South Africa remains the second largest manufacturer of catamarans worldwide and is an industry leader in innovation, design and craftmanship. In the second part of our series we chat to three respected and dynamic women who have first-hand knowledge of the complexities involved in manufacturing.
Tariq Fensham is at the helm of Jo Fensham Yacht Upholstery, Cape Town’s leading supplier of soft furnishings for the luxury yacht market. The firm was started 40 years by her mother, Jo Fensham after a chance meeting with John Robertson, one of the the founders of Robertson and Caine, still their largest customer to date. An architect by trade, Tariq was enticed back to Cape Town after 8 years as a practising architect in the UK and in 2011 started her next chapter at the family firm. Her keen eye for design, attention to detail and architect background have all stood her in good stead. Most of the staff have all learned on the job, grown with the business, and she is no exception. She has been able to not only navigate the uncertainties of these Covid-19 times but has also expanded the business, shipping to customers as far flung as Norway and Antigua.
Shereen Robertson has been in the boating industry for more than 16 years, currently working as the Office Manager at Maverick Yachts. She is responsible not only for the daily management but also assists with marketing and customer enquiries. She sharpened her boatbuilding management skills in her role as General Manager at another Cape Town yard, Cruiser Cats, where she was part of the team for 12 years.
Kirsten Veenstra is a PR executive with numerous years of experience across a multitude of industries. She presently handles all the marketing and PR for a few South African and international clients in the leisure boatbuilding industry – namely Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing, Balance Catamarans, Du Toit Yacht Design and Sparcraft Masts. Kirsten is a passionate sailor and is out on the water as much as possible, as family responsibilities allow. Kirsten has given us her feedback with reference to her role as Marketing Manager of Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing – one of the few large custom sailing and power catamaran manufacturers in the world.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE KEY INDUSTRY SEGMENTS in SA AT THE MOMENT, THOSE DOING WELL AND THOSE MAYBE STRUGGLING?
Tariq: Purely on instinct I would say that the market for private clients in more buoyant than the charter segment.
Shereen: Looking past the often talked about industry segments, I think that the companies that are doing well are the ones that are forward thinking, innovative and willing to adapt in these uncertain times and those that continue to deliver great customer service.
WHAT ARE THE CRUCIAL ISSUES MOST BUSINESSES IN SA ARE ADDRESSING TO ENSURE SURVIVAL AND SUCCESS?
Tariq: Access to finance is a major hurdle for most small businesses. The funds established during the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns to provide finance (for example the Oppenheimer family’s SA Future Trust) were oversubscribed and business have nowhere to access bridging finance. Many companies might have orders but do not have the cash to fulfill the orders. We were in a very lucky position to have a strong relationship with our bank, and we were able to get an overdraft. Our cash flow is still in a weak position more than a year later and it will take us a while to remedy that. We were very lucky
Shereen: Most businesses are learning to adapt and work even harder to achieve success. It is important to know your customers, focus on delivering quality products and to have good employees to help you achieve this.
Kirsten: We build great vessels in South Africa, but it is important that we keep innovating and exploring and implementing new technologies, have access to the relevant skills, and manage to keep our pricing competitive. Due to general industry challenges in South Africa, most manufacturers are focussing on bringing a lot more of their specialised production in-house, rather than outsourcing/procuring, which can often prove challenging.
HAS THERE BEEN A NOTABLE CHANGE IN SUPPLY CHAINS FOR SA MARINE INDUSTRY BUSINESSES WITH A MOVE TO SOURCE MORE LOCALLY?
Tariq: Yes and No. We were affected by the Covid related shipping delays as a major customer of ours provides us with the materials for their orders, and due to a delay in supply last year we were not able to do any work for them for more than a month. The cost of shipping has increased and most alarmingly, there are major fluctuations in price, erratically.
Shereen: We source most of our supplies locally, with the rest being international. During the pandemic we have experienced a few delays on international shipments from our local suppliers, but we have managed to work around it.
Kirsten: We have always been focussed on using local suppliers where possible. It just makes sense on so many levels; we have a lower labour rate in South Africa than most of Europe and the USA, so it is more cost effective, and it makes economic sense to support a local business and feed more of our own countrymen. It is also far more practical to use a supplier close by, especially when sourcing bespoke items. Since COVID last year, like most of the world, we have had big delays and challenges in getting goods shipped quickly and effectively into the country, so there has been an even bigger shift to sourcing locally. General industry challenges have also driven a shift to specialised in-house production.
WHAT ARE THE KEY CHANGES YOU HAVE HAD TO MAKE IN YOUR BUSINESS DURING THIS PANDEMIC TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE?
