Adding Value and Adapting to Trends
March 4, 2016
Brett Bolton, CEO of d’Albora Marinas, heads up the largest marina group in Australia. Speaking to Robert Wilkes from his office at a’Albora headquarters in Sydney, Bolton discusses innovation, strategy, customer service and branding.
Brett Bolton has held a number of high profile management roles in some of the largest recreation and marina companies in Australia and New Zealand. He started in the marine sector fifteen years ago in reef tourism as Operations Manager with Sun Lover Cruises in Cairns. Sun Lover takes as many as 600 tourists at a time on large, high-speed catamarans to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkeling adventures.
In 2003 Bolton was named manager of the marina serving tourism in Cairns. The facility had just completed a major redevelopment. “It was like a startup,” said Bolton. “We had to hire and train the staff and plan operations and maintenance for a new, larger facility. Daily traffic included fifty tour boats and 3,000 tourist passengers. We attracted many super yachts in the 50m to 75m range, some up to 120m.”
In 2007 Bolton moved to a new post at publically-listed Ariadne Australia Ltd headquartered in Brisbane. Ariadne owned four marinas in Queensland, New South Wales and New Zealand, including a large operation at 600-slip and drystack ORAMS Marina Village in Auckland. Bolton was responsible for master planning, redevelopment and operations of the marinas and for acquisition programs that tendered offers on new properties.
In 2011 Bolton was engaged by McGrathNicol to take Horizon Shores in Queensland, one of the largest marinas in Australia, out of receivership. “The marina has 500 wet, 350 dry slips, 200-trailer storage and a haul out facility,” said Bolton. “It was a business with many moving parts and new challenges on a daily basis.
In July, 2014, Bolton began his current role as CEO of d’Albora Marinas. D’Albora operates seven sites in and around Sydney and Melbourne. The company founder, Jeff d’Albora, sold the property in 2000 to what was then Macquarie Leisure and is now Ardent Leisure Ltd, a billion dollar multifaceted recreation company listed on the Australia Stock Exchange. In addition to marinas, the company operates theme parks, health clubs and bowling facilities.
d’Albora Marinas is the largest marina group in Australia and with Bolton at the helm is defying the logic that large companies become risk averse, complacent and behind the times. d’Albora Marinas is one of the most innovative operators in Australia and in any part of the world. We interviewed Bolton from his headquarters in Sydney.
Marina World (MW): What are the advantages of a large, seven marina system?
Brett Bolton (BB): There are definite advantages. Each member (d’Albora refers to its customers as members) has reciprocal privileges at any d’Albora marina and can stay as long as a month at no additional charge. As a member stays longer with us over the years their reciprocal rights increase. Our marinas are in great locations and they provide a wide-range of boating experiences from inner harbor sites in Sydney and Melbourne to destination marinas in cruising grounds.
MW: How has your policy of reciprocal privileges changed the social climate of the marinas?
BB: Members make friends and form groups. They’ll cruise with ten to twenty boats to a rendezvous at another marina. They create a vibrant social network within the marina that we love to see, a society. When you have that, your marina is well beyond the old notion of a parking lot for boats.
MW: What else adds value to your products and services to help d’Albora stand out from its competition?
BB: We have three key selling features. Reciprocal berthing is one of them. Next, we guarantee the lowest fuel prices to our members when they buy fuel at our marinas. Our third key feature is Dockmaster Assist. When a member is leaving his slip or returning, an employee is there to help, to make things easier. He’ll handle lines, load provisions, whatever is needed.
MW: You have a renovation program. Tell us about it.
BB: d’Albora is making significant investments in all our assets. We just completed a $6 million (AUD) refurbishment program for The Spit on Sydney’s lower North Shore. The renovation included the latest Bellingham Marine floating concrete docks with wide pontoons. We increased the number of berths to 200, and of course, they are much larger slips than were needed thirty years ago. We have a new premium berthing arm and we can handle super yachts to 40m. We improved access and egress, installed faster fueling, extensive CCTV and added new leisure spaces.
We’re committed to enhancing our infrastructure and to be the industry leader in facilities and in services. We have long range refurbishment plans at all our sites. We plan to renovate three additional marinas in the next two to three years.
MW: What is your strategy going forward as you renovate marinas? How do you lead in new technologies and adapt new trends?
BB: This is another advantage that d’Albora has as a large, multi-marina operation. We have had a program of biannual customer surveys for several years now, and we just completed a strategic branding exercise that included a significant market research component. The results of that work are just now going into implementation.
In terms of specific programs, we’re about halfway through an upgrade of our Wi-Fi systems in our marinas. Wi-Fi is important as people spend more time in the marina. We are installing additional television monitoring for security and safety. We are implementing monitoring of electric power so if there is a power outage we get an alert. We can address the problem and notify the owner. Often we can rescue the situation on the spot.
We’ve developed a mobile phone app for our marina system. It’s just been launched in January. You can book reciprocal berthing at any of our marinas, see a list of services, check fuel prices and get weather updates. We have incorporated a great deal of visual information and it will get even better over time.
And we’re enhancing the leisure attractiveness of the marina. We want to create a comfortable and fun “marina experience.” We are installing breakout areas, leisure sites with BBQ facilities, lounges and other spaces to enhance leisure activities. We’ve seen the shift to where boaters want to be part of a community, and we’re helping to make that happen.
Building environmentally responsible marinas is another commitment. All our marinas are in the Green Marina Program, and we build for sustainability from a green perspective. We’re replacing old lighting with high-efficiency LED lighting and investigating use of solar panels as well.
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