Staying buoyant: Sunseeker rides the economic storm

If you fly EasyJet to Nice, take a look at your fellow passengers. That fellow in a smart suit clutching a Sunseeker brochure isn?t quite what he seems. ?The flights to and from the south of France attract a very select type of passenger,? reveals David Lewis, the man charged with selling Sunseeker yachts. ?They are often very rich, own a villa out there and enjoy the lifestyle associated with that area of the world. We noticed that our colleagues flying EasyJet kept being approached by people saying, ?Are you from Sunseeker? We need to have a chat?. Eventually I decided to send sales representatives on flights back and forth, just to sell yachts to passengers.?

You?d expect Lewis to have a good nose for where potential customers congregate. He and partner Chris Head have been selling Sunseekers for 20 years. Their firm, Sunseeker London, has sales rights in 41 countries and sending salesmen on the budget airlines is just one of the many slick techniques used by Lewis to keep millionaires signing on the dotted line.

?We learned in 1993 which brands are insulated from downturns. Our clients are so wealthy that it makes no difference to them if they are worth ?20m or ?15m. But we don?t sit around waiting for business to come to us. We get on flights at a moment?s notice to pursue leads. I warn all our team that their marriages might suffer!? Long-suffering employees are being sent ever further afield. ?Dubai has been a very strong market. Turkey and Greece are important, and Egypt is up-and-coming. Five years ago someone told me that Egypt would be a good market ? I opened up an office out there within a month.?

Lewis also has his sights set on an altogether different type of market: women. ?Our opportunities have doubled now that women are rich in their own right,? he says. ?My mother was considered an exception when she learned to drive ? these days women are entrepreneurs who want to own and drive boats. They don?t want to just sit on one during the school holidays.?

Such a diverse customer base means Sunseeker London is immune to national problems. British customers account for a mere five per cent of his ?53m turnover (Sunseeker itself has sales of around ?300m).

Only one cloud blots the sky: those budget airlines. ?Funnily enough our fortunes are tied to Ryanair and EasyJet. If they stop flying to destinations in Turkey, Greece and France, our buyers won?t be able to get the most out of their yachts. It is the difference between using your yacht three times a year and a dozen times.?

And without budget flights, how else will Lewis engineer those fortuitous meetings between salesmen and potential customers?David Lewis was interviewed as part of our “Business on a Budget” supplement, published in the October edition of Real Business magazine in association with Barclays Commercial.

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