With the Silver Jubilee of their leading Dun Laoghaire boat agency, brokerage, dealership and boatyard only two years away, Gerry and Martin Salmon of MGM Boats find themselves in the position of being seen as senior role models in a challenging business. It’s a business in which staying on track for even ten years is an achievement, while being very active with hundreds of international customers who have become friends during twenty-three years of successful trading provides an exemplary vision of enterprise and dedication.
Underlying it all is undimmed enthusiasm. Managing Director Gerry Salmon went straight from school into the boat business, and he was soon thinking in terms of branching out on his own in partnership with his brother Martin with the emphasis on powerboats. By 1997 they were operating from Malahide Marina and securing useful agencies, and when they added the versatile Aquador 26 to their range they were on to a winner, and they knew it. Doing a boat report for Afloat Magazine (as it was then though our website had opened in 1993), it was easy to share their infectious enthusiasm, and they went on to sell more than 200 Aquador 26s, 30% of them outside Ireland.
But despite being Northsiders themselves, they knew that although they could operate successfully in the national and international market, the key to success in the lucrative Greater Dublin area was a base in Dun Laoghaire, where the new marina – with the potential to be the largest in Ireland – had opened on St Patrick’s Day 2001.
While the marina management were keen to see a proper yard being installed with modern facilities and particularly a Travelhoist, it was a difficult process securing a viable site, as the massive construction of Dun Laoghaire’s mighty granite harbour means that any new facilities have somehow to be inserted into a very fixed structure.
But eventually, in 2003 a site was carved out immediately north of the Old Coastguard Station, west of the Irish Lights HQ and located to the eastward of the Coal Harbour and the monumental ramp road which gives access to Traders Wharf. By ingenious use of this constrained space, MGM Boats now had the potential to develop full-service facilities for their rapidly-growing range of customers in the heart of Ireland’s most affluent area, while at the seam time expanding their extensive national and international business in boat agencies, dealerships and distribution.
As they settled in and the boatyard business developed in tandem with the busy boats sales side, wheelway stagings were built into the harbour in order to carry a Travelhoist. Most Travelhoists work within shelter in their own designated mini-dock, but this somewhat exposed setup was the best that could be arranged in the Dun Laoghaire circumstances, as too was the use of “luxury Portacabins” for offices. Yet despite the slightly temporary feeling of this new and properly commercial yacht yard which in time was to win international awards, the business was developing in satisfactory style, helped by taking on Ross O’Leary in 2002 to strengthen their involvement in the sailing market, where they had taken on the power and sail Jeanneau agencies.
However, by this time the name of MGM Boats had become so widely recognised that they kept it on, even though it resulted from a printer’s error in their early days of being just Martin and Gerry. They’d opted for MG Marine, but the printer made it MGM Marine, and in due course MGM Boats was the name that stuck, though their now extended staff have their own version of what it means – John O’Kane of their Carrickfergus office tells his customers and friends it stands for “Me & Gerry & Martin”.
The fact that they’ve had a Carrickfergus office serving the north for years is just part of the expansion process which radiated outwards from the new Dun Laoghaire hub. They’ve also a busy office in Kinsale – run by Alan Barton – and a Malta branch based in Marina St Julians in Portomaso, the eastern branch of Valetta harbour, while their focus of operations in the south of England is at Hamble Point Marina beside the Solent, and additionally they maintain a presence in Vilamoura in Portugal’s Algarve and in Mallorca.
Their current agencies and dealerships are crowned by Prestige, the French-based creators of luxury performance powerboats which - at their upper size levels - are veering into superyacht territory. Down the size scale, Jeanneau Power is there to take up its market share, while MGM also offer Bayliner and continue to maintain their long and successful relationship with Aquador.
Recently they’ve signed up to the Irish distributorship for Zodiac Ribs and Inflatables, an area of special potential as Ireland’s coastline is particularly suited to Rib use, and the leading manufacturers are in the forefront of the development and use of eco-friendly electrical power.
On the sailing side handled by Ross O’Leary, the association with Lagoon catamarans is seeing the fulfillment of exotic dreams, with the Lagoon 450S Realta Bheag sailed by Dubliners Mary and George Coombes recently reaching New Zealand 18 months into a very active “retirement cruise” which has already logged an enormous variety of ports and islands visited.
The renowned Jeanneau Sail range has long been one of MGM Boats’ great strengths, and while the marque is traditionally best known for its sturdy yet stylish performance cruisers with some specially successful deck saloon versions, the racing side has been up-grading in recent years with the potent and always-developing Sunfast range. In this lineup, the newest boat - the Sunfast 3300 - made the headlines as recently as January 23rd when an Olympics-2024-anticipating two-handed man-and-woman sailing sprint from Fort Lauderdale down the Florida coast to Key West was won by Ken Read and Suzy Leech racing a crisp new Sunfast 3300, needless to say setting North Sails President Ken Read’s personal suit of competitive cloth.
This not only showed that the team behind Jeanneau Sunfast are right on the button in the latest international focal points, but as well it was reminder that the prospect of a Two-handed Female/Male crew competing the 2024 Olympics is attracting the interest of global offshore racing aristocracy, as just this week Irish-Australian ace Adrienne Cahalan announced she was teaming up with Nick Moloney (must be an Irish link there too) for a 2024 Olympic campaign.
