|Austhai turns ten|
It has been a number of years since we last visited Austhai Marine, one of Thailand's leading boat builders. With the company's tenth anniversary coming up in May of this year we thought it timely to visit them again and see what has been happening in the intervening years.
During our interview with Ray and Pornnacha they expressed satisfaction with the progress of the company, while acknowledging that it has not always been plain sailing. They take satisfaction in the fact that they have exported to eleven countries, and have made substantial inroads into the local market. Introducing catamarans into the local market has been a challenge, but the performance of the boats has attracted positive feedback, and catamarans are now accepted much more than they were initially. Success is attributed to a number of factors. One is the close working relationship that they have with designer and naval architect Dr Albert Nazarov and his team at Albatross Marine Design. Ray said that all Austhai production models are designed by Albert and his team and every model has exceeded expectations in performance.
Another factor is the skill of the local staff employed by Austhai. These range from administrators to carpenters, boat builders, stainless workers, etc. Austhai's policy has always been to do as much work as possible in-house, enabling better control of quality and timing of delivery. This strategy has proven to be successful only because of the skill of their workers. A third reason they attribute to their success is the level of after-sales service provided by the company. Approximately 80% of recent builds have been for repeat customers, a statistic of which the company is justifiably proud. Ray says this will only happen if the customer is happy with the after-sales service that they receive.
Ray also mentioned that the marketing strategy that the company employs is not about selling boats. Instead, it is about working with customers to help them solve their waterborne transport problems. The company regularly prepares cash-flow projections for potential customers comparing the costs and profitability of various types and sizes of boats to enable customers to make more informed purchasers about which boat is the most suitable for their operation. While this advice is not always accepted they believe that the customers appreciate the effort.
Austhai's market has changed several times over the years. At one stage almost all of the production was exported, but with the current high value of the Thai baht, and the low value of currencies such as the Euro, Australian Dollar and British Pound, exports from Thailand to those countries are relatively expensive. Experience has shown that the proportion of production which is exported varies directly with currency fluctuations. At present, the majority of Austhai's production is for Asian markets.
Over the years, Austhai has developed an extensive range of models, ranging from 6-16.5 metres. A recent change in strategy was introduced as a result of the company's involvement in the "Boat and Yacht Thailand" seminar held in 2013. This seminar focussed on boating safety, and Ray was one of the presenters at the conference. Following the seminar, and in consultation with Dr Nazarov of Albatross Marine Design, Ray and Pornnacha decided that it was not enough to speak about boating safety— one should also do something about it. As a result, the decision was taken to introduce a safer design of monohull to the Asian market. While a departure from the normal strategy of building catamarans,
Ray says that it is a way of giving something back to Thailand, which has enabled the company to be successful. This model is currently under development and will be in production by mid-2015.
The company now has an extensive range of production catamaran models; all designed by Albatross Marine Design. Another change that has been noted is the shift in the size of boats required in the market. In the early years, the majority of sales were of boats 10 metres or less in size. More recently production is almost entirely 12 metres or larger. The five most recent build have been 3 X 15 meters and 2 X 16.5 metres. Ray expects this trend to continue. As the company builds almost exclusively commercial boats, or as Ray puts it " people movers of one form or another ", and the economy of scale in moving more people at one time in a larger boat is increasingly understood by operators, he expects more people to move to the larger vessels.
Looking to the future, Ray sees only more of the same. He sees little opportunity for exports in the current financial climate, but sees a growing Asian market for the type of boats produced by Austhai. At the same time, the company is not resting on its laurels. Additional staff with particular expertise has been added over the past 12 months. Willie Potgieter, a South African experienced in boat manufacturing, joined the company as operations manager some 12 months ago. A more recent addition is Gareth Lewis, a vastly experienced boat builder originally from the UK. Gareth is currently engaged in improving the company's manufacturing methods introducing the latest techniques and training of staff in those techniques. By utilizing the latest manufacturing methods the company is hopeful of being able to maintain, or even reduce its production costs, thus making it more competitive in both local and export markets.
In summing up, Ray said that the last ten years, despite some trying times, have been more than satisfactory, and he can see no reason why the next ten years should not be even better.