Nautical Ventures Group expands overseas

When the Great Recession pummeled the yachting industry in the U.S., South Florida’s Nautical Ventures Group got creative and began exporting repossessed boats, capitalizing on a manager’s knowledge of the marine scene in French-speaking nations.

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Now that the U.S. market is stronger, the Dania Beach-based group is becoming bolder overseas. It’s opening offices in Panama and in Colombia to expand its yacht brokerage business and export water toys such as kayaks. Plus, it’s selling hovercraft to China and exploring a major expansion there.

Nautical Ventures Group has earned a reputation since the 2008 financial crisis as an innovator in South Florida’s marine industry. While some boat dealerships and suppliers closed or shrunk, it has grown, diversifying into new businesses from fuel to docking systems and, increasingly, going global.

That strategy has boosted sales from $13 million in 2013 to $23 million in 2014 and likely will top $25 million in 2005, said Roger Moore, chief executive of a business that now employs more than 70 people.

“The forward-looking companies are expanding internationally,” said Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

Nautical Ventures’ next frontier is Panama, home for many years to one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America and since 2014 the site of an annual boat show produced by the same group that organizes Fort Lauderdale’s boat show extravaganza.

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The company is opening a store in Panama’s capital city to sell small sailboats and other water toys, Moore said. It’s a partnership with Panama-based Hennie Marais, which developed the Paddle Panama Center. The shop probably will employ an initial six to 10 people and open in early 2015.

“The Panama venture totally complements and in no way competes with what we have in Fort Lauderdale,” said Moore, noting buyers in Panama more likely would come from Central and South America and not from the United States.

In Colombia, Nautical Ventures also is launching a yacht brokerage and sales office in Cartagena, the Caribbean port city that has become a tourist mecca. That venture is a partnership with a Colombian entrepreneur and probably will employ three to four people, Moore said.

Perhaps the biggest expansion will be China, where the marine industry “is just exploding,” Moore said.

Nautical Ventures recently sold 10 hovercraft to China worth about $300,000 total. The two-passenger craft uses a tractor-type engine to rise on a bed of air to travel inches above water, land, mud and other surfaces. A partner in China’s southern industrial city of Shenzhen (population: at least 10 million) bought the vehicles to develop hovercraft races on beaches and around markers over water, Moore said.

Nautical Ventures also is exploring other options with that Chinese partner, whose businesses also include manufacturing rigid inflatable boats used as yacht tenders, Moore said.

In all, the group sees international sales comprising as much as 25 percent of business in a few years, up from roughly 5-10 percent now. That’s a long way from unloading boats repossessed in the U.S. during the recession.

dhemlock@sunsentinel.com, 305-810-5009

Copyright © 2014, Sun Sentinel


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