Every two weeks, we give the floor to the head of the industry. Today, Henri Brisse, the new chief commercial officer of Neel Trimarans, tells us about his markets and ambitious goals.
What is your background or experience?
I am one of the few boat executives who have had a career that started outside of this industry.
I started my career in the automobile industry. She held several positions, the most important of which were marketing and sales, then international management positions at Ford, Rover, and then Nissan.
Then I joined the Beneteau group, where I learned the craft of yachting.
Then I went from reporting to Carlos Ghosn to… St Gilles Croix de Vie, it’s totally different! I was surprised at first. They are, too, I think (laughs).
I wasn’t originally a fan of boating, but the opportunity to run a different business tempted me.
The automotive world is very demanding, it is made up of processes and methods. The yachting world I discovered then was a lot less organized, and there was a huge amount of room to gain in productivity. This immediately attracted me.
In 2005-2008 I laid out a plan to grow in Beneteau, during a somewhat incredible period in terms of business. Then, at the end of August 2008, you know, things go wrong! And from 2008 to 2011 I thus managed the crisis we lived through, it was so brutal, we lost 60% of our sales. A very pleasant experience from a management point of view.
Then I worked in Manitou for three years, in marketing and international trade, in a booming market. In 2011-2012, we were selling big mining machines all over the world.
Then I bought a swimming pool project in Nantes, with our planting supplier, and then carried out missions in different sectors.
When NEEL posts his job offer, I discover the ad with interest. I quickly met Eric and his team. I prepared our interview by making 30 slides to explain my vision, and did a SWOT for NEEL based on the information I had at hand. I haven’t practiced yachting for a long time, but I still follow the market.
Right away we understood each other very well with Eric and the team. Eric built this company out of a vision and, with in-depth knowledge and great effort, made it a very powerful brand. At this point in its growth, it is time for the company to incorporate someone who brings the structuring, develops and energizes the network.
What exactly is your job?
It is precisely to accompany this growth. Find out what the right action plan is for the next three years.
The three-year plan is a vision, values and strategic objectives. But all this is only 3%. The remaining 97% are concrete actions: how to engage employees, how to ensure consistency, provide method, etc.
Job heads are often able to lead their teams well, without much difficulty. The lever is that it is necessary to manage the formulation of these functions. Like the knee!
My job is to provide this wrapper, and get the best out of it.
What are your challenges?
Today, we have 120 employees, of whom 100 are in production.
We have two main challenges: recruitment, first and foremost. It’s generally complicated in this industry because these jobs require a real learning curve, so invest in training, knowing that the quality will increase over time.
The additional difficulty is that we operate in a highly volatile labor market, in an already crowded group of workers.
The second challenge is that trade should drive production, not the other way around. You have to think in order: what sizes can you imagine, what options, at what prices, etc.? Then production must become the resource of trade.
If I want to sell 32 boats this year and not just 20, we have to organize ourselves.
What is the nature of this triple plan?
In fact, prior to my arrival, last year Eric had communicated about a 4-year plan, with sales doubling by 2025. Since then, a year has passed. Let’s say this announcement is a milestone for me.
We now have a 3-year plan, which takes us to the end of August, the beginning of September 2025. Still with a doubling of sales! So I’m going to paraphrase this plan, with a more detailed approach: our models, our markets, our dealers, we have to rethink everything.
What has changed in this market?
Trends are always changing, even if we can summarize them as follows: There is currently a very strong desire for boats. Therefore, with equal production capacity, lead times become longer. If we add the effect of raw materials and the price of energy, we are already in an inflationary market.
Concretely, this means that we have to explain to the customer that “your boat will cost more and you will get it later”. It creates additional dynamics, and only increases the size of the bubble. How long will this take? Too clever to say that.
To deal with this, the mistake would be to ramp up production capacities and find yourself in a bad position within 24 months if the market turns.
We have to learn to manage long deadlines, not to go beyond the 24-26 month mark, otherwise we lose the client, he moves on to something else.
