Profile – Rob Cross
When Atlantic Yachts MD, Rob Cross, moved from West Sussex to a village near Plymouth, aged 11, little did he realise it would propel him to a career in yacht sales and recognition as ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’.
“My grandfather was posted to Plymouth during the war, where he met my grandmother. They had a boat on the River Yealm and my mother was a keen sailor. I joined the Yealm Yacht Club as a cadet, moved onto Plymouth College School at 13 and the Navy Combined Cadet Force (CCF) at 16.”
Rob raced Mirror dinghies (his first boat), Lasers and 420s and was an instructor with the CCF, teaching in Bosuns in Plymouth Sound. A summer job at Newton Ferrers Sailing School followed where Rob taught on classic open boats, some more than 100 years old. “I was an instructor for two years and at 18, completed my RYA instructor’s qualification.”
Over a four-year period - covering a gap year and holidays while studying for an engineering and resource management degree - Rob taught sailing in Greece and Turkey. In 2001, he returned to Plymouth to complete the RYA Yachmaster course and later became commercially endorsed, working in Scotland.
“This was around 2002/2003 and as I was office-based, I wanted my hobby to earn me a living. A chance meeting with a Plymouth sailing friend gave me that opportunity and I worked for Westways – the south west Jeanneau dealer.”
In 2006, aged 29, Rob went to Sydney, Australia, for a year, working for one of the country’s biggest yacht companies. “This opened my eyes on how to do things differently and on a bigger scale with 24/7 boat displays and growing business through internet sales.”
After returning to the UK, Rob briefly commissioned boats for Peters Opal and Opal Marine, before heading back to Westways. “When the company sold in 2008, I set up Southern Cross Yachts (SCY) in Plymouth, applying all I had learned.”
Rob also launched the South West Rib Centre (a spin-off from SCY) and sold it two years later. By 2012, Rob sold SCY to the south west’s Beneteau dealer KTK Prime, opening the door for a new venture – The Boat Exchange – in Plymouth. “The idea was to give customers the fluidity they needed to ‘exchange’ boats without needing cash-based sales or purchases.”
The Boat Exchange was quickly approached by Beneteau to become a dealer and it went from a £500,000 turnover in year one to £1.4m in year three with 22 boats sold in 2018. It was this initiative however, that resulted in Rob taking over the reins at Trafford Yachts - now rebranded Atlantic Yachts – in September 2018.
“I had a great relationship with Richard Trafford and when he wanted to step back from the business, it seemed natural for me to take over - particularly with my motor boat sales track record and internet marketing experience.
“In order to fully focus on Atlantic Yachts, I effected a management buy-out with Sam Bradley and Mike Berry who continue the great work and customer service The Boat Exchange is renowned for. I’d also just become a father for the third time and we were extending our home, so running two businesses alongside that would have been a bit of a stretch."
“We employ four staff and sell primarily Jeanneau. Since starting in September, to end March this year, we’ve sold ten new and eight brokerage boats. Not bad for the winter. Our second biggest income after boat sales is from refits and repairs.”
In 2012, British Marine named Rob ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’. “This accolade had a great impact on me and my business - the win was picked up by the local press and radio. With so many independent entrepreneurs in the south west, I consider this area to be the ‘marine business powerhouse’.”
Rob singles out Andrew Thomson at Newton Ferrers Sailing School as his mentor and says he’s also influenced by his brothers ‘who all work for themselves’.
Commenting on marine sector changes, Rob says: “In 2008 lots of sales people left the industry, clearing out those who didn’t know about boats. This left those who do and are passionate about the sport to ride out the tough times. There’s always that ‘hard graft’ behind any successful business – the trick is to make it look easy.”
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