PUBLISHED 10 July 2014 11.30
Over 22 years, BRIG has evolved to become the major brand in Rigid Inflatable Boats in Europe, and is growing its share in global markets.
Text Jeni Bone
Described by company founder, Slava Rodionov as “a revolution in RIBs”, BRIG launched in 1994 at Boot Dusseldorf.
The product of a team of physicists, mathematicians and engineers based in the Ukraine, formerly employed in USSR space and military programs, BRIG now has more than 40 models.
Based in the town of Kharkov, 800-kilometres from the Black Sea BRIG is the biggest selling RIB brand in Europe and has enviable market share in other regions, including Australia. As well as the leisure segment, BRIG supplies to rescue organisations and military forces under its “Heavy Duty” category.
Here, Slava Rodionov speaks with Ocean about the brand’s development in two decades, trends in the RIB, tender and day boat market and the future for this quiet achiever.
What were the brand values on which you founded BRIG?
When we started BRIG we were reasonably naive. When we started the business we had three core pieces of knowledge: we understood fibreglass, we understood manufacturing and we understood aeronautical engineering.
Although we did not know a lot about boats, the transition from aeronautical engineering to naval (or marine) engineering was not hard. We learnt very early on that we needed to clearly establish a vision of where we wanted to take our business. We carefully decided upon a plan of what we wanted to build and how we wanted to evolve.
This plan evolved into our products’ brand values, they can be summarised as: Quality product; Affordable pricing; Customer focused and innovative product.
Our company has another core value – probably our biggest asset and our key core value – our people (both our staff and distributors). I like to think of our staff as the key to our business success, many of our staff have been part of our team since the beginning of the company. We put an enormous effort into training and lifting our staff’s abilities and conditions.
Our staff on the factory floor, our staff in the various office sections, our management team, our distributors and our customers, these are the most important part of the BRIG story and our core value. “People”are the reason that we are in the boat business.
How has the company and products evolved over time?
In the very early days (22 years ago) our first products were frankly disappointing- we had a very small factory and through ignorance and lack of skill, our early boats were not good enough by Western standards to be a leading, worldwide company.
As our factory is in Eastern Ukraine we had not been exposed to European quality standards. We immediately realised that we had to concentrate on educating our staff about quality. We started a program that we still follow today of visiting boat shows with multiple members of our staff. The purpose of this program has a multitude of reasons: It enables us to talk directly to our customers and receive immediate feedback; it enables our staff to understand the customers’ quality expectations; It enables our staff to mix with, touch and see the quality of workmanship required and what other top builders can do and it enables our distributors to talk directly with our staff.
As an example I personally visit over 30 boat shows worldwide annually, I always travel with two other staff members. At the forthcoming Sydney Show I will be visiting together with our production Director and a member from our sales staff.
From these small beginnings we have put an enormous effort into educating our staff, working with our distributors, listening to our customers and building our company into a worldwide leader in manufacturing rigid inflatable boats. In a nutshell the answer to your question can be summarised jokingly as once we were the smallest RIB builder in the world and 22 years later, we are now one of the biggest RIB builders in the world.
How many staff do your employ at your HQ? How many models and units do you manufacture annually?
I am often asked these questions and I traditionally give an evasive answer. I evade giving a direct answer so as not to give our competitors assistance. What I can say is that we have a significant workforce in the multitude of hundreds and we make a large number of boats in the multiple of thousands. In addition to directly employing a large number of staff, our suppliers employ hundreds of more staff, when we add these numbers together, the BRIG family feeds many thousands of families around the world.
We are unaware of any larger manufacturer of Rigid Inflatable Boats. We produce over 40 different basic models, these base models can be then customised to increase the possible selection infinitely.
What markets do you sell into globally?
We sell our boats regularly into over 60 countries (through various distributors) these distributors often on sell boats into more countries. Obviously Europe is the biggest market for RIBs so a large percentage of our production goes into Europe. To name just a few we have very strong distributors in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Finland, Australia, Turkey and Russia.
Many Australians may not realise that some of the Baltic states have very high percentage of boat ownership for example in Sweden, Finland and Norway boat ownership is exceptionally high (approximately one in seven) versus Australia (one in 26) so many of the smaller European countries that you may not be fully aware of are significant buyers of boats.
What is BRIGs market share internationally?
Unfortunately there is no way of easily establishing international market share. What we can say is that we are told from our Hypalon fabric supplier we are the largest buyer of Hypalon for boats in the world. What we can say is that when we look at the major Rib markets in the world (UK, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Finland etc) in all of these markets we are the market leader.
How is the brand positioned today compared to competitors?
We would say that there are a lot of competitors but we are different. If we look at our competitors no one company offers the range that we offer. We would say that BRIG offers an excellent quality product with a high level of design and innovation at an affordable price.
What are the trends in RIBS and tenders, where is the growth?
As you would know worldwide the market for large boats (and hence tenders) has shrunk dramatically over the past few years. So our expansion in this area of the market has been at the expense of our competitors. If you had to look at where the market is expanding it would be in standalone recreational boats. Our competitors are not other inflatable boat manufactures – our competitors are now any fibreglass trailer boat.
Will you be launching any models at the Sydney International Boat Show?
We will be launching the new Falcon 360HT in Sydney. At Mandurah we will be launching the new Navigator 700 HL.
Is Australia a growth market for BRIG?
We are expecting modest growth in units and dollars in Australia in 2015. As you would know, Neil Webster from Sirocco is a very capable distributor. His challenge is to educate Australians to fully understand the benefits of RIBs, the growth in Australia will come from taking the market away from fibreglass and alloy boats.
A trend that we have noticed worldwide that has also surfaced in Australia is poor quality Chinese built boats sneaking into the market. Our fear is that these low quality boats have the ability to damage the reputation of RIBs. Our concern is the consumer will blame all RIBs for the shortcomings of these Chinese boats, as opposed to the manufacturer’s design and construction defects.
On the question of growth in Australia, it will be through education of the benefits and advantages of RIBs. We are extremely confident that our product is the world’s best and an educated buyer will choose our product over competitors.
How do you leverage that in terms of marketing?
Boat shows worldwide are an integral part of our marketing. As a worldwide company we must rely very heavily on our distributors to attend boat shows. We see that boat shows are the best way to interact with our customers. Sirocco attend all the major Australian boat shows.
What is your vision for BRIG in the next five to 10 years?
Our vision is very clear: we want to continue to build our relationships with our distributors, with our customers, our staff. We view BRIG like a family. We want our family to grow together. By constant product development, by innovation, by training we would like to see our company grow.
Our design team is constantly working on new designs. I cannot reveal exactly what new designs will be released in the coming years, however I can say that we traditionally release a few new models every year and we expect this trend to continue or accelerate. Increasing our range with new, exciting and innovative models will be a given.