We speak to Francis Lapp, Sunreef Yachts founder and CEO, about how this multihull brand began, his focus on sustainable yachting and push into the large yacht sector.
How did your yachting story begin? Was it always your mission?
My personal story with yachting is a long one. I grew up in the French region of Alsace, about as far from the sea and being a yachting hub as is possible.
Ever since I can remember, I have been drawn to all things technical. This is why I got into working with electrical gear quite early. When I later started my own business producing electrical equipment, I got invited to Poland for a rally-car race. It was in the early ’90s and upon my ﬁrst visit, I immediately realized the opportunities the country oﬀered. I decided to grow my business there and moved there myself.
I expanded my activity to construction and handled electrical installations for the emerging supermarkets in Poland. At the same time, I started racing small catamarans. I owned a Hobie 14 and 16 and took part in competitions. From sailing a small Hobie on a lake, I went to buy a couple of power catamarans for a charter ﬂeet I set up in Madagascar. I bought the yachts at the Paris boat show and I remember them being marketed as a luxury product.
The charter business was doing well with these “luxury” boats and for some time they were good enough. But not good enough for me. I gradually became disappointed with their level of ﬁnish and overall quality. This wasn’t my vision of luxury. In a way, this sense of disappointment fueled my desire to build. This is how my idea became clear, I needed to redeﬁne the idea of a catamaran and give it a luxury edge.
What have been the main steps in creating the brand and developing Sunreef Yachts into one of the leading
players in the industry?
Obviously, the launch of the ﬁrst Sunreef catamaran sailing yacht was the ﬁrst major step. Once I had my boat launched, I knew I had a unique product – something hat has never been done before. At the time, luxury catamarans were non-existent and I had a simply splendid 74-footer. On top of that, my boat had a ﬂybridge – the world’s ﬁrst on a catamaran. The ﬁrst powercat was another milestone – we diversiﬁed our range with a motor yacht that turned out to be a fantastic success. Then, came our entry into the
superyacht world with two larger sail catamarans, both over 100ft (33m).
After a couple of years, I knew I had to redeﬁne our whole oﬀer to stay ahead of the game. This is how we came up with a range called The New Beginning. In a way, it was a fresh start for us and it led us to the growth we are enjoying today.
Lastly, I couldn’t talk about the most signiﬁcant moments at Sunreef Yachts without mentioning the 49-meter motor yacht we are currently building. I think it will be another milestone.
You are taking Sunreef further into the superyacht segment. What are the main differences and challenges when compared to your core market?
Building superyachts is quite simply a diﬀerent profession. We have a separate team handling the biggest projects. The regulations applying to superyachts are completely diﬀerent and customer expectations are even higher than what we are used to. Even though our brand specializes in bespoke work, with superyacht builds we enter a world of extremely voluminous craft with extreme customization potential. Here, customers expect more toys on board, pools or helipads come into play. The fact that we are today building superyachts is both a challenge and a reward. I feel pride because I see it as a recognition of our achievements and evidence of our expertise in multihulls.
The Ecoline is Sunreef’s answer to creating a more environmentally conscious world. What actions did you implement with the Ecoline?
The Sunreef Yachts Eco catamarans are part of our brand philosophy and a message at the same time. The idea behind this new range is the 360-degree approach to sustainability. I was looking for something more than just electric yachts. I wanted to apply sustainability to every aspect of a yacht. This is why we designed our in-house made solar power system. We are the only company in the world that can integrate photovoltaic panels with composite. The batteries we use were custom-engineered for our boats and have an unmatched weight-to-eﬃciency ratio. We also use eco-responsible fabrics and materials in the decors of our yachts… All of this is an eﬀort to have a harmony of luxury and sustainability. Those two worlds belong together.
Our sustainability action does not end with our product. We also engage in a variety of initiatives either directly beneﬁting the environment or raising awareness. We recently started a cooperation with a wilderness conservation trust in Kenya and developed an electric safari car especially for them. We also take part in the Extreme E race – an all-electric rally race in remote environments across the globe with a mission to draw attention to climate issues.
What has been the impact of COVID 19 at Sunreef Yachts? How did you face this challenge and what are your thoughts on the future of yachting in the context of the pandemic?
We were a little less impacted than others as we rely almost exclusively on in-house work. This means we were able to move forward with our projects when others slowed down, waiting for subcontractors and suppliers to regain capacity. Of course, like everyone, we had to reorganize our work schedule and put much more focus on social distancing. In the course of the last three years, we have seen very dynamic growth in terms of turnover and despite the health crisis, we will maintain this progress.
You have created a unique, personality-led marketing campaign, what can you tell us about that?
We’ve put much eﬀort into diversifying our marketing actions. We focused more on emotions related to yachting and tried to voice that message in various ways. When we started working with Rafael Nadal we felt that this was the right way to express feelings inherent to boating. We wanted to understand what going out at sea and cruising meant to him and wanted to share this with our customers, partners and followers.
We also work with Nico Rosberg who is the perfect brand ambassador for the Sunreef Yachts Eco range. After a great career on the F1 race tracks, Nico focused all his energy on promoting sustainable technology. Again, we work with an outstanding ﬁgure coming from the world of sports and speaking to people’s hearts.
Finally, what does Sunreef mean for you today, and how does it compare to your early aspirations?
At the time when I founded the company, Sunreef Yachts was fairly close to a hobby. I was very involved with other activities and thought of yacht building more in terms of passion than business. As the years went by, I saw the company grow to a point where it is the core of my activity. My goals for the near future are production-related: I want to make more exciting projects happen and expand the production facility. Long-term, we want to gain more and more ground in the superyacht market. Today, I see Sunreef Yachts as an ongoing adventure rather than an accomplishment. The trick is to stay hungry.