Lee Marine: Smooth Operators
Thailand’s Lee Marine is Riviera’s longest-serving international dealer and offers larger steel yachts by Cantiere delle Marche and superyachts through Northrop & Johnson Asia, although confidentiality prevents the dealer from announcing several exciting projects.
Joshua Lee founded Lee Marine in Thailand in 1997
As Riviera stages the world premiere of its 645 SUV at the 32nd Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show, the Australian builder’s longest-serving international dealer won’t be present. Lee Marine was founded in Phuket in 1997 and has been representing Riviera in Thailand since 1998, but travel restrictions mean founder Joshua Lee and colleagues can’t be at Sanctuary Cove this year.
However, that doesn’t mean Lee and his team aren’t keeping busy. As well as Riviera, which produces five ranges of fibreglass motor yachts from 39-72ft, Lee Marine also works closely with Cantiere delle Marche (CdM) as a ‘preferred partner’ of the Italian builder of steel motor yachts from 80-150ft. The Phuket-based dealer is also a broker for a huge range of yachts, new and pre-owned.
Furthermore, since 2018, the company has also owned the licence for Northrop & Johnson in Asia, making it a regional representative of one of the world’s leading brokerage houses.
The Lee Marine office in Ao Po Grand Marina in northeast Phuket
Representing a global firm like N&J forced Lee Marine to advance its digital capabilities, while Covid deepened that knowledge. Lee is now very used to communicating and selling remotely with clients to offset the absence of local boat shows and the inability to travel to others, including in his native Australia.
“Now, we’re mostly marketing and selling yachts digitally, selling yachts ‘sight unseen’. We’ve sold two 40m superyachts this way. It’s amazing, really,” Lee says from his company headquarters in Ao Po Grand Marina, where staff include General Manager Martin Holmes, Lee’s first employee in 1997.
“Since Covid, boating has become the hot new thing in Asia and we’re sitting right in the middle of arguably the best playground in the region.”
Lee is Managing Director of Lee Marine and Northrop & Johnson Asia
The Australian has seen a lot of changes in the industry since he was a charter skipper in the Whitsunday Islands before eventually settling in Thailand by way of Hong Kong, where he worked as a securities trader.
However, the combination of developing the Northrop & Johnson business in the region and adapting to selling yachts in the ‘new normal’ has both challenged and energised Lee Marine’s Managing Director in recent years.
“The yachting industry continues to grow digitally, even more rapidly recently due to the pandemic. Brokers release more information online with yacht specifications, details and images that may have previously been confidential. However, more readily accessible facts ultimately benefit the end user, the client,” Lee says.
General Manager Martin Holmes has been with Lee Marine since 1997
“Although Asia has antiquated rules for yacht classifications and various procedures, the modern brokerage is digitally savvy, with the capability of selling products remotely. Lee Marine is now very data-driven and properly prepared, which has been proven by our sales and achievements.”
Despite sales of over 700 yachts and over two decades of successful business, Lee has kept his company focused on Thailand and not expanded across the region, in keeping with the company tagline, ‘We aim to be better, not bigger’.
“Through experience, we recognise big is not necessarily best. We have slowed down to concentrate more on the clients we have, as opposed to seeing how many we can get.”
Lee Marine is now in its 23rd year as a dealer for Riviera, which was founded in 1980. The builder currently produces 22 models across its Flybridge, Sport Yachts, SUV, Sports Motor Yacht and Belize ranges from its facility in Coomera near Sanctuary Cove, south of Brisbane and north of Gold Coast.
Lee Marine is Riviera’s longest-serving international dealer (6000 Sport Yacht shown)
Lee Marine has been a perpetual partner of the Queensland yard since 1998, when it sold a Riviera 38 soon after being appointed as the dealer for Thailand.
“Being so pleased with the brand and the service, the owner of the 38 went on to buy a further two Rivieras, upgrading each time,” Lee says. “Our relationship with Riviera is based on respect, trust and conscientious customer care. Clients faithful to this proven brand are happy owners and offer feedback that Riviera heeds.”
Lee says his clients generally prefer Riviera’s larger models, from 45ft upwards, and believes that the brand’s boats are well suited for Thailand’s climate.
Riviera’s Sanctuary Cove show display includes the 72 Sports Motor Yacht
“Riviera boats are well-built, reliable, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. They’re also keenly fit for this tropical weather,” he says. “Riviera boats typically ‘over spec’. Everything is bigger such as the engines, gensets, watermakers, fridges, air-con BTU, the AV, galley equipment, sinks, showers, and fuel and water tanks.”
Lee Marine is now collaborating with Riviera on “an exciting, upcoming project”, but as with some other recent builds, the dealer is unable to disclose details at this stage.
