Posted: 16th January 2020 | Written by: Rebecca Whitlocke
In 2014, Alexander Coles and his business partner left the brokerage company where they had been working for 12 years and launched their own business. Today, Bespoke Yacht Charter is one of the predominant yacht charter specialists in the Mediterranean with a healthy base of repeat clients and a willingness to take advantage of each market opportunity.
So what underpins his success in a competitive market?
OnboardOnline: We understand every day is different for you, but how would you describe a 'typical' day, especially when dealing with a first-time charter client?
Alexander Coles: Indeed, no two days are the same. Typically, the first thing I will do is to reply to emails I have received overnight from clients around the world. I would say that about 40% of my clients are US-based and they send me a lot of emails during their evenings. I tend to work until around midnight, but everyone has to sleep sometimes so there are always plenty of emails to reply to first thing.
Once I have got up to speed with my correspondence, I will make phone calls to the captains of our upcoming charters. For many detail-intensive charters that we organise for events such as Cannes Lions and MIPIM, there will often be hundreds of emails between client, broker, suppliers and crew in the lead up to the charter.
I find it very beneficial to speak often with the crew, rather than just bombarding them with emails. I recognise that a yacht’s crew is the singlemost important factor in a successful charter and my role is both to give the crew the details they need to ensure they shine and to manage client expectations as to what is realistic. It’s as important to me for crew to think highly of me as my clients do.
When I have charters going on, I’ll spend much of the day assisting the crew with shoreside requirements, berthing, supplier liaison or restaurant reservations. A good charter broker and a yacht’s crew work as a team. It’s not unusual for me to speak with a captain on a particularly complex charter every hour from 8am to very late at night. In many cases, I will often go on board as well. I find that this level of support from the broker is greatly appreciated by both the crew and the client.
Whilst shows like the MYBA Charter Show in Barcelona are great for seeing lots of yachts together, I find that the best way to really get to know a yacht and its crew is to spend time with them on a more personal basis. During less busy periods, I try to spend time on at least five yachts a week.
I have spent a great deal of time on most of the yachts I book regularly and this really helps in matching clients to the right vessel and crew. All yachts have different personalities and qualities - the art of my job is to know which one is right for the client. Throughout every working day I will be constantly communicating with crews, clients and suppliers by email and WhatsApp - often hundreds of messages a day, which is pretty intense when you have no assistant, but I love it.
At the end of the day, the goal is happy clients that come back and refer friends, family or colleagues.
OO:What has been the turning point in your career so far?
AC: In 2014, my business partner and I decided to start our own business. With a great track record, both of us could likely have walked into jobs with another established brokerage house but decided we wanted to do it our way. All of a sudden, we were responsible for the entire business and had no idea if any of clients would come with us. Fortunately, almost all did and we had a great first season in 2015 and our numbers have gone from strength to strength since.
OO: What is your secret to being a successful charter broker in a competitive market?
AC: Personal service, listening to clients and matching them to the right yacht and experience. The worst thing to do in this business is to chase commissions.
Do what’s right for the client, even if it means making less money or none at all. I never oversell or overpromise. I always focus on being honest and realistic, and make it clear to my clients that I’m totally dedicated to their every need, both before and throughout the charter. I love what I do and positively relish hard work.
If you do it right, the level of trust you build with clients is immense. With many of my clients, I am already on the fourth or fifth referral to family or a colleague and that’s hugely rewarding.
OO: Do you think there should be more training courses or development for people who aspire to become charter brokers? Is there a piece of advice you wish you received when you started out?
AC: Yes possibly. I know that MYBA has been running its various brokerage and superyacht seminars for a while and I think these are very worthwhile. But in my opinion, the best way to learn the craft is almost certainly to find a top charter broker and be lucky enough to shadow them for a year or two. This is an opportunity I plan to offer someone this year.
My advice to someone looking to get into the industry would be to start by getting a junior role in a large brokerage for a year or two, which will give them great exposure to the full spectrum of the superyacht business, management, charter, sales and operations. Then perhaps continue as a junior charter broker in a smaller boutique brokerage and develop from there. If they have some experience in the luxury hospitality sector and/or working on yachts, that can be very beneficial as well.
OO: Do you have time out to reflect on the industry and how things can be improved?
AC: I think the industry is in a really good place right now. The number of outstanding charter packages out there (great yachts and crew) has never been higher. The standard of service delivered by crew has increased enormously in the past ten years or so, and client feedback is a testament to this!
However, no industry is perfect and there are definitely some brokers and crew out there that don’t have the level of knowledge they should to deliver truly exceptional experiences expected at this level. Likewise, there are occasionally some yachts on the market that really shouldn’t be for charter, but as an industry we are pretty good at weeding them out quickly.
I would like to see the growth of less popular charter destinations continue as there are so many wonderful places out there with so much to offer, outside of the usual hotspots where everyone goes.
OO: What gives you the most satisfaction in your role as charter broker?
AC: The greatest recognition one can possibly have is to deliver a perfect charter where the client wants to rebook for next year before they’ve even finished and the crew say that I am the best and most conscientious broker they have ever worked with. I am proud to say that this happens often.
Images: Bespoke Yacht Charter