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Bob Denison, Diane Byrne
Welcome to Megayacht News Radio, the first and longest running podcast series dedicated to the larger yacht industry, hosted by Diane Byrne, the editor of megayachtnews.com. We feature conversations with engaging and inspiring people in yachting from shipyard CEOs to designers, from yacht managers to young entrepreneurs. And yes, even owners. You’ll learn how they got into yachting, how they’re building better businesses, and especially how they’re helping people like you get more enjoyment out of the yachting lifestyle.
Diane Byrne 00:50
Welcome everyone to Megayacht News Radio. Today, my guest is Bob Denison, who has been at the helm of Denison Yacht Sales since 2002. Bob has a long personal and professional history in yachting, having held nearly every job from the shipyard floor to being a broker. Well, a lot of people in yachting of course have similar diverse experiences, Bob sets himself and his team apart due to strong interest in and understanding of creative management strategies, as well as internet marketing. This keen insight will shape a big part of our conversation today, which I’m really eager to get started. So Bob, welcome to Megayacht News Radio.
Bob Denison 01:29
Diane, thank you. So happy to be here and can’t wait to spend some time with you.
Diane Byrne 01:34
Yeah, great. Let’s get to it. So I like I hinted, you’ve got a pretty interesting personal history in yachting which anybody who’s familiar with you or the Denison name, of course, would know. But for people who don’t know your story, tell us about your early interest in yachting and your family experience.
Bob Denison 01:53
Sure. So my earliest memories are at the shipyard. My grandparents owned a company called Broward Marine. And after that, my parents started a company called Denison Marine. And so,my earliest memories were hanging out at the shipyard sort of wandering around, trying not to get hurt. And as I grew up, the idea of making a living in the industry, obviously started to take some shape. And it was sort of a probably equal portions obligation and passion. And, you know, I’m third generation and the idea of sort of carrying the torch fell on me, as my older brother went on to do other things. And my little brother at the time didn’t have interest. So yeah, that’s, uh, that’s sort of how I got into this.
Diane Byrne 02:45
Great. Now, unlike a number of people in yachting, oh, excuse me, I’m losing my voice this morning. Unlike a number of people in yachting, you haven’t always worked in yachting, you actually took some time out and worked for two particular entrepreneurs, which I found pretty interesting. who influenced your interest in internet marketing and management. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about that, too?
Bob Denison 03:07
Yeah, sure. right out of college, I went to a college here in Florida called University of Miami. After that, I went to work for a guy named Dave Parker, who–this is 1999, I think–I was there until about for a few years to 2001. And he was one of those guys, especially locally here in South Florida that really had a good handle on all things, internet. We, of course, we’re not Silicon Valley, in Fort Lauderdale. But he was one of the leaders in that space here. And I learned a lot from him and his team, and very much shaped not just an understanding of the internet, but also the user experience and why it’s very, very important to make websites something that are not complicated and make sure that they’re easy know your demographic and all that stuff. The things that I learned there really shaped the way that I to this day view how we market ourselves on line and try to attract new clients on the internet.
Diane Byrne 04:08
You know, you say that, that really influenced you a lot. And it makes me think about what you did when COVID-19 hit. Obviously, a lot of companies had to pivot but in my view, you guys pivoted really quickly, you really adopted what I call a pivot or perish approach with the virtual boat shows that you launched, a number of companies again, launched a virtual both shows, and some are very successful, but what I saw was yours were very different from what anybody else did. There was very much a true experience from the consumer side. So how did you come up with your approach? And what did it take to bring in all the different parties? Because you didn’t just have a bunch of videos you had people live from the insurance side, the brokerage side all the different aspects?
Bob Denison 04:55
Yeah, so I can’t take credit for the concept of a virtual boat show we actually were inspired by slash a nice way of saying stole the idea from MarineMax, who had actually completed a few virtual tours the year prior. And I loved the idea. And we started sort of building what our take on that would be, which as much as I liked and respected what they did, I didn’t truly see it as like an event, it was more of just an online gallery of boats and yachts that were for sale, which is very cool. But I didn’t see it as really an event. And so as much as I appreciate what they did, I thought we could put our own little spin on it. So kind of what you just described was very much, I don’t know if I call the centerpiece, but like it was a major component was having a live streaming all day conversation with people in the industry, really, because that’s what we reflected on as being probably the most fun, like exciting part of the boat show is just the people that you meet, of course, the boats in the yachts are incredibly important, but it’s also the frenzy bumping into other brokers, people insurance, financing old clients, people, shipyards, all that stuff kind of creates excitement about, you know, you don’t know who’s kind of around the next corner that you can learn something from. So that for us was a really, really important part of it. And, yeah, we were in a really good position, because we already had a ton of videos and walkthroughs. This is now speaking to the other part of it, where we were able to quickly pivot. Because we had those assets in play already. I think we probably at the time already had two or 300, virtual tours and video walkthroughs that it made. It just made it a little easier for us, we kind of had a head start on being able to launch it. Because our team, led by a guy named Josh ballasts, who’s our marketing director, really had spent some time putting that stuff in place. And he was really the guy that birthed the, our version of a virtual roadshow. He’s the one that really put the skin on the bones of that.
