18 Nov 2016
The company, which was started by managing director Chris McMaster and head of design Richard Bouzaid in the late 1990s, has been able to sail ahead of the pack through clever innovation and a focus on research and development.
"All the products that we used for sailmaking came in from overseas in those days, so we said ‘well, why can’t we make that here?"
Chris McMaster, Doyle Sails MD
McMaster and Bouzaid come from sailing families - both have grandfathers who ran successful sailmaking companies from the 1920s onward. The pair inherited their respective family businesses and in 1998 decided to combine them, taking on the Doyle franchise.
“We were trying to figure out how to make ourselves into a commercially viable operation rather than just a lifestyle,” McMaster says.
On the back of New Zealand’s 1990s success in the America’s Cup, the pair was swept along on the Kiwi boat building industry’s fresh global profile. As the world’s luxury superyachts started visiting Auckland, Doyle Sails New Zealand started making its sails.
“We saw that with superyachts you could take a small family business and turn it into something decent; one international superyacht order was more than the whole New Zealand market combined,” McMaster says.
Superyacht orders took the business from a small loft in Westhaven to an enormous bespoke sailmaking loft in Avondale, the largest the Southern Hemisphere. However the boom period was not to last and McMaster says the company survived by focusing on research and development.
“When we started developing it was right at the height of the New Zealand superyacht industry,” he says. “We knew it couldn’t last forever so we saw we needed to diversify our business. We’ve continued to evolve and grow ever since.”
The strategic direction chosen by Doyle Sails New Zealand was into sails for high-performance racing yachts.
The group gathered insights gained from a lifetime in the sailmaking industry and poured its collective energy into developing a unique Kiwi layered-sail cloth.
The result was Stratis, a cloth which forms the backbone of Doyle’s reputation for making sails that propel the world’s fastest yachts.
“From the early days Richard and I could see that we had to do something unique,” McMaster says. “Eventually we looked at how sails were made. All the products that we used for sailmaking came in from overseas in those days, so we said ‘well, why can’t we make that here?’ We’d get products in their absolute rawest form and do all of the assembly here.”
Stratis quickly became a firm favourite among the high-performance yachting community around the world and the business flourished. McMaster says producing sails to the exacting standards demanded by high performance yachts raised standards throughout the business.
“The superyachts are visibly cool, but raceboats are a different level; these guys are critiquing every little thing,” he says. “Stuff we could get away with before you just can’t with a racing yacht so your whole game comes up and that trickles back down to the leisure boat level.”
A passion for sailing has been vital to the company’s success. Today the business has four owners - McMaster and Bouzaid have been joined by sales director and Volvo Ocean race winning skipper Mike Sanderson and general manager David Duff, also a successful international high-performance sailor.
McMaster says their collective experience in high-performance programs has been central to Doyle,” Doyle says. design success, alongside their shared passion for sailing and testing ideas on the water.
“We’re able to progress R&D very rapidly,” he says. “We’ll think of an idea on a Monday and we’ll have it in production by Wednesday. It’ll be on the boat on Friday, we’ll go out sailing with it and by Sunday afternoon we can assess whether it worked or not. That’s how our product range has grown.
“In other businesses it could be a year before you figure out if something’s going to work in the market or not; we spend about two weeks in R&D for a product. It means for all the ideas we have, only one can become reality and we can figure that out very quickly and discount the ones that fail quickly, too.”
Doyle Sails New Zealand has never stopped innovating, which is important in an industry which has seen such monumental changes since Kiwis wore their red socks supporting Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup challenges of the 1990s.
“Even in the last five years alone we’ve seen more change in sailing than we ever have before, with the advent of the foiling catamarans in the America’s Cup,” McMaster says. “So we’re figuring out what we can offer to the market, and changing the product is really important.”
Doyle’s innovations have made it an integral part of the global Doyle franchise. Internationally there are about 65 Doyle sail making lofts, and all of them use Stratis which comes to them from the New Zealand loft.
“Stratis has become the biggest selling point for Doyle, so even though they we’re part of Doyle, they need us more; Stratis is at the heart of everything that’s done,” McMaster says. “So these lofts around the world are tied to us get high tech sail materials.”
Now they’ve gone one step further. Earlier this year, the group launched software that helps Doyle lofts around the world select the correct sail for the job.
“We’ve designed a program so that when a customer comes in they can go through basic questions, what kind of yacht they have and what kind of sailing they do, and our program will recommend the sail, then the loft can order it as a complete sail, a kitset or design only,” McMaster says.
“What we’re trying to do is find ways that any sail making loft around the world can be more competitive just by using our systems, and then we’re embedded within those businesses. We’ve offered the software for free initially and when it’s working well we’ll look at ways to commercialise it.”
Sophie Speer is a contributing editor at BlueNotes
The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.
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