PART ONE -Two women making their mark in the Australian Marina Industry
Adaptability, persistence, and hard work are the keys to success in small business and the women I have talked to for this series of interviews have these attributes in spades. No one can foresee the future with certainty, but there are clear indications that success in the decade ahead will require a keen focus on delivering positive experiences for all who engage with your business—from consumer to employee, across generations and geographies.
Whilst I have selected 7 key Australian businesswomen to interview there are many dynamic women currently operating with the Australian industry. My discussions have centred around two prominent stakeholders in the marina sector, two interior designers who have made significant inroads into the superyacht and leisure marine sector, two key service providers whose customer focus and can-do attitudes are ensuring their business services are top of mind within the recreational and superyacht sectors plus an exporter who has a different take on some of the questions posed. To understand what is happening in the Australian Industry and how these successful women are dealing with the current environment read their views on what they are doing to stay relevant and viable during these uncertain times.
THE AUSTRALIAN MARINA INDUSTRY
I asked Andrew Chapman, President of the MIAA, to provide a brief overview of the industry. He advised “the Marinas sector has generally fared well over the last 2 years as recreational boating in most jurisdictions was seen as a safe social distancing activity when rules applied. With over 350 marinas across Australia incorporating clubs and commercial activities we have seen some downturn in the more remote tourist-based marinas who are still waiting on borders to reopen however we are back to seeing waiting lists at some marinas that we hadn’t seen for many years. The boatyards have been very busy with so much additional discretionary money available to recreational boating as overseas holidays and cruises were off the list. That’s not to say it hasn’t been without challenges as each state has enforced their own rules a little differently. We have worked with the BIA’s across Australia to engage with Government to keep the essential work undertaken by marinas on track and we assist by providing the services for other essential workers to carry out their work ensuring environmental and emergency services on water are available and maintained. Our industry like the general community is looking forward to increased vaccination rates allowing Government to open up the domestic lockdowns and state borders ahead of the international inbound tourism market that our northern marinas rely so heavily on”.
Nicky Vaux is a partner and Business Development Manager at Empire Marina Bobbin Head, NSW. This Platinum 5 Gold Anchor offers 200 berths, a full-service hardstand, boat brokerage, the Waterside Bistro and all of the services on site one should expect for the ultimate care of your vessel. Her Degree in Hospitality and Catering Management meant that creating Waterside Bistro at the marina in January 2020 was an exciting project for her, and her expertise is evident in the recently received Marina Restaurant of the Year in the MIA Awards.
Nicky is a passionate advocate for getting more women into boating and into the boating industry. She holds a position as a Director on the Board of the Marina Industries Association, contributes to Ocean Magazine and enjoys an extensive network within the industry, both in Australia and overseas, along with an active following on social media and on her podcast in her pseudonym as The Boat Princess. https://www.theboatprincess.com/ https://www.empiremarinas.com.au/
Suzanne Davies is chief executive of the Marina Industry Association Australia (MIAA). The MIAA is the leading marina industry association across the Asia Pacific Region representing club and commercial marinas, boatyards, and suppliers. The MIAA represents 300 businesses, connecting over 2000 industry leaders and decision makers and is well known for the provision of high quality and professionally run training and accreditation courses. The MIAA also runs a bi annual industry conference and annual awards programme. For over 12 years, Suzanne was the General Manager of the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club before moving on to take the role of CEO of the country’s largest marina group, d’Albora Marinas. In October 2020 Suzanne commenced as the CEO of the Marina Industries Association. Suzanne was previously a director and the treasurer of the MIA for 8 years and is currently on the board of Australian Sailing. Her experience in the marina industry is impressive. https://www.marinas.net.au
Q1. Will boat shows continue to be important to your business and do you see it critical to your business to get back to the personal relationship building that tends to be the focus of domestic and global boat shows.
Nicky, “Boat Shows are an incredibly important part of our business. People still need to look at and feel our products and lifestyle. This can never be entirely replaced digitally; people are accepting it temporarily but won’t do so for the long term in my view. The collaborations formed between businesses at Boat Shows can be crucial in moving businesses forward.
Q2 What are the key changes you have had to make in your business during this pandemic to survive and thrive
Nicky, “As a family run marina we have a very “client focused” approach and our clients can visibly see the continuous investment we are making in our facility and in all we do, thus creating a strong loyalty towards our business. We can’t just hope it gets better we have to make it get better. To this end we have focused on supporting local suppliers for our restaurant and are continually looking at how we can improve our offering to meet the current environment, obviously moving to takeaway food during restricted periods. An advantage many marinas food and beverage outlets have is our outdoor spaces and it’s important we make the most of this going forward.”
Suzanne, “the pandemic has forced us all to do things differently and has presented us with many new opportunities that we otherwise may not have ever considered or realised. The MIAA responded to the pandemic by quickly transitioning several courses to online formats. We also held some of our traditionally face to face management courses virtually. This allowed some who were often unable to access the courses due to location or cost or time to attend, so we attracted a different audience. We also trialled a virtual marina tour of Empire Marina at Bobbin Head. As a 5 Gold Anchor Platinum Marina it attracted a lot of interest from overseas. We weren’t sure what to think before doing it, but it worked tremendously well and will do it again. We have seen a real desire from members for more online, short courses and as a result have two more under development which will be released in the coming months. It seems that people have become a lot more comfortable with online formats because of the pandemic and realise the considerable time, cost and convenience benefits.