Diane Byrne 06:50
And in terms of the reaction from the consumer side, did you find that you attracted some brand new people to yachting to the specialty in that we’re talking about the 80 foot plus market?
Bob Denison 06:59
Yeah, for sure. I mean, we definitely are, to this day, our traffic on our website. Wow, all time highs. And what was kind of neat about it was at that time, there was a lot of interest in broader media on what are different industries doing to, you know, succeed in this lockdown environment. So we really benefited from Forbes from Robert or from non industry. You know, see, Fox News, it was a lot of interest in non traditional kind of yachting outlets that brought us in some attention from people that probably wouldn’t have known about us otherwise.
Diane Byrne 07:39
Great, great. You were talking about the traffic to your website, traffic across the board, no, for us to is much higher than it had been in prior years. So yachting is in a very good space right now in terms of interest, and in terms of true interest. So it’s not just the people popping on for a minute or two, to look at the pretty pictures. In terms of these new buyers and new charter customers who’ve come in, they obviously have different needs, and different questions than the more seasoned buyers and the more seasoned charters. It’s one thing to bring these new people in and show them what the possibilities are. But it’s quite another thing to keep them in and really take them by the hand and educate them. How were you and your team, educating them? It’s quite a different conversation that needs to happen with them.
Bob Denison 08:31
Yeah, that’s a really, really good question. I think Further to that, to that question. And the broader concern for us as an industry is how good are we going to take care of those newcomers into our space, and that I think, is really going to define the next five to 10 years for our industry, and specifically, the firms that take excellent care of the newcomers and making a very comfortable space for new questions and different needs that come in from demographic that had never owned a boat before. And just making that experience with them a really positive one is going to make or break firms in the next five or 10 years. So I mean, it’s exciting. We got a lot of new people out on the water. But if they don’t have a good fun, stress free experience, I don’t care what kind of lockdown comes next. If there is one, they’re getting the hell out unless they have an awesome experience. So we try to do that very consistently with how we treat clients of any kind we, we’d like to say around here that really good customer service has to hurt a little bit. And so I think that that definitely plays into this. I mean, a good client experience is really easy to talk about and it’s really easy to attach it to some kind of mission or vision statement, but in real life, it might mean waking up an hour or two early, showing up to a boat way ahead of a client helping the captain prepare the boat for a showing. It could mean showing up unexpectedly with a nice gift. In any way to just improve that client experience and make people very, very comfortable asking the, quote unquote dumb questions, I think is really, really important. And it’s also attached to a lot of honesty, right? So when people are looking at a yacht for the first time, it’s important that they work with a broker that’s willing to have that conversation with them that this might not be the right boat for these few reasons. And this is the true operating cost. And to really tie them into a conversation with a yacht manager, and make sure that people are soberly getting into this thing called ionic with a full understanding of what it’s going to cost. Yep. So and of course, a part of that is crew, making that experience, especially one too, but it’s a real team effort. It’s not just the broker to everybody involved in that journey of buying a yacht and then using a yacht, just just to make sure that the these newcomers have a really stress free fun time doing it.
Diane Byrne 10:57
What are some of the questions that they’re asking, and some of the pain points they have that might be different, compared to say, 10 years ago, 1520 years ago?
Bob Denison 11:08
Well, I mean, I think you have a lot of people, especially now adays, that are still looking to a boat or yacht, as a place to live aboard and work aboard full time. So we’re seeing more people using their boat or yacht, higher percentage of than what would have been in the past. And of course, some of that relates to the pandemic, some of it relates to just new people being on the water, and they’re really, really excited about it. But things like connectivity, and making sure that they can get a good Wi Fi signal, wherever they are, is becoming obviously more and more part of the conversation, not just for the I need my kids to download the latest season of whatever I want to watch the game. But it’s also I need to work for 345, sometimes eight 910 hours a day. And I need to make sure that I can do that effectively. So providing solutions for that is really, really important. And then the other parts of it is just what we spoke to a little bit before, which is the I don’t know what I’m getting into Will you please give me an honest idea of what I’m going to be spending in terms of an operating budget this upcoming year on this x, y, z. So I believe it’s really important, as a brokerage community to really bring in a yacht manager to help with those conversations. And a yacht manager. That’s not a good salesperson, but just a yacht manager that’s very, very thorough and very honest about here, all the things you may not have thought about that will affect the cost of owning a yacht.
