Not Business As Usual

Credit card companies, banks, airlines and other establishments have been offering platinum service to their top-tier customers for years. In June 2008, West Marine, the world’s largest retailer of boat supplies, rolled out the red carpet for the megayacht set with its Professional Captain’s Services division. And the result has been nothing but growth.
Starting a new business line at the height of a recession may not be the norm, but timing worked in West Marine’s favor as yacht owners and managers started tightening their belts and paying closer attention to their operating budgets. By offering transparency, favorable pricing on yacht-related products and services, and a dedication to customer support, Professional Captain’s Services has secured the loyalty of an elite clientele.
The division’s team of eight megayacht sales specialists works out of West Marine’s Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Newport (RI), San Diego and Seattle yachting hubs, and the world is their oyster when it comes to purchasing. Their job is to make megayacht operators’ lives easier, and their purchasing network extends well beyond the 200,000plus items available through West Marine and its wholesale division, Port Supply.
If a customer needs it, Professional Captain’s Services finds it, consolidates it, delivers it or ships it anywhere in the world. “ We can make anything happen, and we don’t ever say, No. We can’t get that,’ ” says West Coast Megayacht Sales Specialist Shelley Hanson.
The megayacht specialists are neither wizards nor magicians, but they do combine the tremendous resources of West Marine — its buying power and retail network — with first-class customer service to provide their clients with discounts and personalized attention as the added bonus. What busy professional yacht captain wouldn’t sign up for such service?
Indeed, the group’s clients now number more than 1,000. On any given day, clients can shop in West Marine’s 340 retail stores and work with any of West Marine’s thousands of retail associates, or they can call on the megayacht sales specialists for their product needs, especially for items that may not be available in West Marine’s retail stores.
Charlie Petosa, AVP and general manager of the Megayacht Division of West Marine, claims, “ It’s a team effort, and we are fortunate to have the resources of a large company that has a 40-year reputation as a leading marine retailer in the world. It’s good that an established company is now providing transparency, good pricing and great service to this particular segment of customers. I hope that we continue to raise the bar for the industry in these and other areas.”
Pam Wall, outfitting manager, is careful to differentiate Professional Captain’s Services from provisioning services. “ We are only working with professional megayacht captains and crew to procure whatever they need for the running of their vessels. That means anything needed to keep it in shipshape fashion. ”
The group also distinguishes itself from Port Supply, which caters to marine businesses, and the West Advantage program for retail customers. To qualify for Professional Captain’s Services, you must be a captain, engineer or senior officer of an active yacht that is larger than 20 meters and spend an average of more than $1,000 per month with the program. Larger discounts are available to captains making larger purchases. A captain’s license or merchant marine or engineering certificate must be presented as part of the application process, and the account is owned by the individual, not the yacht or owner, so they can use the account toward purchases for any yacht they command.
Building a client relationship is the best thing we can do. We take great care of our clients, and they get discounts on products, ” explains Hanson.
Captains Don and Natalie Hannon have been Professional Captain’s Services clients from the get go. The Hannon’s now run Innisfail, a 92-foot Mathis-Trumphy motoryacht, which was built in 1939 and is available for charter. Says Natalie, who refers to her megayacht sales specialists by their first names, “ It’s a very personal relationship. They’re very good at what they do, and they take care of you. If they can’t do it, you know that no one else could have done it. ”
Nodding in agreement, Don gives an example, “ I lost my favorite handheld GPS last year during a delivery. They found the replacement for me, even though it was a discontinued model. ”
The megayacht sales specialists keep an eye on the whereabouts of their clients as they move from port to port around the world, and Hanson works closely with her Seattle colleague, tag-teaming their West Coast customers moving north and south. Transient captains and crew appreciate their greetings and send offs, and, says West Marine, they remember those who take good care of them.
When megayachts travel beyond North America and West Marine’s retail borders, they often become more dependent on Professional Captain’s Services. The megayacht sales specialists commonly rush parts to their stores and ship them internationally through their vast distribution network, which is intimately familiar with shipping documentation. They regularly consolidate and ship orders off to exotic places such as Tahiti, New Caledonia, Greece, Oman and other areas by using FedEx and other worldwide shipping partners.
All of West Marine’s megayacht sales specialists can tell stories of captains moving to larger yachts and Professional Captain’s Services not only retaining the captain but also gaining the replacement captain as a customer. Likewise, they have seen captain’s responsibilities mushroom to being responsible for fleets rather than a single yacht. And that is when having a trusted purchasing ally truly pays off.