasing. Once stocks ran out the crisis came. At the end of 2020, there was a negative peak, by the end of 2030 the balance should be restored. Even during this period of growth we still have to be on our guard though. First of all, when you start from a situation of paralysis any number can look positive. Secondly, because with inflation at 10% the average sale price increases and therefore so does turnover, but obviously, some of this increase is just compensation. Finally, we have to be able to consider what may occur beyond the horizon.

What do you mean exactly? In times of growth, we have to demonstrate our ability to ‘consolidate’ or formulate a stable economic model. Just the same as you prepare for gusts of wind on a boat, by dropping an extra anchor and mooring lines, you also have to manage potential capsizes in the market, you can’t just generate takings.

How is this consolidation achieved, in three words? First and foremost I’d say Branding and Design Excellence. The market post-covid has accelerated an enormous need for being within a brand ecosystem. Companies have to create embellished experiences, turning their brand and products into examples of excellence. And they need to do it not by targeting all potential consumers, but by attracting those who are part of their community. This is the starting point for supporting them and gaining their loyalty, so they stay when the going gets tough. The second keyword in my book is sustainability. We need to push for solutions that aren’t just for the moment, we have to create a longer-lasting model that is sustainable in all respects.

IN TIMES OF GROWTH, WE HAVE TO DEMONSTRATE OUR ABILITY
TO ‘CONSOLIDATE’ OR FORMULATE A STABLE ECONOMIC MODEL.

And the last?… Sensory perception. the boat shows still look too much like the traditional markets, based on a primitive business model. At the Geneva show the atmosphere is completely different. You don’t go to buy a car, you go to understand what a brand is. It’s more of a sensory rather than a commercial experience.

Is this also a result of digitalisation? Is it finally entering our industry? During Covid, we saw the largest sales increase without almost ever having attended a show. There was considerable engagement with digital, which has to create an alternative platform. Online and offline have to exist together, accompanying users in their experience.

Is the aim to have more boat owners who are younger? We are encountering a generation that wants some real contact with an item after having learned about it online. Brands will have to go to shows to convey and enable customers to imagine the experience they can enjoy with the right product, not to sell them the product. The model could be that of an Apple Genius Bar. The value of the brand must be given due consideration, it’s the most important tangible asset you have in your hands because it creates the brand ecosystem. Seafarers want to be ‘within’ a brand which they can trust completely.

What did you see of interest at the latest shows? It’s hard to pick out individual models the two main trends at the moment are to create more and more habitability and considerable ease of access to the water. Boats are getting bigger and bigger and grander. It’s easy to be unnerved. Conversely, boat owners want to feel closer to the sea, in the sea. So when it comes to powerboats, high, imposing bows are emphasised by low sterns sloping down towards the sea. The aim is to improve the onboard experience and make it as straightforward and pleasurable as possible.

Prominent bows… is this striving for bigger volumes not over the top? Yes maybe, sometimes it seems that we’re forgetting to make items that are beautiful as well as habitable and appealing. It’s also true though that not so long ago large SUVs looked over-the-top, awkward and unacceptable, we’ve gotten used to them. Homes used to be designed around the kitchen because families were large, and everybody would get together at mealtimes, but that’s no longer the case.

A lot’s changing in the world of powerboats, there’s a major innovation in aesthetics and functionality. Sailboats seem to be behind. Yes, and there’s a reason. Following the recession in 2008, the world of powerboats gradually recovered with noteworthy figures. With sailboats, everything slowed down, except for the catamaran sector which increased by 12-13% on average. It’s hard to be creative and try new paths when you see the market shrinking, you need to be brave to navigate in uncharted waters.

COMPANIES HAVE TO CREATE EMBELLISHED EXPERIENCES, TURNING THEIR BRAND AND PRODUCTS INTO EXAMPLES OF EXCELLENCE.

what are you creating? There’s room in particular for boats of over 50 feet. The Oceanis models, for example, are full of new features, as with the First 44. One of the things we’ve done there is to put water ballasts on a cruiser/racer, not just to right it when sailing, but also to make the boat stable when stationary, decreasing rolling when at anchor in the periods in which most time on holiday is spent. Yet again the aim is to enhance the quality of the onboard experience, both for seafarers eating up the miles or for anyone sailing with the family.

At one time boats were mainly seen as simple objects, we’re now in an era where boats are an experienced provider. And the next step? Hard to say, I’d need a crystal ball. Perhaps there’ll be an increasingly different approach, with the option of enjoying more immersive experiences. Maybe in different locations and on different boats, depending on what boat owners and their families need and want. We’ve identified thirty different powerboat options, and an ‘offering’ can be packaged for each one. As well as being an owner an option could be to be part of one or more ‘clubs’ to share experiences. One day I could go fishing, another day I could go water skiing, One day I could hire a fast, basic boat, on another an ultra-comfortable boat with a crew to look after the children.

On the subject of sustainability, for example, we’ve started using resins that are 100% recyclable in our processing operations. We’re a company responsible for 9000 employees, so any change in the production process has to consider.

Can we finish by discussing sustainability? I mentioned it at the start, but between reality and greenwashing it’s the current hot topic. The subject seems mainly to be about electricity, but the issue is much wider than that. In practice, I’ve always witnessed major resistance to real change in the boating world. We’re making a serious attempt, such as by starting to use resins that are 100% recyclable. We have to remember that we’re a company responsible for 9000 employees, so any change in the production process has to consider this. We’ve abolished any processing that requires manual contact. We’re achieving lower emissions and less risk. Certainly, for the moment we’ve only introduced recyclable components for small boat components, such as the anchor lockers and the well, but it’s worth mentioning that when applied to 30,000 pieces it’s the equivalent of building 200 boats responsibly. You have to start somewhere, and we’re taking it more seriously than anyone else.

(Gianguido Girotti, Bénéteau – Brand Ecosystem – Barchemagazine.com – March 2023)