Profile: Paul Martin MD BHG Marine
Having started in the family business, then called Bucklers Hard Garage and Marine and working part-time since he was 13, Paul Martin had no intention of ever joining full time, let alone taking over the company and running it.
However, all that changed when he woke up one morning and decided he didn’t want to continue managing an Estate Agency, and get stuck in the rut with a mortgage and commitments at such a young age.
That was the catalyst for him to take a year out to go travelling before agreeing to join the family business full time.
“I initially hated the business. I’d been working in the family industry since I was 13, washing company vans, serving petrol and sweeping the yard.
“I joined full time when I was 21, choosing to start in the workshops to get an overall understanding of the engineering side of the business,” he said.
I spent the first year learning the ropes and gradually got more and more involved.
“After a couple of years, I was running the admin and parts side and have now been running the overall business for the best part of 20 years, reaching our first million pounds in turnover in 1997.”
The company – founded in 1947 by Paul’s, grandfather William, has gone through many changes over the years with four staff when Paul first joined to its current 23 working on two sites.
“When I first joined, everything was done by hand; all advertising and marketing was in the Yellow Pages and boat shows. I’ve been fairly proactive with change over the years. If you stand still you die.”
One of the highlights – which also turned into one of the low points of Paul’s career, was the building and then selling of BHG’s purpose built Ampress site in Lymington.
Largest of its kind
The purpose-built building was one of the largest of its kind in Europe, designed for trailerable boats and conceived in the pub one evening.
“I drew up the plans for it; I was there when the footings went in; it was my life for ten years,” said Paul. "I figured if my wife and I were prepared to drive to 100 miles to go to Ikea, then why wouldn't people drive to see a purpose built display of boats, canoes and tenders.
“It was a great project at the time, a statement for the industry. We moved into it in 2004 and had it for a decade. From 2004 to 2007 we were flying high and then the crash came.
“Our boat sales dropped by 70% overnight.
“We struggled on regardless thinking it would be a rough two or three years, a blip that would get better, but instead it kept getting worse so finally in 2012 we started to think about moving."
“When we left Ampress it was a wrench, but we sold the building for a profit and it solved a lot of problems for us. We moved to Bridge Road which was a big change, but it meant that we never had to make anyone redundant which was important to us and we paid off all our loans.”
Now, says Paul, the business - which his Dad, David, is still involved in – is in a good place and making a profit with turnover nearing the levels of the pre crash era.
And the reasons for the success? “After the move we sat tight for a while and watched what the market trends were and then we changed with the times.
"We have always been open minded and look at every opportunity and I have never been afraid of hard work.
"I’m a great believer in the fact you only get out what you put in and never make the same mistake twice, as every day is a challenge.
"Due to this we have received many awards and have consistently been one of Yamaha’s biggest dealers in Europe for many years.
“We make a point of always looking after our customers and consequently they return, an example of such being Sir Francis Chichester and Gypsy Moth IV.
"My Dad remembers helping him prepare for his solo circumnavigation in 1968 and we still look after the boat today.
"We have many customers who also second or third generation and I take great pride in their continued custom."
However he added: “Our industry needs to be more positive as we do have a habit of talking ourselves down.
“There’s a good number of passionate people involved ,but like the sea, they can often change from one extreme to the other.
“I’ve been in a negative zone before, when the times were very bad, but have learnt from it.
"Boat shows are classic examples, first one exhibitor has a moan then that spreads to the next door stand then the negativity spreads to the visitors.
"My glass is now mostly half full as I know its not empty.
“We need to look at the things that do go right, boast about the great parts of boating and recognise all the fantastic elements of what the industry offers, which when you actually think about it, is mostly good news.”
But to end on a positive note, Paul concluded: “Savour the day and don’t spend too much time looking back.
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