David Lewin: It’s the Little Things that Matter

Some years ago I was asked to work with a Finnish builder of fast aluminium boats to research if there was a market for their products in the UK. I remember travelling to the factory deep in a forest somewhere in the dark, having been driven extremely quickly on snow packed roads by yet another aspiring Finnish rally driver.

However the factory was ‘state-of-the-art’ with the most sophisticated folding and welding techniques and they certainly built a tough and durable product. Having looked round the plant we spent the rest of the day going through market data working out possible sales projections for the first five years. Who should we select as our dealer, which part of the country would be best suited to the product, how should we structure the pricing, how would we transport the boats and how would we organize the marketing and distribution?

It had all been such a rush the previous day that the next morning I had the first chance to ask the product development manager what changes to the boats he foresaw for the UK market. He looked at me with incredulity, wondering why anyone would want to change his beloved boats.

The problem was that no-one had visited the target market and taken note of the ‘cultural’ requirements of its customers. Perhaps it was right that I was there!

Firstly, the British Isles are surrounded by salty water, much saltier than the Baltic and as comparatively very little motorboating is done on our inland waters, the British are wary of aluminium corroding in our coastal waters. Although modern aluminium construction and finish is much more resilient than before, an epoxy coating may have helped allay those fears.

All the seas around our coast are extremely tidal with an average of 4.5m to 6.5m tide range with 12m in some areas. For that reason we can’t moor to a rock and climb off over the bow, we tie up to a mooring buoy, use an anchor (with chain) or moor alongside a floating pontoon. It is therefore critical that boats for use in our waters have a heavy duty bow roller (and preferably an anchor locker) and if they are over about 7m long have a mooring cleat halfway along the deck for ease of fixing a ‘spring’ to stop the boat drifting forward or backwards in the tide.

Most of our coastal waters are quite shallow and the waves tend to be very steep and short so any boat needs to have a bow suitable for this sort of use as well as many small boats being left on tidal drying moorings so also need to be able to take the ground.

Returning to our friends in Finland, some of the required modifications were quite feasible but others would require a considerable redesign of the boat so whilst some boats have been sold in the UK, they have never had the penetration that they possibly deserved.

The moral of the story is to make sure you really know the market you want to enter or get some really good indigenous advice! Spend a little time or money (or both) with someone who really knows and works in the market you wish to enter.

© David Lewin, GMBA UK