Lee Marine was long associated with Ferretti Group, having been a dealer for the Ferretti Yachts, Pershing, Riva and Custom Line brands for over two decades until the partnership ended earlier this year.
Lee Marine is a preferred partner of Cantiere delle Marche, which builds steel yachts from 80-150ft
Lee himself looks back with pride on the role his company played in representing such prestigious brands in Asia. Today, the relationship continues in a looser form, with Lee Marine remaining a broker for Ferretti Group products over 30m along with other superyachts from selected shipyards worldwide.
“We are brand loyal. Our two-decade marriage with Ferretti Group was an incredible voyage of which we are quite proud. Together, we helped build a firm presence for Ferretti Group in Asia,” he says. “Having sold over €100 million (about US$120 million) of Ferretti Group product, our valued clients gained a treasure trove of incredible memories to cherish.”
Lee Marine has since re-established its relationship with Cantiere delle Marche, having formerly spent six years as the builder’s exclusive distributor for Asia-Pacific. Only founded in 2010, CdM builds steel motor yachts from 80-150ft that provide a strong range of models in the heart of the superyacht sector, also allowing a seamless transition for Riviera clients to upgrade.
“With CdM, we are delighted to revive our efforts to assist clients wishing to move from moulded fibreglass to custom steel yachts, suitable for those who prefer the ability to have longer-range adventures with more self-sufficiency and comfort,” says Lee.
“Having built, bought, enjoyed and sold many yachts during an owner’s yachting progression, an aficionado emerges. Often, this is the time Lee Marine introduces a ‘little ship’ from Cantiere delle Marche for their consideration. We see CdM as the future for ‘lifetime’ owners because the build quality is northern European standard.”
Lee Marine has already sold three CdM custom yachts and Lee anticipates many more sales following his company’s renewed focus on the brand. Again, as with Riviera, he indicates that Lee Marine is collaborating with CdM on a major new project, but details remain confidential.
Lee believes there an increasing number of yacht owners in Asia and that CdM is an increasingly attractive proposition as more clients and prospects are looking for extended cruising, beyond the region’s traditional preference for day trips and short-term use.
“We’ve seen a growth in local yachting and boat ownership since we started over two decades ago, and it’s growing all the time. At the same time, yachting in Asia has developed far beyond only short trips.”
Considering how long Lee, Holmes and several of their colleagues and associates have worked in the industry, it was a natural progression that the company eventually came to specialise in superyachts as well as production yachts.
This was highlighted when Lee Marine represented the owner of the 69m Samaya, with the company introducing the client to Feadship in 2014 and overseeing the 226ft custom build, which was launched in late 2017.
The following year, Lee acquired the licence for Northrop & Johnson Asia, taking on the role of Managing Director, while Holmes also wears a second hat, as N&J’s General Manager in the region. Jim Poulsen was appointed as a Yacht Broker for the brokerage after working for Lee Marine in Phuket for well over a decade.
Lies Sol was appointed as Retail Charter Broker and Charter Manager in 2019, having worked for N&J in Thailand under for five years before spending a year with another international brokerage.
Northrop & Johnson Asia’s recent sales include Rhine, a Sunseeker 131
Late last year, Greg Dagge joined the team as a Yacht Broker, the regional industry stalwart adding further experience to an already strong team, which earlier this year announced the back-to-back sales of the Sunseeker 131 Rhine and the 97ft sailing yacht Taronga, which were based in Hong Kong and Phuket respectively.
Lee admits that representing a firm as large as Northrop & Johnson both changed and challenged Lee Marine by pushing the dealer to engage in a new level of digital marketing and communication, as well as focusing on charter for the first time.
“As one of the world’s leading, full-service superyacht brokerages and charter companies, Northrop & Johnson is truly a global corporation. They were pleased to have a strong presence with a base in Phuket, but initially it was difficult for us and different because it wasn’t about being tied to promoting a particular shipyard or brand. This relationship, like many, was challenging at the beginning, yet the journey is well in hand now,” Lee says.
Taronga is also among Northrop & Johnson Asia’s 2021 sales
“Ultimately, Lee Marine and N&J complement each other extremely well because both firms bring their own strong core base. Lee Marine brokers and its team are regional specialists, either from this area or having lived here for years, and offer unequalled services and quality products.
“Northrop & Johnson specialises in charters, over 1,000 sold a year, as well as sales. Together, we’re strong competitors on all fronts, from entry-level boats to the world’s leading superyachts.”
Northrop & Johnson’s Thailand office announces the sales of the Sunseeker 131 Rhine and the 97ft sailing yacht Taronga.