After serving 14 years in the British Army, Tim Johnson spent the next decade selling private jets and rubbing shoulders with more than a few yacht brokers. An accomplished salesman with a passion for sailing and watersports, he decided to swap lanes and has never looked back.
Starting out with a brokerage in London, Tim later founded TJB Super Yachts, a boutique brokerage offering a truly bespoke service for seasoned and first-time charterers. An up and coming brand with a burgeoning business, Tim discusses what bespoke means in practice, and the road to success in a highly competitive market.
Your head office is in London but you’re currently in Sweden?
Yes, we have a home on an archipelago surrounded by forests and beaches, and sailing is a popular pastime here - mostly small to medium-sized sailing yachts, and the odd 40-50 foot motorboat used for day trips. It’s beautiful here, we have great weather, nice breezes, and no tide so you can navigate through all the rocks and around all the different islands.
Of course, nowadays one can work from anywhere, but I still spend most of my time in the London office where we have a team of 18, plus Coco the dog!
You’re passionate about sailing – tell us about some of your experiences at sea.
The magic of owning a boat is genuinely the quality time I get with my family. A few weeks ago, I spent a few days sailing around Isle of Wight with my father and brother-in-law in their respective boats. The weather may not have been the best but the simple pleasure of a BBQ on West Wittering beach and a gentle sail around Cowes cannot be beaten.
You’re also a keen polo player – how did that come about?
I have always loved horses and have been a good rider since I was a young child, but when I discovered polo I fell in love with the sport. Polo is such a great combination of horse riding and stick and ball skills and it’s a true team sport. It’s also incredibly fast paced and normally played in a beautiful setting - there are many parallels in how I run my own company.
Was your business affected by the pandemic and were there any lessons learned?
When I started TJB we were doing 30 charters per year. Eight years later this rose to 260 charters but it dropped back down to 155 last year. Compared to other companies I don’t think that’s unusual, and already this year the numbers are back up in what is still a difficult time to travel.
Like many businesses, we took the opportunity to refine our systems and improve our online presence. As part of that we’ve refreshed our brand and we recently launched a new website with a unique ‘build your own itinerary’ function for clients to customise their trips. It’s a first in the yachting industry and it allows clients to create their own itineraries, complete with destination guides and tips on where to eat, what to do and where to party during the trip.
Tell us more about TJB Super Yachts’ bespoke approach’ how would you describe it?
Because we are a boutique company, we provide an ultra-personalised service to our clients. This is the TJB difference.
We’re a young team of hard-working people from diverse backgrounds. Everyone on the team has sales experience and/or has worked as crew, so they have hands-on experience being on board these superyachts. They also have good educational backgrounds, so they present well and know how to provide the high level of customer service you’d expect from a boutique company.
We don’t do anything half-hearted and whatever your budget you are treated the way you would expect to be treated because if it matters to you, it matters to us. We take great care and ownership in everything we touch.
It's easy to get caught up in multi-week, large yachts, but you've got to look after the family charters. The majority of people who are spending 50K for a week’s charter (plus expenses) are still spending serious money. We take care of all our clients in the same way which has led to steady growth.
Who are your typical clients?
Our niche is first-time charterers, typically a business owner with a family who wants to spend £100-150k for a week’s charter. Many of our earlier clients have also grown over time and those who started with a 26m yacht have stepped up to a 50m.
Most enquires occur online and the pace is fast - how do you compete?
We have a young and talented team but when you're competing with other brokers you have to respond with accurate information in the fastest possible way. We’ve therefore invested heavily in our backend systems so our brokers can focus on giving great customer service. You have to be organised and efficient if you want to deliver a truly personal service to so many individual clients.
Does this super organisation stem from your military background?
Yes it does! I served 14 years in reserve and 4 years full time with the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) and they standardise everything. Training is huge, practice to perfection is huge, and you have standard operating procedures for everything.
Communication and teamwork are also key and hopefully I’ve carried these through to the company. The teamwork and positive attitude of our brokers is unparalleled. We share our knowledge and experience of all the yachts we visit and advice each other for future charter bookings.
How do you encourage customer loyalty?
I've learned from experience that people are either naturally loyal or they’re not but our greatest strength is our excellent customer service. We go above and beyond and with clients all over the world, the team is available 24/7 to answer any questions or concerns.
We are also heavily technology driven which means our clients consistently receive the most up-to-date, accurate information and all our itineraries are fully personalised.
Are you seeing any trends in your client base in terms of demographic, age or where they want to go?
Clients are definitely getting younger - we're seeing many more 40-year-olds with young families. We're also seeing more clients from South America - Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina – which is interesting, but there’s still a smattering of clients from everywhere.
We promote all destinations but right now the choice is very much driven by travel restrictions but you can't beat Sardinia and Corsica or the cruising grounds and hospitality in Greece. Croatia is also growing in popularity and there’s still a lot of potential to expand. Even in the South France there are always new things to discover, national parks, great restaurants, and beaches.
Due to the pandemic a lot of Americans chartered in the Bahamas and the Caribbean last summer which is new, also Mexico and Costa Rica. The Red Sea was also popular with Saudis and I think that will continue to grow. The problem is still permits, but as they build these new super cities, I suspect that will change in order to attract more international tourists. We’re also seeing more charters in Australia, and that’s a pretty beautiful place.
TJB is also making inroads with the Indian market – how did that come about?
A couple of years ago we hired Advait Deodhar, who happens to be Indian. As well as being a highly effective yacht broker, he’s also a racing car driver and a keen sailor at the Mumbai Sailing Club so he is very well connected. He's motivated, super knowledgeable, and also very charming as an individual. The Indian market is hard to penetrate but he's growing it steadily.
What are your favourite cruising grounds and why?
My personal favourite is Croatia. The weather is fantastic, there are beautiful villages to explore, and the turquoise water and caves are stunning - a stop at the Blue Grotto on Bisevo is a once in a lifetime experience.
What’s on your personal bucket list?
I’d like to sail across the Atlantic in my own boat!
Which is your favourite yacht and why?
The superyacht Lonian is impressive because of her support ship Hodor which transports all the water toys. Amongst other things, Hodor has five tenders, a dive centre, helipad and three-person submarine in a striking military design. It’s an adventurer’s dream, while the mothership Lonian provides all the luxury anyone could possibly ask for.
What changes do you foresee in the yachting industry over the next 10 years?
I envisage new, younger clients from both Europe and America will drive sustainability in the sector by demanding more environmentally friendly yachts and experiences, and more opportunities to explore remote destinations.