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Heesen Yachts

Thom Conboy

Brittani Severn of RMK Merrill Stevens o

March 2018

March 2018
Flagler Drive

Thom Conboy is one of the worlds most established yacht brokers. Having been in the industry for decades he knows the in's and the out's like no one else.

" think we're back to people that really enjoy boating, is the biggest thing. The biggest change is, whereas it used to be a lot of people that would just buy a boat because it was a fashionable thing to do and another thing to add into your toy chest."

- I think we're back to people that really enjoy boating, is the biggest thing. The biggest change is, whereas it used to be a lot of people that would just buy a boat because it was a fashionable thing to do and another thing to add into your toy chest. Today we're back to people like, the young tech people are more smaller and edgy, something cool looking. You're dealing with so many different nationalities, but you're really not. It's European, it's Russian, it's Middle Eastern, it's American, North American I should say, Mexican, even African. We've got African boaters. Australia, New Zealand. So, you know, anybody that lives on the water is boating. So it's a little bit different for a lot of people. There's people that like to explore and go all over the place. People that like to go to Alaska. There's people that don't leave The Bahamas. There's people that never leave The Mediterranean. There's people that never go out of Croatia or Montenegro. Some people like The Balearic, some people like the Greek Isles. So there's favorite zones. It's like having a favorite restaurant or a favorite place you go on holiday. It's individuals, maybe where your friends are, where your memories are. I don't really know. There's no real set thing other than what we do see is people now really like being on a boat and boating, not sitting in a marina

- Did that change overnight? Or has that been a gradual-

- Well, I think it's changed. In 2000 it was a decade of excess. So people just bought because you could buy a build slot and actually make money on it. So it started to be-

- You were part of that craze, weren't you?

- Well, we were all in, you know.

- You could buy and sell your slot.

- Yeah Well, at Heesen in 2002-2008 we sold 29 boats, I think. Almost 30 boats. But our sizes were smaller. But it's a different tech culture now.

- [Lee] And we are back with the man in charge, Thom Conboy.

- [Thom] Hi, how are you doing, Lee? Good to see you.

- I can see you going, "where is he going with that?"

- You're with Heesen.

- Yes

- And you have been for...

- I've been involved with the yard since 2002.

- Really?

- Yeah. I left for a period of time and then just came back again three years later.

- That's right, because you were, where were you before?

- Well, I was, Intermarine was my shipyard for a long time but I was at Heesen 2002-2008. And then I focused solely on brokerage.

- That's when I met you.

- Yeah, with Merle Wood. I still do brokerage. I'm the exclusive rep for Heesen in North America, South America, Caribbean, Mexico, and Bahamas.

- You're selling about, what, every two weeks?

- Yeah. We've had good success last year. But it's the team at Heesen, really. It's the team and we got a lot of good product. We have models that start using feet, from 138 to 265. This year alone, we've had great success. We've launched two 165's, white.

- Is this one of them?

- This was in 2017, bookends. And then we've signed a 265 foot boat with four 20V 4000s, that'll be a 30 knot boat. Not anything quite like it that's been built. We also signed a 196 footer, steel-aluminum boat called Project Phantom. Last year we had the record year of Heesen. We sold six boats, and those six boats ranged from 154, which is this, to 180.

- And you're selling these?

- No, no, it's a group effort. We have a sales team at the shipyard. Mark Cavendish, Robert Drontmann, and myself.

- On Facebook it's always, like, "And he sold another one!"

- Well I've got some pretty good success but it's, again, it's the team. It's the shipyard. I've been in this business my whole life but you're as good as what you represent.

- So how did you start in this?

- Oh, wow. Years ago, sailing boats, traveling around the world.

- So you're a sailor?

- That's where I started, yeah.

- You're American?

- Yes.

- Okay. Are you gonna tell me where from?

- Oh, from the Northeast.

- Oh, so you made the trip- you know, oh, I can't remember his name- Roberts. When I worked at Oceanco.

- Yeah, okay.

- So he's up in Maine and he's resisted the move down here.

- Yeah, well I've been, I went to school out in the West Coast, in California. Florida's been a home base. But I was a number of years, almost ten years in Savannah with a shipyard Intermarine. But I've always maintained a home-

- So Intermarine isn't...

- InterMarine is no longer, that ended in 2002 when I started with Heesen.

- Okay, and Intermarine was-

- I had a partner, and my partner just-it ended because my partner ended up-not a good conclusion, let's put it this way, so the yard was sold.

- What, in jail?

- Yeah.

- Right.

- Yeah, that's pretty much it.

- So how did you start a shipyard?

- Well, it was an Italian owned shipyard, it was already there, building 188 foot military mine hunters for the U.S. government.

- So are these mines that float?

- Well, mines that float, mines that are submerged, so it was an existing, large facility building boats and then about 1992, '93, I got involved with a yard that was owned by a large company called Ferruzzi Montedison. We bought it in about '96, '97. My partner was a public figure with a big public company and they ran into their difficulties and we were collateral damage, so the yard was sold.

- Blimey. So you've experienced this industry in every form!

- Yeah. But Northern European boat building is-

- It's quite stable, isn't it?

