On a seven acre facility, inside a 72,000 square foot plant in St Catherine’s Ontario, sits one of Canada’s longest serving boat builders – Neptunus Yachts. The heritage goes all the way back to the Netherlands some forty years ago. Power Boating Canada took the opportunity to tour the Neptunus Yacht plant this spring to bring to our readers an inside view of this semi-custom boat builder who’s quietly been serving the most discriminating boat buyer for decades now. In fact, some owners are on their second or third Neptunus yacht.
Jan Willem De Jong came over from the Netherlands in 1989 along with his partner Martin. They had formed a partnership with CNC Yachts to build a few boats for them, and things started to go south. Three boats were finished, two were not when the Canadian dollar strengthened and the luxury tax in the USA was brought in. CNC went under, and Jan and Martin had a decision to make: do they pull out or dive in? In 1991, they rented the old Hinterhoeller Sailboat plant from the bank, hired about a dozen of the former CNC Yachts employees and began developing new models. Business was slow in the first year or two. By 1994 Neptunus was the only builder making yachts of any significant size in Canada. Their decision to dive in had started to pay off and they had seven boats in production. By 1999, the all-new 54 Express introduced a complete new concept. The design featured a full-height sliding glass door in the aft under a fully enclosed hard-top. “Back then, it was an industry leader– now everybody has one – perhaps we should have patented it,” Jan laughed as he recounted the story to me. Between 1995 and 1999, Neptunus came out with a 65 and a 70 foot express motor yacht, with everything from the mold to the finished product built right there at the factory from start to finish. “By 2000, we had grown to 60 employees and in 2001 the company was sold to an investor out of Oakville. I was running production from 2001 to 2004, and in 2004 I was promoted to the VP of Sales and Marketing,” Jan shared proudly as he recounted the history. “By 2007, our workforce had grown to 110 employees. Then everything changed seemingly overnight – more like in four to five months – but it felt like overnight. The economic crash of 2008 hit the entire boat- building industry hard. Banks weren’t lending money, you couldn’t sell your product all because of the collapse of the housing market in the USA, the Canadian dollar got really strong, and oil hit an all-time high.” Neptunus Yachts, unlike many boat manufacturers, survived mostly through great management, no inventory to carry (the two boats in production were both sold by the end of 2008), cutting staff to less than ten employees, and a second investor (who bought the company in 2008) “…who was able to keep the doors open and the lights on,” Jan said.
“Even though a lot of people thought Neptunus was gone because we spent no money on marketing and we didn’t go to the boat shows, by 2012, things had started to come back. There are over 200 Neptunus Yachts out there currently, and as those satisfied owners begin to look for a new boat, that provides us with approximately two to three new sales per year,” Jan smiled as we started to talk about better times. “Today, our new boat customer is 60 to 70 years old, usually a gentleman, most likely a business owner, and their partner. Some are retired and are looking for some- thing different, something semi-custom that they can be a part of the process from start to finish. We just don’t offer what other manufacturers offer – like choosing the upholstery or engines. If you want to put the galley over there, and move the stateroom layout around, we let you do that because it’s your boat!” Neptunus Yachts offers a true custom experience at an affordable price right here at home in Canada.
I asked Jan about how they went about moving forward, cautiously, after having narrowly escaping closing the doors. He said, “As we ramped up again, I did a survey of my existing customers and asked them if they were looking at a new boat, what were some of the features they would be looking for and why. The results were interesting: no (or few) stairs, a huge master stateroom with a large head, the size of the guest staterooms didn’t matter as much as they were for guests and their children and grandchildren who came aboard only once in a while, and then only for a short few days at a time. They wanted to handle the boat on their own and go out for three to four months cruise without having to bring a captain along. Yet, they still wanted that option, and so crew quarters were neces- sary as well. The result is our 650 Express – it fills all the requests and more.”