by Jeni Bone
After 33 months in receivership, Australia's flagship boat builder, Riviera is now looking forward to broader horizons and clear cruising with all the creative, marketing and business freedom that working capital brings. Jeni Bone has this exclusive report.
Stephen Milne and Rodney Longhurst Riviera
The curtains are being replaced, the cafe revamped, the gardens trimmed back into order, signs replaced, and a gurney is cleaning down every cubic metre of concrete walls and pavements. There's a new owner at Riviera and the outside appearance imparts the mood of the factory and facility - 'upbeat, positive and ready to run'.
'It's the visual expression of the feelings of everybody at Riviera,' explains Stephen Milne, Director of Brand and Sales, who has been with the company nine years as head of Brand and Communications and then as a contractor for many years prior to that.
'It was nine days from looking at the prospect, through due diligence and getting contracts to signing and settlement,' he says. 'It was a quick process, but Rodney has been acquainted with Riviera for a long time, he and his family have owned Rivieras and they are deeply embedded in the marine industry.'
Rodney is Managing Director of Longhurst Marine Holdings Pty Ltd, owner of The Boat Works in the Coomera marine precinct. His father was a Gold Coast pioneer and visionary, who in 1974, bought 85 hectares of land considered in the wilderness at the time, to create a theme park. Dreamworld opened to the public 15 December 1981 and has become the largest of its kind in Australia.
Two weeks on from the announcement of a new owner, buying the entire operation and Belize boats in to the bargain for an undisclosed, multi-million dollar sum, the place is abuzz.
'It's liberating,' says Milne. 'During receivership, while the industry was very static, everything was tight. But although we were progressing slowly, we were headed in the right direction.'
Milne enumerates the challenges. 'Receivership, the GFC, high Aussie dollar and all the rumour and negativity from some parts of the industry'.
The key to not losing momentum, says Milne, was staying true the brand values of integrity and quality and 'running our own race'.
'We have emerged with our brand intact. We never wavered, despite rumour and difficult conditions. It was a hard won fight that people didn't think we would win. But as we told our dealers prior to every boat show 'our focus is on designing, building and selling the best boats possible'. Now we feel like we can finally get out and run!'
After all, Milne points out 'the period in receivership only represents 10% of our life', referring to the company's 32 year heritage, during which time they have sold 4,956 boats.
During the past four years, Riviera released four new models: the 5800 Sport Yacht, selling 22; 5000 SY, which sold 42; 430 Flybridge selling 33; and the 53 last year, which has sold 22.
'The 53 was built entirely as the result of owner feedback, from all over the world,' says Milne with obvious admiration for the process and the passion of the 'Riviera family'. 'It's truly a global boat.'
Crucial to the brand's strength has always been the zeal and loyalty of Riviera owners. 'They are business people themselves and experienced the same factors as Riviera. They admire Riviera for its spirit and ability to get back up, despite the adversity from all directions. That resonates with them. Workers and owners have been stoic and supportive.'
Contrary to rumours in local and marine media about the number of personnel laid off, Milne is admant only 80 jobs were lost. 'We retained 340 and are likely to put more people back on as we restore volume back in to the business. We are not chasing volume for the sake of it, but we will steadily restore production.
'In peak times, we were producing 421 boats a year. That has gone back to a rate of 70, but we anticipate getting back to around 100 per year within two years,' asserts Milne.
At the helm, much to the joy of many at Riviera, is CEO Wes Moxey - a veteran of 26 years with the company. Moxey departed in 2008, took a year off on his farm, then established Belize Motoryachts with Lee Dillon, which they designed and developed from scratch, and manufactured in Taiwan.
'Wes has returned a great deal refreshed, with a broader, global perspective. He knows the innate value of the Riviera brand,' says Milne.
As to whether Riviera will be built in Taiwan, Milne is quick to respond. 'Wes is in the unique position of being able to compare the financial and production benefits of manufacturing in Australia compared to offshore and he still believes Australia has a future in boat building.'
The Belize Motoryacht line will shortly be offered through the Riviera global dealer network of 46 dealers’ spaning 66 countries.
Chris Gilfoyle who has enjoyed a 20-year career with Riviera on the production side of the business has been appointed as Head of Manufacturing.
Rodney Longhurst, whom Milne describes as 'an extremely worthy custodian of the Riviera brand' says he is ecstatic with his recent acquisition.
Longhurst, (who looks like a marine mechanic this particular day, right down to boots and blue uniform!) says he is relishing the path ahead.
'Yes, it's the best thing I have ever done,' he attests. 'I was drawn to Riviera as a blue chip asset. Riviera is Australia’s favourite luxury cruiser brand. The senior Riviera management team and Longhurst Marine Holdings are going to do all we can to enhance this position.
'With Riviera recording its best result in four years at the Miami Yacht and Brokerage Show in Florida last month and February being the company’s best sales month in the last six months, I think our timing is perfect.'
Milne agrees. As the Riviera Festival approaches, coinciding with the brand's participation in the 24th Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show (24-27 May), timing couldn't have been better for a celebration.
'We couldn't have scripted it better!' exclaims Milne.