Diane Byrne 12:37
Right? There is important to bring those people in for sure there’s, there are plenty of stories where you hear a brokerage company or a yacht manager or some other person means well, of course, they want to support this person, they want to encourage this person, but if they don’t tell them no, quite enough, you can’t always say yes, or say, Oh, no problem, we’ll make it work. But not everything is going to be perfect. So you really do need to be able to be assertive and set up person. No, here’s why. It’s really not a good idea. And hopefully they’re going to listen to but ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s their choice. But as long as the right people are saying no at the right times, they’re really doing the proper education.
Bob Denison 13:16
Yeah, you’re 100%, right. And I think sometimes too, we get scared that if an owner knows exactly how much it’s going to cost, they’re a potential winner that they might not do it. And the reality is, most people in that category of wealth, and most people that are looking to buy can afford all of it. But they really just want to know what they’re getting into it. So very rarely will it scare somebody out of it. But later, you can really break a relationship if you’re not transparent in a way that gives them full visibility on what the true cost of owning a yacht is.
Diane Byrne 13:46
Right? Along those same lines in terms of the cost of owning when it comes to how people are shopping, so to speak, for the boats these days. I know you’ve done a few transactions with cryptocurrency and I find that absolutely fascinating. Because if somebody had said to me five years ago, that this would be a reality. I would have said i don’t think so i don’t think that’s going to really be part of our industry because it’s so traditional. So how did you end up getting into it? Did you start exploring it on your own? Or did a customer approached you and asked about it?
Bob Denison 14:19
No, it was actually it was back in 2014, which I guess is around seven years ago now. We decided to make? Yup. Buying you know happened with cryptocurrency at the time it was just Bitcoin. at that exact same time we also I jumped on a plane and flew to Hong Kong to open up a bank account there. Because I wanted to open up at the time it was the only place that you could do it. There was an HSBC product out of Hong Kong where which would allow clients to deposit and escrow in their local currency. I think it offered like 30 local currencies so you could deposit in your On a US dollar boat and not have to worry about the currency game. And that was just to make the buying experience easier, right? So the crypto part was just the same thing it was an extension of something we were doing already, which is very much in our DNA is just to try to creatively think of ways to make the buying process as easy as possible for people. And to kind of go where they are, as opposed to saying, here’s our wiring instructions, it must be in US dollars. And here’s how you have to do it. We like to be more flexible, and creative and how we we work with people so that the Bitcoin thing was a part of that it was in 2014, that we set ourselves up to be able to very effectively and legally take care of a transaction like that it took us about a year or two before one actually happened. We had a number of inquiries during that time. And our first one happened in 2015, late 2015, maybe early 2016. And since then, we’ve actually done six more transactions, including to over $10 million. So it’s been a very, when you look at the number of transactions we’ve done over the last six, seven years, the total number of seven isn’t that big of a deal. But I’m very proud of that number because it just reflects what we’re trying to do, consistently, which is, is to provide an easy experience for people that are buying a boat.
Diane Byrne 16:20
And it’s seven more than some other companies have done, too, so it’s proof of concept.
Bob Denison 16:25
Yeah, we actually chartered two yachts as well. So if you take a look at the seven purchases plus two charters, we’re almost at 10. And I think you’ll be seeing more and more and more of that. And so as of today, we can actually take Bitcoin or aetherium as well as Bitcoin, cash and Dogecoin. So we’re going to be expanding that and it’s less of a gimmicky thing, which I’ve covered in that chatter from a few of my competitors, and much more just an, like I said before, an extension of just trying to make things a hell of a lot easier for people that are buying a boat.
Diane Byrne 16:58
You mentioned charter, I definitely want to talk about charter too, because there’s big changes going on in the charter world for sure, especially with the pandemic, even before the pandemic, but I think definitely driven by the pandemic, there’s definitely a feeling that people are looking to go to different places and truly cover this big blue marble that we all live on. From the media side. Of course, we’re always talking about the emerging destinations and the fascination with Antarctica, for example, or going to Greenland etc. Is that true that the reality though, from where you sit with the customers? Are they really asking about these different destinations?
