With sales running at their highest rate since the pre-financial crisis days of 2006, Santa Barbara-based Seacoast Yachts is now expanding to the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard.
“It’s obvious that the recession is waning and business has gotten a lot better,” Brian Coryat, co-owner of Seacoast Yachts, said. “So we’ve decided to take the profits from 2014 and re-invest them into the brokerage.”
The rebound for Channel Islands Harbor comes amid a recovery in boat sales. Seacoast says that brokerage sales volume jumped 23 percent in 2012 and 43 percent in 2013, far outpacing national trends.
Trade Only Today, a publication for marine dealers, reported that broker sales volumes were up 10 percent nationally, to $319 million for October, compared to 2013. Sales for pre-owned boats of all sizes rose 10.9 percent to $9.8 billion in 2012, well short of their pre-recession peak of $10.5 billion in 2006, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
With demand increasing, Channel Islands Harbor and surrounding neighborhoods will see a series of renovations to existing buildings and other developments over the next few years. Plans call for redevelopment of the now-dilapidated Fisherman’s Wharf shopping center, as well as renovation of existing buildings such as the former Lobster Trap restaurant, which had been open for more than 40 years before closing its doors in 2010.
“What you’re seeing is a renaissance of the harbor,” said Bob Nahm, a Seacoast Yachts broker who also acts as the secretary-treasurer of the Channel Islands Harbor Foundation. “The majority of the marinas have been rebuilt.”
Along with a renewal of formerly abandoned projects such as the wharf, the upturn in the area’s economy has been accompanied by a flurry of recession-fueled investment in the harbor’s residential areas.
“There’s a lot of opportunity down there, and it’s largely because a lot of houses down there have their own docks and slips,” Coryat said. Many of these homes, Coryat said, faced foreclosures during the recession and ended up being picked up by investors for renovation and remodeling.
Roughly four times the size of the Santa Barbara Harbor, the Channel Islands Harbor has 4,000 boat slips, and more than 1,000 of them are attached to harbor homes. And with many of the homes and their accompanying slips now being bought by permanent homeowners, the area is ripe for new boaters.
“There’s a whole new contingent of owners coming in who want to live the boating lifestyle,” Coryat said. “It’s creating a huge opportunity.”
Leading Seacoast Yachts’ efforts in Oxnard is Nahm, who joined on earlier this year as co-owner and manager of the brokerage. He will be overseeing the company’s sales and general management at its Channel Islands Harbor location.
Along with local knowledge of the area, Seacoast Yachts plans to build its client base using its expertise in online marketing.
Coryat, a legendary technology entrepreneur along the Highway 101 corridor, was a founder of companies such as Web-Ignite Corp. and ValueClick, the online marketing company now called Conversant.
After Coryat was bought out in 2001, the company went on to acquire Santa Barbara advertising network Commission Junction for $58 million.
Coryat is currently the CEO and founder of Local Market Launch, a service for business-listings management and marketing tools to build local presence for national brands, multi-location businesses and franchises. The platform brings together entities such as directory publishers, digital media agencies and certified marketing representatives.
Meanwhile, digital marketing efforts have shaken up even the staid business of yacht brokerage. Online forums and reviews are increasingly the first place buyers look to, making today’s yacht buyer different from even just two years ago, according to Nahm.
“The people that we sold boats to for the last 20 years are aging out,” said Nahm, who has sold boats across California for the dealership Catalina Yacht Anchorage. “In 2004, which is probably one of the best years out there, it was still very traditional. People went to the boat show to buy a boat … That’s how everybody got started.”
In roughly the last two years, he said, boat shows have been emptying out as more and more buyers are researching online before even stepping foot into a showroom.
Seacoast Yachts is targeting these consumers through networks such as Facebook, Pinterest, the email marketing service Constant Contact and customer relationship management systems, which Coryat said will help reach buyers as soon as they start searching online — something he said many yacht businesses are not trying out.
“We’re reaching the buyers when they are actually researching for yachts rather than just advertising out there. We now have ways to reach buyers … [when they] start to read blogs and posts [about boats],” he said. “The opportunity we see is that yacht brokering is a pretty traditional business, and the yacht brokerages in California are not embracing the newly available technologies.”