In Conversation with Van der Valk: Re-Defining Semi-Custom Yacht Build
There are a number of advantages to semi-custom yacht build. While clients building a semi-custom yacht can enjoy fast delivery times and flexible customisation options, yacht builders can reap the cost-effective rewards of a proven platform. We caught up with Yoeri Bijker and Bram Kooltjes of Van der Valk Shipyard to learn more about the benefits of building semi-custom for both client and yard. What we found instead was a very custom philosophy, using model ranges as a means of stirring the market and igniting discussion, as well as an important distinction within the semi-custom sector itself…
Quality yacht building is in the very Dutch DNA of Van der Valk Shipyard. Whether commissioning a full custom project, or building one of the broad range of models available, each Van der Valk client is alike in ownership of a true pedigree vessel.
Each yacht built in the Van der Valk ranges - Explorer, Beachclub, Raised Pilothouse and Flybridge - are as distinctive and varied as unique custom builds. Yoeri Bijker, Head of Sales and Marketing at the yard, explains the yard’s approach to semi-custom production:
‘Our series serve as a sort of starting point for a client to start building a vessel, and in the end we either end up customising a specific model or going ahead with something completely different to where we started. The idea is basically to get into conversation with the potential client.’
This said, the Van der Valk ranges are far more than just a conversation-starter. The culmination of extensive R&D and close attention to market trends, each series is designed to appeal to a different aspect of a yachting enthusiast’s lifestyle and personality.
Bram Kooltjes, General Manager, explains how these features define the use of the boat, which in turn is indicative of the owner’s lifestyle: ‘Take the beachclub series for example. This is defined by lots of glass, panoramic views… It's a coastal cruising yacht, more of a weekend boat than transatlantic. The flybridge series is more of a family-sized boat; the raised pilothouse is similar, but mostly manned by crew.’
The final series in the range, the Explorer, is another interesting example of Van der Valk’s dynamic relationship with semi-custom production.
Originally made for one specific client, the explorer line is an example of a custom yacht later evolving into a series. But, we were curious to know, how do clients feel about their bespoke superyacht becoming one of many?
‘In fact, many clients appreciate the fact - and see it as an honour - that we would like to adopt their design in our range,’ Yoeri tells us, ‘Another plus is that when more vessels of a series exist, more demand is created, thus adding to the resale value of the yacht.’
These differences amongst clients are ultimately what drives many of the business decisions and resulting portfolio at Van der Valk Shipyard. And the client base, Yoeri tells us, is only evolving.
‘When I joined the shipyard about 11 years ago, the average age of a client was between 65 and 70 years old. We’ve seen that drop to between 45 and 55 years old.’
Add to this the fact that increasingly, the first line of contact with the client is with the youngest generation in the family - as Bram points out, yacht building has increasingly become more of a family project - and the impetus for Van der Valk to stay modernised and ahead-of-the-curve with its ranges has never been stronger.
Regardless, there are certain shared characteristics that bring prospective buyers to Van der Valk’s door. The majority of Van der Valk’s clients, Bram tells us, are experienced owners.
‘Often first time buyers will go for a lifestyle brand. Yards who want to build multiple units on the same design. This is not what semi-custom means to us.
After ten or fifteen years, clients are not so triggered by the lifestyle anymore. They have a list of things they can’t comply with, such as production methods. On production boats often the option list of ‘not possible’ is way longer than the list of possible options. With us it’s really the opposite.’
This ethos of designing to an owner’s wishes, custom or not, is surely what keeps clients at Van der Valk - the yard enjoys up to 50% repeat client rates year on year. But what brings them there in the first place?
‘That appreciation for the ultimate level of Dutch quality and a unique vessel,’ says Yoeri, simply put. ‘Our clients all have unique personalities, and they want to mirror that in their vessel.’
From changing trends and adapting models, through to groundbreaking conversation-starters, one theme has always rung true for Van der Valk Shipyard. Whether built on a proven platform or utterly unique, the team always approaches each project with a custom philosophy and an enduring emphasis on quality.
Singlehandedly re-defining the field of semi-custom production, we look forward to seeing what the future holds for this dynamic yard.
"Often first time buyers will go for a lifestyle brand. Yards who want to build multiple units on the same design. This is not what semi-custom means to us."