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Building Boats and Loyalty with Riviera Yachts

Over 40 years, Australia's Riviera Yachts has built a large and loyal customer base. Here's why.

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Riviera Yachts
Riviera owners in New Zealand celebrated the yard’s 40th anniversary with a raft-up of 106 motoryachts. Courtesy Riviera

Mark Doxon was in Princess Louisa Inlet, up past Vancouver in British Columbia, when he lost a starter on his Riviera 47 Flybridge. The inlet is a spectacularly secluded cruising location, with towering fjords all around. It’s also a place with no cellphone service, where Doxon was far more likely to encounter actual bears than technicians bearing replacement parts.

Doxon drove the yacht’s dinghy to a nearby youth camp and used its phone to call the team at Riviera. “The next thing I knew, there was the seaplane and the starter and the technician waiting for me,” he says. “The boat was fixed two days later. They had gotten it there from Vancouver.”

That’s the kind of service that makes Doxon a loyal fan of the Riviera brand. He has owned four of the builder’s boats, starting with a 40-foot Flybridge and most recently taking delivery of a 64 Sports Motor Yacht.

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While buying four boats from one builder may sound like a lot, Riviera’s team says it’s a common occurrence. Some owners, according to the Coomera, Australia-based builder, have been switching models as their needs evolve over the years through as many as 22 different Rivieras.

Offering enough models to keep owners happy for the whole of their boating lives is all part of the Riviera business plan, which is to engender loyalty through top-notch service, a diverse model lineup, and a commitment to implementing owner feedback that improves all the boats and service along the way.

“To be honest, repeat owners are extremely high for us around the world,” says Stephen Milne, Riviera’s brand and communications director. “If their friends and family are thinking about buying a boat, they’re the greatest advocates for saying you should buy a Riviera.”  

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Riviera Yachts
The Riviera 51 Open Flybridge is one of the builder’s classic models. Today, the Open Flybridge is available as a 39, 43 or 45. Courtesy Riviera

From Australia, With Pride

The Riviera brand dates back to 1980 near Sydney. Within five years of setting up shop, the yard was delivering boats to owners in the United States and Europe, with the Riviera reputation based primarily on flybridge motoryachts. The typical Riviera owner wanted to go fishing and do some cruising. In the late 1990s, Riviera tried to expand its offerings with models that lacked flybridges and focused on single-level onboard living, but it quickly went back to flybridge boats.

In 2002, when the builder had sold nearly 2,200 hulls, private equity interests led a management buyout. In 2005, Riviera once again tried to expand its lineup with single-level models, and this time, the marketplace for the idea was far friendlier. The builder added a 3600 Sport Yacht that would kick off its Sport Yacht line, with more than 660 owners choosing those models in the years that followed. Other advancements came along too; in 2008, Riviera added Volvo Penta IPS engines to the Sport Yacht line, giving owners features such as joystick control for easier operations.

Then, at the same time that the Great Recession was strangling economies worldwide, longtime Riviera CEO Wes Moxey announced his retirement. A year later, the private-equity owner placed Riviera in voluntary administration, a sign of financial challenges.

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As it turned out, Riviera wasn’t even close to being done. In 2012, longtime boater and Australian businessman Rodney Longhurst bought Riviera and took it out of receivership, putting the brand on its current path. One of Longhurst’s first moves was to bring Moxey back as CEO, and Riviera is now celebrating four decades in business. New models for 2021 include the 78 Motor Yacht (the first model in that line) and the 645 SUV-line flagship.  

Riviera Yachts
This collectible book will include modern Riviera models as well as historical information. Courtesy Riviera

“They Listen To You”

Ray Haddrell bought Hull No. 10 of the 645 SUV—the first one without a flybridge. It’s his seventh Riviera in about 15 years, and he says he likes the brand because the boats feel rock-solid no matter whether he’s circumnavigating Tasmania or cruising up the Australian coast to Hamilton Island. “As you travel more with your boat, you realize that you need more accommodations,” he says. “Slowly, I’ve just gradually built up in the boats.”

But, Haddrell says, he’s not a flybridge guy. He likes the single-level experience of the SUV line and appreciates that the builder was willing to modify the design for his preferences.

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“I had a 51 with a flybridge, enclosed,” he says. “I went up to Hamilton Island with it. I had a skipper on board. I kept having to tell people to go up there. Everyone wanted to be down in the sunshine. That’s when I decided the flybridge was no good. I wanted it more like a sedan. If you want to fish, you want a flybridge, but I’m not keen on fishing. I like to cruise around. When you’re cruising around and everything is all on one level, people come up and talk to you.”

