Sean Strevens, Cheetah Marine, Ventnor
“Design It Yourself" encourages Sean Strevens.
As a young man I fished Ventnor waters. My first boats were mono-hulls which I fitted out myself. The rough weather off Ventnor was always a challenge for them.
I wanted to design my own boat, so I did. I had no formal training on this...
...but I knew what I wanted – a boat that was stable and fast in rough seas, and was also easy to beach.
I chose to design a wood/epoxy composite catamaran. At that time there were only racing or sailing catamarans available which were very different to what I needed. It had to be strong enough to hit the beach at 20 knots in rough weather and light enough to push back down the beach to launch.
I got my inspiration from the shape of flying boat floats. I drew designs and over time I got serious about building my own version.
I built my first at home and then fished with it for crab and lobster. The boat worked perfectly both at sea and on the beach. Other fishermen saw what I was doing and interest grew, leading to orders and publicity.
And all of a sudden, business took off. I had to stop fishing to run the boat building business and learn all about manufacturing!
as published by IW County Press, Column by Dave Simon, continues below.
At The Leading Edge
Commentary by Dave SImon
Great Ideas don’t last. You have to develop the great idea into a product your business can sell.
Then you have to tell people so that they can buy your product.
For a while you have the market to yourself. But then the copies start to arrive.
So you have to improve your product in attractive ways. Again you take the lead...
But the leading edge of the market is always moving.
So whenever you start to fade into the background you have to reinvent yourself, your products or your services.
Expand your planning horizons to strengthen your future (free InfoSheet here) – this is the bosses job. That is why they are often called Directors – they choose the new direction.
A useful discipline is the product-after-next development. Your next product is already in preparation and you need to be thinking further into your future.
Risk comes into the equation here. In reinventing yourself or your product, you are working to reinvent the marketplace too. It might not work, unless you have really tuned in to what people want.
More about Sean Strevens' experience:
Try Your Ideas
“It’ll turn upside down!” As you might expect, there were doubters and critics. But it didn’t: that first boat was very stable in bad weather. And the best bit – it surfed onto the beach as I wanted. I had designed the boat with a low centre of gravity and a rocker in the keel and amongst other details this led to a successful outcome.
It had two layers of marine ply and epoxy resin. I was lucky with the frame: I found some Tasmanian Oak that had been the dance floor in the Belgrave Hotel – very strong stuff!
We are now using a variety of high-tech materials including Kevlar, multiaxial glass and core foam. This means that the boats are light and strong, and great on fuel economy.
Customers Come First
I’ve always been customer-oriented. With my boats costing quite a lot of money, each customer is vital to me – so it’s obvious. We always build to the highest quality and we stand by our product.
The result is happy customers who talk to friends, colleagues and other boat-owners about our boats. And that brings new customers – it’s the best advertising you can get.
Seven years ago we moved into new premises on the Ventnor seafront, which works very well and gives us a high profile. We are also close to the rough weather for testing and demonstrating which was so vital at the beginning.
Building The Team
We’ve grown over the last 26 years. We now have around 30 staff – all hand-picked and very conscientious. A good team is vital for success and it leaves me free to steer the business and design new boats.
I feel that team-building is critical. With so many people contributing, each boat is a team effort. We make sure we learn as we go – the boss as well as the staff – so we spiral upwards in results.
We’ve had some great nippers in as apprentices. It’s good to help youngsters, especially when they have potential talent and are keen to learn. We need craftsmen – there is no way we can automate everything!
Being in control of every aspect of the boat and building what the customer wants means that we have a niche business.
Good profits make us secure enough to spend money on research and development which leads to the next designs and keeps us in the forefront of our industry.
We’re always improving, but it can take years to develop a new design. We do some research and tank testing with Southampton University and this is great to help prove my designs and ideas.
In this country, we are good at research and design. And the Island is good at it too. We need to give ourselves credit for that. It’s important to stay ahead of the game.
So in a competitive world, profits sustain jobs.
Now, we do boat trips in the summer, sea safaris and mackerel fishing trips. We have also linked up with WetWheels, a charity that takes wheelchair users out to sea for fun. Geoff Holt, the founder – a wheelchair user himself – is a great enthusiast. It’s good to support a deserving project.
Change versus Comfort
One thing that worries me is the economy. We export a lot to Europe and if Britain leaves the EU, it could damage export potential and subsequently jobs. That could have a big impact on our business.
Here in Ventnor, the town has hugely improved in our lifetime with many businesses investing money into the town. The harbour has helped in this regeneration and the atmosphere and energy in the town is growing.
But as a whole, the Island doesn’t like change too much. Somehow, we have to balance our need to improve with the quiet life we all like.
Positive Push Forwards
Rather than wait and see, I feel we need to decide and act. Our economy needs our energy to boost it, as does the environment.
There are great opportunities on the Island for the high tech businesses developing renewable energy. We design and build one of the biggest wind turbine’s in the world but can not get one working on the Island. I think this is a great shame.
To improve anything, we need be optimistic. For the Island, we need much more positive thinking than we seem to have. We need people who can make a positive push towards a better balance.
If the Island could create a surplus of clean electricity we could promote electric cars and even develop a fully sustainable clean energy environment using fuel cell hydrogen technology.
This in turn would hugely help promote the tourist industry because we would have the ultimate clean environment to visit.