Most people think it takes millions of dollars to own a yacht. But it doesn't if you want to be in control of an entire fleet! If you want to wake up every morning and do something you love, check out this interview with Chris Tucker the owner of SailTime Channel Islands, a Southern California based SailTime franchise. Chris explains the in's and out's of running a lifestyle oriented franchise and talks about the fractional ownership business model of SailTime's Yacht Ownership Program. This article origonally appeared on FranchiseHelp.com in conjunction with Under30CEO.
FranchiseHelp: First of all, how gratifying is it to be operating a business that you are passionate about and how has this helped your success along the way?
Chris Tucker: There is nothing better than working for oneself. You have nobody to blame, the world of marketing is your oyster and in the case of SailTime, success is very fulfilling in that we help people get into the lifestyle of sailing on an expensive cruising yacht for a mere fraction of traditional costs. There really is nothing like seeing people having the time of their lives and knowing that without this opportunity they probably would not have been able to do it!
FH: What are the perks of being a franchisee with SailTime in the boating & leisure industry?
CT: It's great to be in a lifestyle business doing something you love to do. While I personally couldn't afford a big yacht, SailTime has afforded me the opportunity of sailing on large cruising yachts myself. In addition, I lead flotillas of SailTime members all around the world, which would not have come to pass for me without this opportunity.
FH: Do I need to be a licensed captain to open a franchise?
CT: Not at all. It makes sense to become one, though, as there are lots of opportunities for USCG Captains in our business. But [as a SailTime franchisee] you can hire a licensed Captain to do your Captain work.
FH: What type of seed capital is needed to start a SailTime business?
CT: Depending on the market area and selected product offerings, the seed capital need is in the range of $75k to $150k. Fifty percent of initial investment is typically appropriated to the acquisition of critical assets, fixtures, and legal fees and the remaining capital is typically appropriated for local business development needs.
FH: Do you find people buying franchises that simply want a way to subsidize their investment on a yacht?
CT: Not really, as we have a yacht purchase product (the SailTime Ownership Program) that serves that segment. The background of franchise owners varies considerably. Some franchise owners are semi-retired corporate executives while others are experienced [members of] the marine industry that are working in or have ownership in a complementary boating business such as a sailing school or a yacht brokerage.
FH: Who actually owns the boats and how does this part of the business work?
CT: All of the boats are owned by individuals whom we call "Owner Members." We have a special fleet program with Hunter that offers a ton of value. The boats are written up by the local Hunter dealer and delivered to the SailTime base of choice. The franchise then signs an agreement to manage the boat for the Owner for 3-5 years, who is granted as much sailing time as he would like. Because we are a franchise organization, our buying power allows us to create agreements with manufacturers based on volume. There are over 200 boats in the US fleet alone! One of the big benefits of being in this franchise is the leverage the group wields in the marketplace that brings added value to the table not found anywhere else.
FH: SailTime has developed quite a social media presence, nearing 10k followers on Twitter. What type of content has worked best for you to publish when trying to turn these followers into sales?
CT: We have been surprised and encouraged by how many people follow us on Twitter. Our daily feed consists of information about starting a business, benefits of being a member and an owner member, projecting the sailing lifestyle and showing people there is an alternative out there for them. People love to watch videos and see pictures of the sport. We have gained dozens of business opportunity prospects around the world and membership inquiries come in regularly. We have several Twitter "conversations" a day, just like we had with you when you began to research who we are and what we do.
FH: SailTime uses Facebook quite successfully to build its presence and create awareness in the market. How does SailTime provide franchisees with training on social media channels and forums?
CT: It's not mandatory that a franchisee have a Facebook page but many of our bases have followed our lead and are building an audience on Facebook and/or Twitter as well as LinkedIn and several other social networks. We have a online marketing consultant who trains and coaches all the franchisees in online marketing and social networking online. All Franchises are required to attend a on-site training at our Corporate Store in Annapolis, Maryland. This is a week-long training in which all functions necessary to operate a franchise are reviewed with the franchise owner. This training includes sales and marketing strategies, fleet management and customer service, and accounting and business planning.
FH: Where geographically do you see SailTime's biggest opportunities for growth, and how are you going about developing business in these areas?
CT: SailTime will be expanding in three markets over the next 2 years. Much of our growth will be in Australia, with 7 franchises slated to open in the next two years. Behind Australia, SailTime has plans to open 6 more franchises in North America and the Caribbean as well as 6 franchises in Europe along the Mediterranean coast. There are dozens of potential bases still open in North America and a multitude of possibilities around the globe.
In addition to new franchises, in the next 12 months SailTime is launching various membership types offering boaters preferred access: to a fleet and/or a specific boat; locally and/or nationally; for power-boats and/or for sail-boats.