Like the vast ocean upon which it rides, Gold Coast builder Riviera has seen more than its share of sunshine, but also rain … relocation, rivalries, buyouts, private equity ownership and administration, all within a rollercoaster 37-year lifespan.
Throughout, the constant has been loyalty. Loyalty from long-time staff like Wes Moxey, who rode the boom times before retiring to a hobby farm in 2008, only to be a saddened spectator a year later as receivers crashed Riv’s party.
Loyalty from customers, who steadfastly refused to let the brand yield under the administrator’s hand.
And loyalty in the form of businessman Rodney Longhurst, who bought the company in March 2012 while still operating in a distressed market, and then lured Moxey back into the CEO’s chair.
“To be brutally honest, the company was lacking leadership, commitment and strength from an owner,” Moxey says today, reflecting on those troubled times.
“Rodney stepped up to the plate, showing a lot of faith in the brand. Five years later, we’re all very satisfied with the journey so far and also with the ongoing projections for the product we’re building, the company we’re building and the people we are building …”
Free of receivership, the business has more than doubled in the ensuing years, riding the crest of genuine market demand. Currently 550 people work on site, of whom 74 are apprentices. Some 100 boats are built per annum, predominantly for export to 45 countries within the international framework.
“We’re a global brand with a large footprint, so if you get the fundamentals right then the company will head in the right direction,” adds Moxey. “It’s very different from the private equity days because we’re focusing on the people and product, delivering organic growth that is real and sustainable.”
None of this comes as a surprise to Longhurst, who felt he knew exactly what he was buying in 2012.
“I’d been in and out of the factory since the late 1980s as a friend to Wes, and our family had owned four different Rivieras, so the business certainly wasn’t unknown to me. I’ve also been involved in design and building all my life.
“I recognised Wes’s skills at managing people and believed that we could make the company great again … greater than it had ever been before.”
Cleverly, Riv has positioned itself as a leader in customer care. By way of example, it’s one of only two OEM equipment resellers world-wide offering a five-year warranty on the Volvo IPS system.
Beyond after-sales, its service extends to ensuring owners enjoy the best possible boating experience. Moxey says the R&D team is constantly exploring the latest and best technology from the likes of Volvo and Garmin, setting trends where others tend to play it safer.
“You feel those refinements aboard boats like the 68 – how quiet it is, how solid it feels, how nicely it cuts through swells,” Longhurst adds. “We had quite a few of our peers come aboard the new boat at the Sydney International Boat Show, along with journalists and customers, and they were blown away by what they saw.
“There’s a lot of innovations for Riviera in the 68, which sets the tone for the future. We have to live up to it from now, as we go bigger and smaller.”
Looking at forward orders rather than crystal ball gazing, Moxey says the European market has rebounded in recent times. New Riviera dealers have been appointed in Turkey, Italy and Germany, while the company’s European boat show displays will be the largest for some years.
Asia is also showing life, with a new dealer in Japan and buoyant interest from Singapore and Indonesia. The domestic market’s trajectory, meanwhile, is exponentially rising – including in New Zealand.
Of course, having learned from the days when forecasting graphs and ‘spreadsheet-itis’ ran rife, the management team won’t get too far ahead of itself. Instead, its aim is to remain nimble and respond to changing customer needs with fresh eyes and fresh approaches.
With the 68/72 Sports Motor Yacht, they saw and seized an opening to create a new market segment. They perceived a similar opportunity with the SUV range after studying the market and finding a niche slightly away from the mainstream.
“Based on the foundations we’ve built over the past five years, I see the next five years as being very exciting for us,” Longhurst concludes. “The market is looking very receptive to the path we’re taking, which gets us excited about other new products.”
Moxey: “We’ve rebuilt our financial strength and restructured our workforce in a patient and considered manner. Rodney wants us to strive for absolute quality, which is a unique attitude I think, and I articulate that to the guys in the factory.
“There’s another word why people buy Rivieras,” he adds. “That’s trust.
“Even when we were in receivership, 279 people took the leap of faith and bought a new boat from us. That’s the power of the brand Riviera and we take that very seriously.”
– Mark Rothfield