Bob Denison 17:35
Yeah, I mean, they are but it’s it actually is very closely connected to the conversation we just had about crypto, it’s fun and exciting to talk about for sure. And it makes for great cocktail conversation. And it is happening in real life. But the vast majority of transactions are still in US dollar or euro the same with charter, the vast majority of charters are still what we call the industry sort of that milk run between the Caribbean, Bahamas and the Met that still represents a huge chunk of charter to this day. And of course, we’re seeing that they expand out a little bit to exactly the places that you’re talking about. I maybe would add Alaska to that, or Southeast Asia. But the bulk of I think I could speak for almost every single retail charter broker on the planet, the bulk of inquiries and the bulk of real charters being booked are still a part of that noac run list of destinations.
Diane Byrne 18:31
And is that still driven by people who are just in love with those destinations? Or is it being driven by the people who are new to charter?
Bob Denison 18:40
Yeah, I think both, I think I mean, both of those places, it’s like at some point becomes when you’re in the industry, and you go to these places more than five or six or seven times it becomes I hate to say it like we’re just way too familiar. But the Bahamas and the Caribbean, you go to St. Paul, like these places are absolutely spectacular and the same in the met you look at any, it’s just an amazing part of our planet. And they’re also set up so well. infrastructurally. And the captain’s familiarity with the dock masters and provisioning and all the things that it takes to make a charter experience are really, really good one outside of where you are, but how you’re doing it. Those places do a really good job of making that easy. So yeah, I would say it’s both. I think the more adventurous charters are probably those that have done those destinations so many times that they’re really kind of itching for something new. But we’ve had plenty of client book 10 1213 almost 15 times to the same places just because they’re they’re madly in love with the people there and they’re madly in love with the things that they see there.
Diane Byrne 19:44
Yeah, there’s there’s a real comfort that comes from seeing the same faces and go into the same restaurants and beaches. And I would also think that from the standpoint of the people who are becoming the parents and the grandparents it’s introducing the younger members have their family to the places that they’ve just loved for the past decade or so, and kind of seeing it through fresh eyes.
Bob Denison 20:07
That’s such a good point I think you described and I had never really thought of it that way. But I have. So I have four little kids. And the idea of taking them to the Magic Kingdom up in Orlando at Disney World is unbelievable. I’ve been there. I don’t know, whatever, dozens of times myself, but to experience going on some of those rides like It’s a small world with a four year old. That’s never it’s absolutely incredible. So I think that speaks to exactly what you’re talking about.
Diane Byrne 20:32
Yeah, yeah. What about that aspect of family? Is that a big trend in terms of the the chartering and the buying activity? That seems to be what’s going on? In my conversations with the builders and charter brokers?
Bob Denison 20:45
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s just it’s kind of salacious when you go on TMZ, or any of these other sites. And it’s fun for the broader public to see a photo of whatever, you know, Beyonce in the back of a boat with a glass of champagne. It’s kind of but the vast majority of people chartering boats and using yachts, are families. And it’s just because and I this is just a shameless plug for boating in general, I guess. But like a boat being I don’t care what size boat or yacht you’re on is a place where your kids are going to be way less likely to pick up their cell phone. So it’s your your, your wife or your husband. And so being on a yacht is just a really neat place to hang out with each other, spend time with the people that you love without the screentime and also just the environment that you’re in, in and out of the water and all that stuff. So yeah, vast, vast majority of yacht charters, and I would say even new construction and yacht. Buying is going to be with a family and using that yacht as a tool to just bring people together.
Diane Byrne 21:47
Definitely. Well, Bob, it’s been great having you on Megayacht News Radio today. Thanks so much for sharing your personal story and your insight into what’s going on and how you guys are trying to set yourselves apart. It’s been really exciting watching it from my standpoint, and I could definitely say I can’t wait to see what you got up your sleeve next.
Bob Denison 22:04
Thank you very, very much, Diane, I appreciate you having me on. It was an honor and a lot of fun to hang out with you,
Diane Byrne 22:10
everyone. If you’d like to learn more about what Bob and his team are doing, you can visit their website, which is denisonyachtsales.com. Thanks for listening. Until next time, I’m Diane Byrne.
That wraps up this episode of Megayacht News Radio. Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, please share the word on social media and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Audible, IHeartRadio, or Spotify. And of course to learn more about what’s going on in the world of large yacht cruising, new construction, and design, check out our daily updated website, the award-winning megayachtnews.com