The Golfe Juan showroom of global yacht provisioner Shore Solutions is busy. I'm there to meet Andrew Roch, the Managing Director, who is rushing around getting ready for another Riviera Real Ale night, a monthly charity event the company puts on in aid of the Antibes Lifeboat Association. Everyone's used to being busy around here though- as the season heats up, so does the pressure of provisioning, reacting to the myriad demands-mundane and eccentric-that flood in from yachts all around the world.
As the yachting industry changes, with bigger boats and crews than ever before, so too the provisioning industry changes with it. Since Shore Solutions was founded over a decade ago, Andrew and his team of 38 have adapted to this evolution.
He talked to OnboardOnline about some of the stranger requests the company have met, the rise of crew budgets and well-managed yachts, and how every boat is its own island.
OnboardOnline: You must have had difficult orders where you wondered how you were going to meet the yacht’s request. Can you tell me about some of these provisioning challenges and how Shore Solutions managed to meet the demand?
Andrew Roch: There are three different categories of provisioning companies: you have local provisioners who deal with those nearby; you have national provisioners who have networks across an entire country or region; and then you have global provisioners, of which we are one of three in the world.
To be honest, it is not the products that represent our biggest challenges. The major constraints are time, location and certification.
Time – “I need something today, I’m in Alaska and I want King Crab.”
Well where does King Crab come from? They’re from Alaska where they’ve been fished and go through a processing plant before being exported to Europe. Now they are heading back to Alaska. That is the insanity of what we do. It’s easier to buy it from us than it is to find a local Alaskan crab fisherman, who is only allowed to crab out of season, cannot sell it on and just has a quota for his own use.
This kind of problem comes up all the time and I was only speaking with a chef last week who’d just returned from a two year world trip. He said that finding what the boss wanted in a short time frame had consistently been his biggest challenge.
In terms of quirkiness and infinite luxury, the perfect example would be when we were asked (for a 100+ metre boat on build) to provide 4,500 bottles of perfume for the boat. There were 200 brands of perfume for each cabin and its perfume cabinet. We were then asked to supply haute couture dresses for every cabin on board. There were to be a dozen dresses in each cabin, two from six prepicked designers. It was all so that whoever came to stay on board was suitably attired and scented – along with all the other accompaniments, in terms of hair products, toiletries, handbags etc.
Now that’s going to the extreme. There were 22 guests on board for one owner and each one of those guests needed to be dressed immaculately. Whether they could bring their own clothes or not was not really of interest to the owner, he just wanted them dressed in line with the luxury of his boat. Both male and female, I may add!
OO: How did you manage that? How many staff have you got globally and had any of them experience with clothes provisioning? After all, the majority of provisioning I’ve experienced has been for food, wine and interior…
AR: We have 38 staff in England, France and Caribbean, and between 12 and 14 contractors.
The haute couture was relatively easy as we were given specific sizes and specifications. Most of this part of the order was arranged for us through our partnership with Harrods.
When we talk about provisioning, most assume that provisioning is all about food and drink. It actually encompasses every single consumable on board a boat that is not electrical, mechanical or deck (although we may still be able to help!). That means can cover medical, interior, cleaning, uniforms, china, glassware, linen… Have a look at our showroom in Golfe Juan! We’re putting in Yves Delorme, Moët, Diageo, Greggio, Baccarat – the list keeps going. We probably have the 15 top brands in the world, which we are now concentrating on establishing partnerships with for the yachting industry.
This is the largest part of growth in yachting: consumables outside food and beverages. It is also the one area in which boats are feeling pinched regarding budget.
There was even one case where the owner was measuring out toothpaste and shampoo per crew member and keeping tabs on the consumption of tampons and loo roll! Those working on board were limited to three squeezes of toothpaste per day over a two month cycle. They’d get on tube allocated to them and if they used more, they had to buy it themselves.
You have to keep in mind though that at this stage you can identify between the different ‘types’ of crew and particularly the ones who have been exceptionally spoilt during their yachting career. This is usually on the much larger boats where the crew walk in and they’ve got a really nice sized cabin with acres of space (we’re talking predominantly 90+ metre boats), WiFi in their rooms, video on demand and lovely amenities. They expect, at the same time, not only to be dressed impeccably in their uniforms, but also to be presented beautifully. So there’s a big budget for hair gel and normal consumables. The provisioning industry has changed and is always changing.
In terms of excess, there are stories aplenty in this industry. We had a large 70 metre blue boat owned by a rather interesting family from the States who had planned a party for their three year old daughter. We were called three days before and were asked to provide a seven-tier wedding cake to Monaco on a Thursday along with 500 pâté de fleur roses from the patisserie and 200 figurines from Disney’s Aladdin. But it wasn’t just one set that was to be provided…
Another seven-tier wedding cake with all the trimmings was also to be delivered on the Saturday morning at around 9am to Portofino, so we had to go into Santa Margherita behind and bring the order round in a tender in what was probably a Force 3. It didn’t stop there and we had to do the same in Rome on the Sunday in case the little girl wanted to have her birthday party on the Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
At the same time we were asked to provide three tonnes of sand to go on the transom, 20 palm trees from various hotels along the Italian coast, as well as about 20,000€ of Hubbly Bubblys, Arabic outfits and so on.
We found out on the Monday night that the party hadn’t happened, all the cakes were thrown away, and we were asked to come and collect the other items. We didn’t do the sand, because I informed the captain – who’d have to have been clinically nuts to pour tonnes of sand on the transom – his engineer would quit and there’d be a big fight, as well as the fact that their insurance wouldn’t cover it. But they still decked it all out Middle Eastern style. I said, “I’m certainly not coming to collect the items unless I’m being paid to do so,” but they paid the bill, some 56,000€ for the equipment and 15,000€ for the three cakes and all the figurines. Mind you, today you wouldn’t get one cake for that – we’re talking years ago.