- It's very stable. The quality is there, I mean everything about it is just-

- It's kinda like the check marks, isn't it?

- Well, everybody aspires, I think, one day to own a Dutch or a German boat. But it's not to say that, you know, you've got Westport sitting here, which is a great company. Delta. The problem is that we've lost all of our American builders, which is kind of tragic. And then what's happened in the brokerage market, and subsequent to that, is that we're really lacking a lot of product that would normally be here for sale, secondhand or otherwise.

- I was always told that the reason why Americans buy Dutch or German is because they can keep their anonymity.

- Well, I don't know about that. I think, there's no real secret, so I think there's been some great American yards. Christensen, Trinity, Palmer Johnson, Northern, Crescent.

- But these ship's biggest client base is America.

- Well, there's still a quality difference. The tradesmen, the apprenticeship programs, it's a very- well, in Northern Europe it's not a shame to work with your hands. It's quite a prestigious job. The people that work in these shipyards in Holland and Germany, they're young-looking guys, been there 25 and 30 years, and their kids did it before them. So, very good paying jobs, it's a good thing, where our country is going back to. 'Cause now if you look at our country, the most sensible thing a young person coming out right now can do is go into a trade school. Learn a trade. Because you're gonna make a lot more. But we've been culturally driven that we should be sitting behind a desk and be working and money just falls out of the sky. So we've lost the trade, and the tradesmen are still looked at on a very high level where, you work in trade here, you're maybe a diminished role, which is really changing.

- It's crazy.

- Well, look at the plumber or the electrician is making more than the 18 million lawyers that we have.

- Yeah, we talk about this because we interviewed Phil Purcell from MISF and part of the jobs program, about bringing young people back into working with their hands.

- It's gonna happen.

- It's gotta happen.

- Well, because we don't have anybody, kids can't change a tire, they don't know how to do anything. Technology is good and bad.

- It's terrible! I'm a pure advocate now for, if you can lose technology, do.

- Well, it's gonna keep going. But I do think you're gonna see a big change in that. But boat building is not easy. It's a lot of capitol. You'll see very few mom and pop boatyards at this level anymore. It has to be owned by a large company or very well funded to be in business.

- Now for Heesen, they're able to make the money they do because they keep a very consistent-

- Delivery schedule and spec boats. We build a lot of spec boats. And every time there's an open slot, we start another boat.

- Even without an order?

- Oh yeah. In line right now we've got five spec boats. One for 19, sorry, four, one for 2019 and three for '20.

- And they're not sold?

- No, we build all the way to, this was a two year build and it was sold 30 days before it was delivered.

- You've gotta have balls to do that!

- Well, yeah, but the world that we live in is immediate gratification. If you tell somebody three years and here's a picture of the boat, they glaze over. If you tell them they can have that boat in a year, they're like, okay. You tell them two years. People want stuff now.

- Is anybody else in this industry doing that to that level?

- Well, if you look at the order book in Holland and Germany, it's all pretty full. Feadship has got 14 orders, Heesen's building 12 boats, Amels Damen with their whole variety of stuff. Hokvoort has got a full order book. Oceanco. The sailboat builders have stumbled because there's not as many people building sailboats. So the Vitters and the Huisman. They really don't know. Everybody after 2008 in the United States just got very expensive and it's a tough business to make money in.

- It is.

- If it wasn't, everybody would be doing it. If you look under 100 feet it's a pretty buoyant market. If you look at companies in the United States like Viking, for example, they are just knocking it dead. They are selling 10 million dollar 90 foot sport fish boats like people used to buy center console boats. If you look at Westport with their 112 and their new 125. That 112 is, hull number 61 is coming offline. Most successful, probably, boat that's ever been built over 30 meters in the world. So there's pockets, but you gotta have a niche. You gotta have kind of a good business model, and you have to have good resources.

- What do you like about the industry?

- No day is the same. Although you work in an office, you're not really in an office that much. I don't know, look around, what do you think?

- I know, this is a tough day at work, isn't it?


- Yeah. You could do worse things.

- Yeah. Well thank you very much for your time with us.

- Alright, man, good.

- Finally we get you on the show! Genuinely, I've walked by your stand so many times.

- Well, you never say you're stupid, probably the patented answer, even though it might be stupid, was "let me check with engineering." Because you can't tell somebody like that's stupid because if you insult them you could lose the whole thing. And we have things that, you want to say "are you fucking-" I don't know if you can say that, but, I mean, are you crazy? But you don't, you say, "You know what, let me check with engineering and get back to you."

- What was an example? Like a pool that's just too big or a strip pole?

- I can't really say, 'cause a couple of these things have been incorporated in recent boats. So if I say the one, which, if you heard it you'd be like "really?". But we do almost anything unless it's a safety issue. It's all money, you know. We customize the platform as much as we can. But we start with, the platform meaning that the mechanical, the electrical, and the plumbing are all well engineered, the scantling. So water line down is all done. Engine room is where the engine room is. The bulkheads are all kind of, structurally, are fixed. And then you do whatever you want in the interior. Or with AV, or electronics, or whatever you like.

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