So we need to ramp up production but only in the dynamic part we know, not by dropping ourselves too far. So, if the market slows down, we’ll go 24-16 months behind, and we’ll always be at our fingernails.
This logical approach would make it possible to manage the company calmly, by anticipating a long-term downward trend.
What is the NEEL market today for LEEN?
The launch of LEEN was very ambitious. But it’s a winning bet. In the windsurfing market (over 40ft), we don’t have any specific competitors. It was NEEL that really created the market, supply and demand. All this from Eric’s vision.
Now, if we look at the market as a whole, 1 sailboat is sold for every 4 motorboats. So the temptation was strong to say ‘Why don’t you go to this market?’. Obviously it is different, they are not the same customers, but we are still the only ones who offer motor boats in triangular shape, our offer is unique in the market.
If there is a customer for this type of boat, we are sure that he will come to our place. I think the concept and the brand are starting to pay off.
Look at NEEL 51. Generally, when we launch a new model, sales go up for 2-3 years, then level off, and then we run towards the end of the product lifecycle. Today, for the fifty-first quarter, each passing quarter, we sell more than the previous quarter!
NEEL now has 120 boats on the water, we have a better view, the effect is starting, there is presence, recognition by the market that the trimaran, sailing or motoring, is a real product offering and that there is a representative who does the job well, the person who created the product, that has an impact Real dynamic. For sail and engine.
What are the arguments in favor of the trimaran engine?
More comfort, less resistance, and therefore less consumption. These are not speedboats, they are really fishing vessels. Today we also find prospects who come from sailing, wanting a boat that is less physically demanding, and has less energy consumption.
LEEN first launched 72, first launched last week, delivered May 15th, number 2 sold out. For 56, 1 sold, and there are quite a few customers to follow.
Last week there was an announcement of the pre-launch of the Tail 50. Production will begin in the spring of 2023, with the first deliveries at the end of 2023. Once again, the decision was made on the basis of conviction! Now it is up to us to establish a market for it.
But behind this vision, there are also architects who bring ideas. The risks are different from cars where you only release the car when you are sure 150,000 will be sold in the first year! We launch a model, if we have buyers, we sell, produce and deliver.
Still more flexible. Clients come with a wish list, we explain to them what we can do, what we can’t do, and what we can think of.
What about distribution?
I am currently meeting with the current network of agents. Listen, I ask: “What are you going to sell two more boats this year?”.
Next, it must be determined that selling sails and selling engines are not exactly the same thing. A NEEL dealer is not necessarily a good LEEN dealer. So it’s all about identifying those we can bet on.
Today we are giving a NEEL trader the opportunity to sell 50 pounds to a potential customer. If the case arises, we will qualify the lead and we will do the sale together.
Tomorrow we will have a dedicated LEEN network, which will include some of our existing NEEL dealers.
We haven’t hired yet, and I’m currently thinking about strategy.
My concern is that if I went to an engine dealer today and offered a LEEN distribution, their first question would be, “How many boats can you deliver to me this year?” And here we return to our production problem. Currently, the number of boats is only 35-38 boats per year.
What sail/split engine are you aiming for?
Today we are 90% sailing and 10% drive. In the next few years, I think we’ll get to 1/3 sail, 2/3 motor, but not right away. It depends a lot on the markets we are developing. We have 70% of exports today, and they will continue to rise, I have no doubts about that. With motor products reaching North American customers, for example.
As a leader, what is your biggest challenge?
I would put recruitment #1, even if I don’t care about production, but that still worries me, because if there isn’t enough production, I can’t sell more boats!
Then, frankly, I will not complain about the difficulties: it is a gift for me to take up this job. My career is behind me. I am happy every day to write this plan, to do what I love, and to create teams that will write after me. I’m fortunate to have a great understanding with the leaders, it’s really great, we complement each other, we both know our limits.
The figure announced a year ago is a doubling of business volumes in 2024-2025. I can’t give you more at the moment, but obviously, I think it’s not enough! We will have to sell more!