PJ Sullivan heads up sales, purchasing and logistics at Mikelson Yachts in San Diego, California, a family-owned boat builder that also functions as the sole dealer for Mikelson Yachts worldwide. Since its founding by Sullivan’s father 30 years ago, Mikelson has built a reputation for significant customization, thorough service, and a longevity of relationships that has contributed to over 65% of their clientele becoming repeat customers.
Mikelson builds Tom Fexas-designed luxury sportfishing yachts 43-75 feet which will never be called battle wagons. These high-end hybrid boats must do double duty by being luxurious and safe first, and sportfishers second. “Our customers travel to distant fishing grounds so they’re not run and gun,” says Sullivan. “The boats must be comfortable, dry, and fuel efficient to travel like that. When you look at the boats you definitely see that they’re fishable but not fish-first.”
Four brokers focus on selling every new Mikelson that is splashed, but also on the brokerage business of used Mikelsons and any other brands that are taken in trade. “Pre-recession, the used boat business supplemented the new boats,” adds Sullivan. “Today, that’s flip-flopped but we’re seeing more interest every day. We don’t have an extensive dealer network. There’s just San Diego, but that helps us keep control of the relationships.”
Mikelson’s strengths and challenges are yin and yang. The production quantity of new boats is kept low because it’s a semi-custom build, but that makes it a challenge to have boats ready for boat shows since none are stocked. The factory in Taiwan is small and flexible so it can ramp up or downsize quickly as was necessary in the last recession, but that makes it a challenge to keep the workforce consistently busy. And finally, Mikelson has seen a recent spike in sales—but in a limited build scenario, a spike could mean just two boats. To alleviate some of the ups and downs, the factory is now building a 75, slowly and on spec, so that if a buyer comes along, he won’t be waiting two years to get his boat. Meanwhile, the production and sales staff are kept employed.
Mikelson attends a half dozen boat shows on the West Coast, and Sullivan is preparing for the Sunroad event in San Diego in January. The company also holds open houses once or twice a year and Sullivan borrows owned boats from his customers, who trust him implicitly. “The quality of the interaction with our customers gives us some leeway, it’s very personal, so they let us show their boats,” says Sullivan.
“We use the boat ourselves so we refine the product we’re selling and we can implement the changes better and faster than most other builders. We pay individual attention to the boats and the clients, and that interaction is our differentiation.”