Q3. The world is now shaped by technology change, social media, consumer expectations and hyper connectivity how have you embraced these factors to develop your business.
Nicky, “Whilst we don’t have Boat Shows available to us it’s important, we retain and expand connections keeping our social media channels active and interesting, and provide engaging and useful information to our clients through socials, newsletters, podcasts, calls and smaller events.”
Suzanne, “Boaters are constantly on the move and need convenient ways to locate services at their next destination. Gone is Yellow Pages! The MIAA is just completing the development of My Marinas Guide, a map-based, online marine services directory providing a comprehensive listing of all marinas, yacht clubs and boatyards in Australia. It will assist boaters in their passage planning by enabling them to locate marinas, maintenance facilities and service providers suitable to their needs in particular geographic locations. In collaboration with Superyacht Australia and the Boating Industry Association, this year we launched an online jobs board specifically for the broader marine industry called Marine Jobs. It functions in much the same way as SEEK but is focussed on our industry and profiles a range of career resources for our workforce.
Q4. Many stakeholders tell me that customer expectations have changed since the start of the pandemic and everyone has to work harder to achieve customer satisfaction
Nicky, “Customer expectations have been changing since the GFC not just since the pandemic. They expect more value, greater service and attention to detail for their hard-earned cash. In addition to this I believe the pandemic has emphasised those that are doing what they do well and those who were just riding the wave. Businesses that were more driven and engaged have pivoted to create better outcomes for their clients and this in turn has put pressure on other businesses to do likewise. It’s been tough with rising costs in all areas as we adapt to higher expectations and safety requirements that’s for sure.”
Suzanne, “The expectations are different. The support, and the way we deliver it, to our members has changed as a result. When lockdowns and restrictions come into play, our members really looked to us for support and guidance to help them to interpret the rapidly changing advice and regulations coming from government. There was also a need to ensure the government understood the implications for our industry and that certain functions needed to continue to mitigate safety and environmental risks. Yes, I agree that you do work harder because there are new functions to take on. In addition to this, much of what you have planned needs to ‘piviot’ a word that has been popularised by the pandemic, but it is true – you have to remain agile, flexible and ready to change course”
Q5 Many businesses say that they now must think more locally than globally given the many covid restrictions and border closures. Have you refocused your business offering in any way to meet customer needs/expectations
Nicky “Almost all of our marina clients are permanents, so our focus has always been local, although we do collaborate with other marinas on the East Coast of Australia to facilitate reciprocal berthing for our clients when cruising.
Suzanne, “It has been challenging remaining relevant to our international members when we are unable to get out to them. Much of what we offer in the international space requires us to conduct accreditation assessment or deliver education. We have had to look at creative ways to continue to conduct these services and provide value to our international members. Again, we have reverted to virtual and online methods.”
Q6. What is your view of the current Australia marine industry and where do you see the opportunities/threats if the borders remain closed and the uncertainty, we continue to face in regards to this pandemic every day.
Nicky, “I believe the pandemic for the boating industry in Australia is in fact an incredible positive, but we do have to be reactive, ready to pivot and adapt at a moment’s notice. We are introducing our boating lifestyle to new audiences, and I hope boating becomes a habit that continues when overseas travel reopens. With the positive global view of Australia, I see tourism thriving in the future. Superyacht Charter is seeing increased demand, again driven by lack of overseas opportunities and that disposable income still being available. Let’s not forget the Australian spend overseas is not dissimilar to the incoming tourism spend, so it has a reasonably positive net effect. Also, with all the new boats on order right now, supporting boat builders, brokers and related services – they will all need a marina berth…therefore I believe the future of boating in Australia and New Zealand is bright. We will face issues on supply and thus maintenance delays though, and I am hopeful this will encourage the creation of new businesses in Australia to address this problem.”
Suzanne, “Recreational boating has largely been a beneficiary of the pandemic and many of our local marinas and shipyards are very busy and doing very well. As we all know, it is currently hard to buy a boat. Second-hand boats often sell before they hit the market and orders for new boats are now being taken for 2022/23 and beyond. In addition, we have seen many boats arrive from overseas as their owners seek to berth their boats closer to home – and there are more on the way. Owners need somewhere to keep and maintain their vessels and so it flows that marinas are busy. That said we have many marinas that rely on tourism, particularly those in Far North Queensland and in Asia and the Pacific. They have been challenged and we need borders to reopen and tourism to start again to ensure these marinas and the businesses that reside with them survive. I believe that the challenge we face now is to ensure that people stay boating after the pandemic is over. We want them to embrace the boating lifestyle for life. “
Whilst many sectors of the Australian marine industry has thrived during the global pandemic it is becoming increasingly frustrating for the industry with the continual uncertainty around lockdowns. Currently 3 states in Australia are in lockdown preventing charters going ahead and people using their boats. Residents are only allowed to move around within a 5-10km radius imposed in these states. It is becoming more and more evident to everyone that vaccination appears to be the only way out.