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Q&A with SailTime CEO Todd Hess

By Jonathan Sweet

Founded in 2001, SailTime is a boat-sharing service that allows users to share ownership of a boat through an annual membership fee.

While started as a service for sailboats, the company has added powerboats to its offerings. The company has more than 30 franchised bases worldwide, as well as a network of sailing schools, via bases that are certified American Sailing Association (ASA) and Royal Yachting Association (RYA) affiliates.

SailTime has partnered with Marlow-Hunter and, beginning earlier this year, Beneteau, to supply its boats.

Boating Industry talked to CEO Todd Hess about the company’s growth so far and its plans for the future.

Boating Industry: For our readers who are unfamiliar with your model, tell us a little about what SailTime does.

Hess: We’re a water access company. We put a boat in our fleet and we sell memberships of time to that boat and we sell approximately six to eight memberships on a boat. When we get to the ninth member, we add another boat to fleet. People are buying a season of time on a boat. We only need a handful of members to sell the time on that boat for an entire season.

We do have an ownership product as well. Those are folks who are interested in purchasing a yacht … or a sailboat and they can put it into the SailTime fleet. They get a share of the time just like any other member, but they get the financial benefit and professional management benefits of the boat being in the fleet.

Boating Industry: In your opinion, how does a company like SailTime benefit the industry?

Hess: It’s really good in the sense that it introduces a lot of people into sailing and powerboating, although our main product is in the sailing side of the business.

Essentially, if you’re a boat dealer and you’re talking to 100 quality candidates to buy a boat, through the course of the year … you may sell five of those candidates a boat. What happens to the other 95?

For a company like Beneteau, SailTime is a great option in the boat-buying process, the on-ramp to buying a boat. A dealer who is integrated with SailTime or working with the local franchise and has a buyer that is not ready to buy yet, the dealer can say, “Why don’t you become a member for a year, and when you’re ready to buy we’ll get you into the boat that you want.”

When they are ready to buy, they’re probably going to go buy a Beneteau or buy a Hunter, whatever they have been using. So it’s a great way for dealers to get people more interested in a boat rather than just sitting the sideline when they’re not ready to make the commitment to buy.

Of our membership, 20 percent will go on to buy a boat. They might not buy a brand new boat, but they’re there to see what the value is to them. Are they going to use the boat enough? Do they really need a 35-foot boat?

Boating Industry: Earlier this year you announced your new partnership with Beneteau. How is that going to help you?

Hess: We’re excited about it. We’ve been working with Marlow-Hunter for more than a decade. It’s been a fantastic relationship. We’ve bought over 160 boats from Marlow-Hunter for the SailTime fleet.

Outside the U.S. we’ve been working with Beneteau, so it’s not new for us. We have seven franchises in Australia and they’ve been using the Beneteau product there. Over the last several years, we have found we have a lot of former boat owners, people who owned a boat before 2010 and have sold their boat. They are looking at staying in boating, prospects that are partial. We’ve had a lot of people who said, “If you offered Beneteau, we’d be interested in the product.” So adding Beneteau has added a whole new group of customers for us.

Boating Industry: SailTime has focused on sailing in the past. Why expand to powerboats?

Hess: I think there is a great opportunity for this model to work in the powerboat side of the business. One of the things that would be an opportunity for a potential manufacturer or a network of dealers is to integrate the SailTime business. That’s probably our next biggest opportunity for growth.

You have other companies in the space, but they don’t offer what we offer. Their boats are usually 32 feet at the most and our sizes start at 30 feet.

Boating Industry: What type of people are you looking for to be the owner of a SailTime franchise?

Hess: It’s changed. When SailTime was founded in 2001 … we were seeking individuals that had an entrepreneurial background. We went out and found a lot of people who had never been in the marine industry. They were corporate execs, semi-retired people who had been successful.

I’m one of them – I was a corporate individual who looked at it as an opportunity to get in on the ground level of a great business.

The downside to that is that there is a higher failure rate. We had some superstars, but we also had some individuals that just weren’t that good at it.

We’re shifting our strategy now to identify candidates that are in the marine industry. Maybe they have a dealership or a brokerage or a sailing school. They have the infrastructure in place and they can bring SailTime in as an add-on business.

That’s going to be a higher success rate. They have an established business, have a customer database, have the bricks and mortar already created. We feel that’s our best bet for the future growth of SailTime.



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