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Careers on the water

Yacht broker: selling takes time, contacts

By Douglas A. Campbell / Senior Writer

You like boats, and you had some success selling real estate during the last boom. Now that the housing market has cooled, maybe you should try selling yachts.

Salary: 2 percent commission on each sale
Future employment prospects: steady
Training and education: experience in various aspects of the marine industry; ongoing education through organizations such as the Yacht Brokers Association of America
For information: YBAA (www.ybaa.org); the Florida (www.fyba.org), California (www.cyba.info) and Northwest Yacht Brokers Associations (www.nwyachtbrokers.com)

Maybe not, says Lou Piergross, a New Jersey yacht broker and boat salesman who got into the business in 1986. Still selling powerboats but now also sales manager at South Jersey Yacht Sales in Cape May, N.J., Piergross bases his caution on his own experience and that of others who have tried his trade.

“It doesn’t work” for real estate or car salesmen to switch to selling boats because, Piergross says, they don’t have the contacts. “I’ve worked with a customer two to three years before I’ve sold them anything,” he says.

Piergross, 54, is a New Jersey native and has been a boater and a fisherman all his life. He says he went through college on a baseball scholarship and earned a business management degree. “A friend of mine had a Viking. I went to a few rendezvous and got to know some [Viking] owners,” he says.

Those contacts led to a job offer when Piergross graduated college in 1982, as a sales representative at Viking Yachts in New Gretna, N.J. He stayed there three years, learning about the marine industry and making contacts among suppliers that sold Viking components.

When he left Viking, he worked for a short period at Topaz Yachts in Maryland and then took a job in Florida selling yachts and delivering them. In 1986, the owner of South Jersey Yacht Sales contacted him and offered him a job selling a line of high-end new boats. Piergross says he took the job, knowing that the brokerage end of the boating business was the “most lucrative.” There have been no surprises, he says. The money that he wanted was there, and he already had the contacts that would lead to sales.

By being “upfront with your customer and honest,” he says he’s built a solid customer base. “I’ve got people I’ve sold multiple boats to and people I’ve sold one boat” who have referred friends to him.

The downside is the time that the job demands. “I’ve put a lot of time in, lot of weekends and holidays,” he says. That takes a toll on family time. “The most difficult times actually are right now. I have a couple of daughters [ages 10 and 15] that are growing up.” He says trying to spend time with his girls and doing his job right is the “biggest challenge.”

Not only does he spend time in the office, but the job requires he attend boat shows, visit the boatbuilding facilities, and stop by fishing tournaments in the evening, when the boats return to the docks.

Piergross notes that every deal for a new boat actually involves the sale of two or three boats. The buyer has a boat to trade and that must be sold. The person who buys the used boat probably has a smaller boat to trade, as well. The profit — and the commission — only comes when all the boats have been moved, he says.

In the current market, Piergross says the challenge is to sell smaller boats. As sales manager, he has a profit-sharing incentive, but he still sells boats. The yachts he handles sell for between $80,000 and $5 million, he says.

A salesman earns a commission, usually 2 percent of the sale price of the boat, Piergross says. In the Northeast, good salesmen earn between $75,000 and $250,000 a year, he says. In Florida, where the boating season is year-round and there is more competition among brokerages, incomes range from $100,000 to $350,000, according to Piergross. “If you’re in the South and you’re not making $100,000, you’d better find something else to do,” he says.




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