Tariq: Our finances have become the key area of focus for me personally. It is crucial that we manage our budgets and cash flow very carefully. We have also had to implement stringent health and safety protocols and the safety of our staff is paramount. However, the general nuts and bolts in the factory have remained the same.
Shereen: We focused on updating our website and streamlined our customer database. We kept customers informed and updated by sending out newsletters regarding new boat launches, etc. By utilizing various social media platforms we have continued to engage with our customers, which is vital. In order to improve and maintain a good relationships with our customers we have spent more time on ZOOM calls to communicate with them on a more personal level.
Kirsten: We have of course had to implement strict protocols to keep COVID out of our factory as far as possible. We have increased local outsourcing versus purchases from abroad where we can and have brought a lot of specialised production in-house in order to efficiently control our supply chain. Due to shipping challenges, we have had to increase stock holding of many supplies and be more self-reliant.
Due to heavy travel restrictions, an interesting shift has been taking customers in other countries through the production of their vessel online. Generally, a customer in the USA, for example, would come and visit the factory and see their vessel in production and go through options at least once before it is launched. Now we are walking them though their vessels in the factory on ZOOM, sending them videos of the production, and doing that all online. We have increased our online video marketing and are offering our customers far more explanatory online video content.
WHEN INTERNATIONAL BOAT SHOWS RESUME, WILL THEY BE AS IMPORTANT AS BEFORE?
Tariq: Boat shows will be more important than ever. In an industry like ours where we deal with aspirational lifestyle products a physical presence is crucial. Customers want to feel the fabrics, experience the textures, see the colours in real life. Seeing our customers face to face, where one can chat in a relaxed atmosphere, is priceless.
Shereen: Boat shows are extremely important and will always be the best form of advertising for our products. Customers want to step aboard our yachts, see it, touch it and get a feel for it – imagining themselves living the lifestyle. It also gives us a chance to speak to prospective clients on a one on one basis, which helps build relationships on a more personal level. It is also an opportunity to meet up with our existing customers who have become brand ambassadors and friends. Boat shows allow us to network and see what other products are available in the market, as well as source new products and suppliers.
Kirsten: I do believe they will – whether to a lesser extent, time will tell. Buying a boat is a big investment, and buyers will still want to touch, feel, and test a production or semi-custom vessel before they buy it. They want to immerse themselves in the interior layout and space of their future investments. The big international boat shows will still offer a great opportunity to be able to physically experience a few different vessels a buyer might be looking at. Very importantly, these boats shows promote the interest in boating, which is vital for people to experience. That said, I do think more research will be done online now than ever before, so companies have to ensure they have a strong online presence.
WHAT DO YOU VIEW AS THE MAIN OBSTACLES WOMEN FACE IN THE MARINE SECTOR?
Tariq: I have been very lucky that I have never experienced sexism or discrimination in the male dominated fields of architecture, my other passion, or boatbuilding. I have never allowed anything to hold me back from achieving my goals, have always been someone who speaks freely and goes for what I want.
Kirsten: My frame of reference is leisure boat building in South Africa. Personally, I find the acceptance of women and complete lack of any misogyny a real pleasure. I see more and more women every day on our factory floor doing a fantastic job, and many of our management and design team are women. Like most industries, it is a male dominated one, but there is no reason why women can’t have long and happy careers in leisure boat building.
The only tough area to overcome is the physical aspect: boatbuilding often requires physical strength and hard manual labour – but there are plenty other jobs in the build process that women have taken over, such as laminating, carpentry and finer bespoke work.
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?
Tariq: We have truly embraced the concept of meeting remotely and ZOOM with our global customers regularly. We are now able to present ideas to them, ship some samples and then have a virtual meeting where we each have the samples with us, and together we can explore the options and the possibilities. It has added a depth to the customer experience we didn’t really utilise until now. It has been AMAZING!
Shereen: It is important to maintain a good online presence, especially in the absence of boat shows. We continue to engage with our consumers via the various social media platforms by providing interesting information relating to our company as well as news on our products. Sending out targeted newsletters have also been very useful during the pandemic.
Kirsten: We have always put a big focus on digital marketing, so it has been easy for us to embrace the increased shift to online. We constantly focus on increasing our digital offering – more video, and more online resources for owners and potential buyers. There has certainly been a bigger shift to educating buyers and owners online and providing increased relevant and interesting digital content. We are interacting far more with customers online now and due to travel restrictions, taking some customers through their entire builds online.
N.B. Global Marine Business Advisors and its associated website www.gmba.blue are not registered legal entities. GMBA is a network of independent marine industry advisors.