On the other hand, we have normal stories of daily consumption. There are very clever owners with very well managed crew and well managed budgets; boats eating normal food, with normal budgets, normal products that are consumed on a very normal basis. I can name you a hundred boats that are extremely tightly managed and where budgets on per-head and per-day are adhered to.
So, funny stories? Plenty. Normal stories? Two a dozen, and they’re the ones that we love.
OO: Do you find that the tightly constrained budgets have increased with the rise of boats being managed?
AR: Not at at all, absolutely not – I think it’s the other way around! Private owners are managing their boats better than ever, but that’s not to say that management companies don’t manage their boats phenomenally well too. What I do see sometimes (and this will be a very controversial statement and I might get a lot of flak, but you may publish it anyway) is management companies doing private deals with suppliers across the board in order to profit from the maintenance and running of their fleets. Management, charter, brokerage, and marketing: despite already making a profit, it seems there is no end to the scope of it, although I’m certainly not tarring everyone with the same brush. Instead, it is just a handful of management companies who like to control every aspect of how their boats are managed.
Then again, look at the very successful management companies such as Y.CO, Burgess, Campers, Edmiston and YPI. There are dozens that are very cost-conscious and anti-corruption, and we enjoy working with all of them. You can very clearly identify the boats that are managed by certain businesses and which are not.
We are lucky to be able to choose who we work with because it’s our business and our staff can also choose who they work with. If they don’t particularly like a chef, captain, stewardess or yacht manager, it is certainly not my prerogative to force upon my staff unacceptable working practices from other people and other businesses.
OO: That is perhaps a rarity to hear about in yachting?
AR: No, I don’t think it is. Like in most things in life, you hear more about the bad than the good. In my opinion, 80% of those in our industry are hardworking, honest and cost-conscious individuals. The other 20% – and I know I am putting a figure out there – will not taint the rest.
OO: On to location and certification, the Maldives have difficult alcohol restrictions, is that right? And high taxes on alcohol?
No, not at all. You need a three day certification to get alcohol into the Maldives, but it’s no problem. And high tax? Again, not really when compared to a lot of other countries. I mean, the U.S. is the most prohibitive place to import alcohol into, from Europe especially.
The world is getting smaller, the orders are getting larger as are the boats, and budgets are under constraint. Some will agree with me, some won’t. Every day is a challenge, but no, places like the Maldives aren’t that restrictive.
The ones that are the problems are when you are called and asked, with very little warning, to get a certain amount of goods to a long-distance destination within a specific time with very difficult customs and no clear guidelines within those customs or clues for which agents to use and how to clear.
For locations like the Maldives, Seychelles, Malaysia, Thailand, most of Europe, and most of the Caribbean, almost all are extremely easy to supply on a regular basis or even daily!
OO: You were mentioning earlier about the very big boats with their matching budgets and sometimes ‘spoilt’ crew. The other end of the scale is that small boats often have very high budgets as well, and their crews are just as much, if not more, spoilt.
AR: Yes, we have some sailing boats between 35 and 40 metres that have whopping budgets. It is easy to control a budget where you have five to seven crew members and the boss can just give the team a big budget and say, “Spoil yourselves”. In this kind of scenario, the boss tends to keep their crew for up to 10 years, while on the vast yachts with vast budgets, crews are forever rotating and changing with the seasons.
Every boat is its own island. Every owner, captain, chef and stewardess is unique and you have to deal with each one very carefully.
OO: Have there been situations where you’ve turned away business as being impossible with time restraints or certain requests?
AR: Not really as for us, nothing’s really impossible! You know, we’re now over a decade old and we deal mainly with friends. All our clients have become friends and that is a fundamental part of our service. That’s not to say that inside a business deal it is all chummy and light hearted – it’s still business and there are rules, structures, credit terms and price structures to be adhered to at every level. There’s no deviating from customs, certifications and time constraints. Our clients know that if you want something today, it is going to cost more. Likewise, if they want the same product in three weeks, it could cost them 40% less.
If a chef wants 20 tonnes of food today, he can get 20 tonnes of food, but it will come from specific suppliers that can supply those products. This is where time constraints begin to kick in. If you call us with a vast order, I can put a team in place straightaway with three, five or eight trucks to facilitate that order. Yachting is all about now, in many cases, and ‘now’ creates issues. Ultimately, issues are where corruption happens.
We had an order the other day for just under 12 tonnes to Venice and we had to hire a barge with a crane to make the drop. We did it within the time frame and within the legalities of transporting goods through the canals at certain times of the day and night. It was a very successful delivery – we were 99.9% spot on with our products and our pricing. Making all this happen was very important as it is a particularly price-conscious contract that we have with that fleet and we work on set margins with no deviation and an open book policy. The fleet read every invoice and there are no hidden rebates, retros or discounts. It’s an audited account.
We jump when we’re asked to jump, no matter how high and no matter how tight the hoop is. We get through it and get it done.
With all that said and done, if it’s a barky, aggressive and nasty captain, chef or stewardess, they can quite frankly go elsewhere.
There are plenty of great provisioners out there with phenomenal online product portfolios, but that’s just not how we like to work. We deal with friends. They look after us with their business and we reward them with the best service and product at the best price.
Outside of that, we have events like the Riviera Real Ale Club nights [where we held this interview] where everyone has a lot of fun. The proceeds go to charity and we all drink some good beer, eat good food and go to bed at 10pm – happily ever after!