Elton John, David Beckham and Charles LeClerc are just a few of the big names Brock Rodwell and yacht brand Riva have sold luxury yachts to over the years.
The sales director with Ray White Marine, Brock spends about five months a year overseas, wining and dining potential clients and attending the world’s biggest yacht shows.
Italy, France and Monaco are his most frequent haunts, as that’s where most of the yachts and superyachts he sells are built.
“We have Italian brands called the Ferretti Group, which has seven brands that are all manufactured in Italy,” he explains.
“So we do factory tours, we take clients over there, we wine and dine them, and we have events like the Monaco Grand Prix.
“One of our companies sponsors the Ferrari team, so we get quite good tickets there and take clients over.
“We also have a big market in Florida, so we’re often in Fort Lauderdale and Miami as well.”
There’s no doubt it’s a glamorous lifestyle, but there’s also plenty of hard work and negotiating to be done.
And when the global pandemic struck in 2020, Brock was initially worried his business might be dead in the water.
He says Ray White Marine had just opened a showroom at the Rolls Royce and Aston Martin dealership in Melbourne when Covid hit, and initially, the market “imploded” due to the uncertainty of lockdowns.
But what happened next still surprises Brock.
“It (the market) just did a full 180 and went completely vertical in terms of inquiries and impulse buying,” he recalls.
“I think Covid was probably the best two years we’ve had in terms of sales, just because people were impulsive and they couldn’t travel so they wanted to be able to get on board (a yacht).
“The boats were also generally bigger so they could get out of their apartment or house and go further.”
Brock managed to secure exemptions to leave Australia to do some deals in Florida and Monaco, but says buyers couldn’t step foot on the yachts themselves.
“I had to go and FaceTime them to do the walk-throughs,” he explains.
“Then they bought them sight-unseen, and you wouldn’t generally do that when you’re spending $10 million to $20 million on a boat.”
Marina berth shortage
In fact, the pandemic ended up inspiring a boom in boat, yacht and superyacht sales, leading to a shortage of marina berths in Australia.
The Aurelius Marina Research Report, which examines the health of the marine sector, has revealed boat registration in Queensland climbed 2.9 per cent in 2021, which is well above the 10-year average of 1.4 per cent.
Nationally, average marina occupancy grew from 84 per cent in 2019 to 86 per cent in 2021.
More than half of Australia’s marinas, 57 per cent, have a waiting list.
According to the 2021 Health of the Australian Marina Industry Survey, NSW and Tasmania have the highest occupancy rates of 91 per cent.
“That’s a big problem we have at the moment, especially in Sydney,” Brock says.
“There’s an influx of big boats coming in, and there’s nowhere to accommodate them, do refits, maintenance or lift them out of the water and do what’s required.
“You’ve got boats that are going to have to wait until next year to be serviced.”
On the Gold Coast, Mr Rodwell is part of the redevelopment of a marina at The Spit, which will be able to fit 70m yachts worth as much as $100 million.
Real estate crossover
He says there’s also quite a bit of crossover between selling yachts and real estate, with agents in both the residential and commercial sectors referring clients to him.
Commercial developers, construction magnates and high-density apartment developers often look to purchase luxury yachts both for private use and with business ideas in mind, including charter boat businesses.
Brock also works closely with residential agents, particularly Ray White agents in the Double Bay area.
“They have a lot of waterfront properties, and we often find an agent will call us up and say, ‘I’ve just listed this property, and they’re thinking about a boat or they want to combine a boat and house package’,” he says.
“There’s all of those types of cross referrals that work really well within the network.”
Brock says just like residential real estate, luxury yacht sales are built on relationships.
About 80 per cent of his clients are Aussies, but there are big international names too.
Discretion is also an absolute must.
And what’s the key to building those relationships?
Building trust and rapport is paramount and relationships are built over time and for the long-term.
Brock says it also doesn’t hurt to launch that relationship with a nice party or event.
“We host some nice events in some exotic locations, and there are experiences that are invite-only,” he says.
“You really have to entertain (the guests/clients) and be very accommodating to their requests and needs.
“It’s not as black and white as a residential or commercial property deal. With boats, it’s a bit more informal and more social.
“So you will see us out at dinner or functions with clients, but you’re also doing business at the same time.”
Knowledge is essential
Brock says you also have to know your stuff, as there’s no pulling the wool over any of these high-end buyers.
But if you get it right, then a world of word-of-mouth referrals and repeat clientele opens up.
At the top end of the market, yachts with a ‘beach club’ is one of the big trends at the moment.
“This is on the bigger boats, which look like transformers, with big doors that fold down and when you open them, there’s a gym, a Turkish bath or a sauna inside them,” Brock says.
“You might even find a swimming pool.”
At the lower end of the market, Rigid Inflatable Boats are all the rage and generally range from about $80,000 to $2 million.
“They’re speedy, they’re fast, they’re day boats,” Brock says.
“You just whizz around the harbour, you can fit plenty of people on them and they’re low maintenance.”
So what’s next for Brock and Ray White Marine?
A second Whitsundays office, this time at Airlie Beach, is on the cards, as are branches in Adelaide and Perth over about the next 12 months.
“We don’t necessarily need to be expanding overseas as such because we can work remotely in satellite offices,” Brock says.
“We’ve got our yards in Italy and headquarters over there, so I think we will be keeping it to Australia and New Zealand.”