Profile: Ian Thomson - Nestaway Boats
Ian Thomson first came up with the idea of a folding boat when he was ‘dossing’ in the Caribbean. Now fold-up boats dominate his life.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do after leaving uni so I entered the Tall Ships race in a Sigma 36. I came back to the UK afterwards and got a temporary job working on the Nauticalia stand at the Southampton Boat Show.
“My interview was driving the MD to the boat show as he had a bad back. I spent eight days temping for Nauticalia they went full time as assistant to the marketing person. By the time I left, I was marketing manager.”
After sailing off to the Caribbean, Ian came up with the idea for Nestaway based on his own experiences of rowing and sailing a tender ashore, finding there was not enough room on board for a full-size dinghy.
“I came up with the idea of one that stacked, it wasn’t a new idea but there wasn’t one in production. I thought if I wanted it, someone else would as well.
“I have an idea then adjust it for a couple of months.”
However it didn’t immediately go to plan with Ian needing to go on a boatbuilding course to learn woodworking and glass fibre skills after ‘having built a prototype, I realised what I could make wasn’t going to sell’.
“The first one I built was a dinghy cut in half with two bulk heads in middle which were then bolted together.
“I then designed and built a better wooden version of the same idea.”
The first boat was launched in 2008 at the Southampton Boat Show and now, ten years’ on, Ian has expanded the business considerably to not only sell Nestaways but also represent manufacturers of fold-up boats from around the world.
“We’ve been found and approached by other companies and now represent ten brands,” he said. “Manufacturers are approaching us and the range is almost expanding itself.”
And last year Ian himself launched a new brand – SpearFish – an inflatable narrow dinghy.
The idea came about through attending camping shows and finding the need for a boat that folded up to fit in a motorhome cupboard.
Currently there are two sizes – 4.5m and 5.5m – able to do 15 knots with a 6hp engine and two adults.
“It’s very light and is easy to transport and store, it’s a big step forward for us.”
“Everything we sell is unusual, it folds up. I like clever ideas; I see something quirky and then take it on.
“We only sell something if we like it,” said Ian.
“I’ve never seen the point in competing directly. I try to bring something different to the market; I try to find an area where there’s less competition. I’ve found a good niche.”
And this seems to be working for Ian as he points out ‘our stands are getting bigger each year at London and Southampton’.
“A larger range of boats appeals to more people, it has more curbside appeal.”
As for lessons learnt – Ian believes that it’s better to try and fail than not try at all.
“I believe you can only find out by trying. You have to get out and do it and see what happens.”
This did turn into a costly mistake for Ian when he introduced a larger Nestaway that was too big and heavy for a couple to lift and carry.
“In hindsight it sounds obvious but if a couple can’t pick it up, it’s not really portable. It was good on the water, but it needs to work on land as well.
“We got excited about launching it but found it wasn’t going to sell because of limits.
“It was an important learning curve and an expensive mistake as we had built a wooden plug and the moulds, but it needed two big blokes to lift it.”
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