'Godfather' of yachts rules the high seas
Updated: 2010-12-31 12:32
By Wang Chao (China Daily European Weekly)
Traugott Kaminski's first name means "trust God" in German, but he's better known as the "godfather" to his friends, who claim he was the first person to bring the yacht culture to China seven years ago. Kaminski is the CEO of Sunseeker China, a high-end yacht manufacturer based in the United Kingdom. He says he brought the first luxury yacht to China in 2003 after 20 years in the luxury goods business in other parts of Asia.
He loves his job. His computer and iPad are full of pictures of yachts. Even the chocolate he carries aboard is called "Fleet", a Belgian brand featuring a big boat on the packaging.
The German is a busy boss these days - he talks to every customer and closes every deal himself. Last year, he sold nine yachts for 34 million euros. He says he has sold more than 20 yachts in China.
"Most of my customers are CEOs, so it has to be a CEO-to-CEO talk," he says.
Though his claim to luxury yacht fame could not be verified, his success and lavish lifestyle in China speaks volumes of the nation's growing appetite for luxury goods.
"Selling boats in China is like triggering the first domino: Once one buys a yacht, it will set a trend among friends. Our target customers are the 5,000 richest in China, be they IT elites, or coalmine owners; and through these get-togethers, they can taste a new way of life on the sea."
Kaminski is relaxed about his business - he never pushes potential customers to buy yachts, nor does he have a sales goal. He says most of the time he hangs out with rich and influential guys at parties. He also goes out for a cruise on a yacht from time to time.
His company set up offices in Shanghai in 2003 and a year later opened up shop in Qingdao, East China's Shandong province, where he sold his first yacht, a Manhattan 64, in 2006.
He opened another office in Sanya in 2008, a top destination for winter getaways in South China and where the first Sunseeker flagship showroom is about to open. It is located in the Visun Royal Yacht Club and will be the largest flagship yacht store in China.
"When I first brought two yachts to China in 2003, there were no regulations and no berths. During the next three years, I tried to bring the yacht culture to China, not only Sunseeker," he says.
"But since 2008, the market has been booming and much infrastructure is being built."
Kaminski finds Chinese millionaires more generous than the upper crust in Europe and says he is still amazed by how affluent Chinese people are.
"When they fly to Paris to shop Chanel and Gucci, they only say 'This is nice, I want it; that is nice, I want it too', but never turn the label and check the price," he says.
At the same time, he says these millionaires have a sense of fragile pride. Over the years, he says they are buying bigger and bigger yachts because they don't want to lose face by using diminutive boats.
"When I sold a Sunseeker Manhattan 66 (at a length of 22 meters or 66 feet) to Charles Zhang, chairman and CEO of sohu.com, in 2007, it was the biggest in China; this year we just sold a 108-feet (33 meters) one. I believe the yacht size we sell will be even bigger next year. A yacht is never too big. It is a combination of work, socializing and entertainment. It's always good to have bigger space."
For a 40-meter yacht, the owner can install a private cinema, he adds.
Kaminski also said he understands that Chinese millionaires hate it when their yacht looks like another owner's vessel, which led his company to design a 40-page questionnaire about vessel preferences.
"For example, you can choose how many cushions you want on the couch, what color it is, how big the bed should be and even build your own fantasies into it," says Kaminski, who added that some have asked him to build a mahjong table on a yacht, while others have requested a cinema. On one yacht, an owner set his bathtub on the fly bridge, an open space on the higher deck.
Rich men in China are not as happy as people think, so they need some recharging, Kaminski says. And he suggests a cigar, champagne, strawberries and good company.
To those who want to buy a Sunseeker, Kaminski will arrange a trip to the factory in the UK, where there are plenty of models to choose from. The construction field is confidential to the point where the company has two security guards at the site.
To Kaminski, the recent economic downtown in the UK was a blessing for his sales figures in China. Since 2008, the pound has depreciated against the yuan, which has dropped the price of a Sunseeker by almost 40 percent for Chinese customers. In China, he says, the future and the Chinese market are bright.
"China has a coastline of 18,000 kilometers, more than six times that of France; and more than 1,000 islands, so there is greater potential for yachts. Up to now I have only reached 10 percent of the market potential. We are having escalated appointments, but the factory in England can only make 250 yachts every year for the global market, so I'm not anxious to find customers," he says.
He estimated that his sales in China will at least double next year.
"Otherwise I've underperformed," he says. "My confidence in the Chinese market is greater than the Great Wall."
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