Highfield Boats on a banner year - new launches and adapting to supply chain challenges
The last 12 months have proved pivotal for aluminium RIB and inflatables manufacturer Highfield Boats, which has seen – despite the turmoil of Covid – demand for its products surge, not least for its new flagship Sport 800.
The Sport 800 represents a flag in the ground for the manufacturer’s ambitions going forward. With an order book running into 2022, and financials that saw it round out 2020 with turnover up 8% on budget – despite shutting down manufacturing in China for six weeks at the height of the pandemic – the brand is doubling down on its successful strategy with consolidation of its tender ranges and a new, bigger model, on the cards for this year.
“We really wanted to challenge ourselves with the Sport 800,” says European Brand Manager, Steve Harrison, with Highfield employing the services of Norwegian race hull designer Petter Martens to develop a unique triple-step aluminium hull, to offer extra seakeeping and performance capability. “We have produced a boat that is good for 200 offshore miles and can carry a family in comfort across the Channel (it can be spec’d with onboard toilet, shower, sink and fridge). Customers understand that about Highfield; that seakeeping capability with comfort is where we win.”
The Sport 800 embodies the brand’s ambition for now – but this year a new Sport 900 will hit the water as Highfield pushes the technological and luxury envelope that bit further. “Five years ago our turnover was derived 70% from our tenders, 30% from RIBs – today it’s much more 50/50,” explains Harrison, a balancing act that Harrison says is imperative to growing the business on two fronts. For all its advances with medium and larger RIBs, the manufacturer remains fully committed to developing and growing its tender business.
The manufacturer will produce some 5,000 this year, adding to the 40,000 or so it has delivered since it launched a decade ago.
“Seakeeping capability with comfort is where we win.”
European Brand Manager, Steve Harrison
Despite the success of its model launches, robust order book and growing demand, Harrison says Highfield has its eyes wide open to industry challenges ahead – not least supply chain and logistical issues as the world adapts to Covid.
“Our guys have been managing to cope with raw material supply issues, for instance for our for instance for our tube fabric, as the strong financial footing of the business allows us to carry a lot more raw materials inventory, but logistics are undoubtedly a problem. This time last year we were paying around $4k a container for shipping – now it’s $12k! But we have a loyal and stable dealer group with which we’re sharing those costs without passing them all on to the end user.” Outboard engine supply is another temporary headache Harrison admits, but in the greater scheme fails to take the gloss of what is already turning into another banner year for the Sino-French firm.
Highfield Boats is a world leader in aluminium rigid inflatable hull boats delivering some 40,000 RIBS globally since 2010. Offering a complete line of tenders, family RIBS and high-performance commercial craft ranging in length from 2.4 metre tenders to the 5 metre plus sector where it is a global player. Featuring exclusive powder-coated aluminum hulls, Highfield boats are built in the company's state of the art production facility covering 10,000sqm in Weihai, China and operating under European management.
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