Haddrell also says he greatly appreciates the way Riviera’s team hears out his ideas and then does whatever they can to give him what he wants.

 “They listen to you,” Haddrell says. “The CEO at Riviera, I would talk to him directly. We’d discuss an issue, and he’d say he’ll have a look at it. Then he’d come back to me in three or four days and say, ‘We can do that,’ or there was something structural with the boat that they couldn’t do it—but he listened to me with my input for the boat.”

Riviera Yachts
The Riviera 505 SUV is built for single-level entertaining. Note the wide glass doors to the cockpit, for indoor-outdoor ambience. Courtesy Riviera

You Never Know

In 2012, after Superstorm Sandy destroyed his 36-foot fishing boat in New Jersey, Bruce Lakefield never imagined he’d own another boat. “It was covered up and winterized for the winter, and it landed about 2,000 yards down the street,” he says. “We thought we were done with boating.”

Lakefield’s 40-year-old son, however, was not done with boating, which is how Lakefield and his wife found themselves at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show looking at a Riviera 445 SUV. “The boat was just laid out perfectly for four people to cruise. It was just built like no other boat that I’ve ever had,” he says. “It was quality everywhere—in the bilges, even. It had a full Garmin setup, the Volvo Penta IPS. We just fell in love with it and bought it pretty much right on the spot.”

Lakefield, a retired US Navy submarine veteran, kept the boat in Florida, where he and his wife would cruise with other couples. They soon moved up to a 515 SUV and are now awaiting 2022 delivery on a 5400 Sport Yacht.

Again, he finds himself thrilled but surprised by the boat he’s about to own. The couple are switching Riviera lines because, Lakefield says, they want features that he sees as being a bit more, well, feminine.

“I would describe the SUV as a man’s boat, and I would describe the 5400 as a lady’s yacht,” he says. “We go from a queen-size bed to a king-size bed. We go from a cockpit that can be used for fishing or entertainment to solely an entertainment deck. We didn’t fish off the other boat—we thought we might, but we didn’t. So, that changed. Once we’d seen a couple of the Sport models at the boat show and at our club, we decided that was the way for us to go.”

It isn’t just the good looks of Riviera boats that keep him with the brand, Lakefield says—“Everybody [who] walked down the dock said our Riviera was the prettiest boat in the yacht club”—it’s also the quality of the build.

“The design is terrific, and what goes into the boat, it’s all first-class,” he says. “All the joinery is perfect. The layout is well-thought-out. You never know. Whether it’s the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean or in the North Atlantic where I served on the submarine, you need what you need when you need it. These boats from Australia are just superbly built.”

Riviera Yachts
Longtime Riviera CEO Wes Moxey founded Belize Yachts. Today, Riviera offers the Belize line. Courtesy Riviera

Still Growing 

As of this writing, Riviera is preparing to break ground on what will become its largest building yet, a dedicated lamination center that will span about 40 acres. “It will allow us to have greater efficiencies and meet demand,” Milne says. “It will let us operate in a climate-controlled environment to enhance quality further.”

That kind of quality control is key, he adds, given that Riviera is now building more than 110 motoryachts a year from 39 to 78 feet length overall. Most of them are sold to owner-operators, and the yard wants these buyers to stick with the brand too.

“Riviera owners around the world, no matter where they are, they all feel that they are part of a very special group. They call themselves the Riviera family,” Milne says. “It doesn’t matter whether we’re having an event at a boat show or a cruise to the Bahamas or a cruise to the Whitsundays—they all like being part of a group of people who are passionate about their boats and boating. They’ve become friends, and they feel an immense loyalty to Riviera. I think that’s one of our greatest achievements: this global family of boat owners.”

Celebrating 40 Years

Riviera has released a 280-page coffee-table book in continuing celebration of the brand’s 40-year anniversary. About 2,000 copies have been made available, each one individually numbered and presented in a box. “It documents every boat we’ve built by model and by year,” says Riviera’s Stephen Milne. “It’s fascinating. The owner engagement that we get from people talking about their love of Riviera, and when they had a 35 and went to a 42, and now they’ve got a 50—it’s a culture that is very special. We’re very proud to be a part of that.”

Live and Learn

Each May, the ­shipyard hosts the Riviera Festival of Boating, which is intended to help Riviera boat owners become better boaters. The yard offers seminars and on-water workshops, covering everything from systems and processes to driving, docking and radar. Attendees also can take tours of the facility so they can gain a better understanding about how their boats are built. The festival is scheduled to coincide with the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show, which usually has more than 300 exhibitors and 600 boats.

Take the next step: rivieraaustralia.com

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