Here's a VID of Ken Read and Suzy Leech sailing the Sunfast 330
This latest success by an offshore racing boat with which MGM Boats has direct links was very timely, as the course in the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race took the fleet past Miami, and that extraordinary Florida city is the centre of MGM Boats marketing this weekend, as Gerry and Martin Salmon are on the impressive stand of Prestige in the Miami Yacht Show for the duration.
Being Miami, there are two separate shows at once - the Miami Yacht Show for the biggies, and the Miami Boat Show for smaller craft in a different location, though they are linked by water taxis and buses. Needless to say, Prestige and MGM Boats are in the Miami Yacht Show, and with so many Irish links to Florida added to the fact that MGM is now such an international organisation that some of its more distant customers are scarcely aware of the Irish roots, the two Irish brothers are on high alert for an eclectic stream of visitors to the stand.
For although the company’s offices provide fixed points of contact, MGM Boats focus of effort can be something of a moveable feast, as they’re energetic users of the international Boat Show circuit - so much so that they reckon to average one major boats show per month in every year. Thus in December it was Paris, then in January it was the marathon which is Dusseldorf, and this weekend it’s Miami, which started on Thursday and runs until Sunday.
"in December it was Paris, then in January it was the marathon which is Dusseldorf, and this weekend it’s Miami"
Before the year is out they’ll have been on site for the duration in shows as far south as Cannes and as far north as Finland, with many other venues in between and an extra push being made for the Southampton exhibition in September. For most folk, that’s a punishing schedule which would count as fulltime work in itself, but the MGM team relish it, and Gerry and Martin expect to be back at their desks in Dun Laoghaire by noon on Monday if flights are on schedule.
They’re grafters – there’s no other way to put it – yet they love their work, and an inspirational conversation with Gerry this week before he jetted off to Florida provided hugely informative insights into the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Boat Shows and the International Marine Industry. It’s a world which the Salmon brothers and Ross O’Leary and their Dun Laoghaire-based used-boat broker Josh Walsh feel at home, and with their 23-years-and-counting experience of this high-powered atmosphere, lasting friendships have been built while they’ve become connoisseurs of the properly-done sales deal which leaves both sides happy, a dynamic human interaction about which Gerry Salmon can become positively lyrical.
In their time they’ve become friends with some of the great figures of the boat business, notably the late Robert Braithwaite who was the inspiration and guiding force for many years in Sunseeker International, with whom MGM Boats were Distributors of the Year in 2007 and 2009, and Bronze Medallists in 2011.
Their friendship was such that Robert Braithwaite (who died much mourned just a year ago aged 76) organized the staging of several Sunseeker International Dealer Conferences in one of the choicer venues which Ireland has to offer. And though the direct links between the two companies concluded when Sunseeker had to have a major re-organisation in the years after the recession of 2010, MGM Boats were able to step up their involvement with the 1989-founded Prestige range, doing so to such good effect that they became Prestige Distributors of the Year in 2017.
"promotion of their own identity is every bit as important as emphasising their long-established links with highly-regarded brands"
MGM Boats came through the 2008-2012 recession-battered but unbowed. They were determined to hang in there by cutting right back and preserving core activities, and Gerry’s abiding memory of that time is how, while they continued the tradition of getting together for a staff meal at the end of the week, the “meal” was a slice of pizza and a glass of Merlot wine.
“I can’t look at a pizza or a bottle of Merlot now without that image coming back to me,” he says these days, but they did hang in while others fell like pins in a bowling alley, and MGM Boats emerged from the dark days with a clearer image of themselves, with the clearer realisation that promotion of their own identity is every bit as important as emphasising their long-established links with highly-regarded brands.
Thus when the opportunity presents itself, such as at the Boat Shows in Southampton and Dusseldorf, they’ll have their own contact point with handy immediate access to the top boats which they represent. Unless it’s in your blood and a total enthusiasm, it would be very hard work indeed, yet they seem to thrive on it, enjoying the different mood of each show.
Dusseldorf is on such a scale in both time and show area that visitors will happily spend days there, whereas Miami with its four-day format underlines the American approach – “They’ll know exactly what they want to see” says Gerry, “and they can be in and out with a very thorough deal done in a time that might leave some Europeans breathless.”
2019 was a good year for MGM Boats, with the total number of substantial craft moved – both new and second-hand – pushing towards the hundred mark, the biggest single deal being the sale of a new Prestige 680S which the Irish owner is basing in the south of France.
Meanwhile, in Dun Laoghaire the boatyard is seemingly always busy. But with the slow progress in researching and creating a thorough and worthwhile overall plan for developing the Dun Laoghaire waterfront, to most observers it seems that MGM Boats are still having to make do with the constrained facilities which they have been carving out of an unlikely corner site from 2003 onwards.
Yet despite the challenges which the site presents, other professionals well appreciate what the MGM Boats team are achieving, and the loyalty of their Dun Laoghaire customers – for repeat business is one of the keys to their success – speaks volumes in providing an overall picture of such quality that in 2016 they were category short-listed for the International Shipyard of the Year contest.
"It makes you realise what a valuable contribution MGM Boats could make to the Dun Laoghaire waterfront of the future"
It makes you realise what a valuable contribution MGM Boats could make to the Dun Laoghaire waterfront of the future if the various consultants now producing feasibility studies could find the time to have a proper conversation with at least the three top men in the MGM team. Between them, they've got an unrivalled pool of knowledge and experience of dealing with the needs of boats and boat owners in this unique artificial harbour, an experience allied to their unrivalled acquaintance with international-standard facilities elsewhere.
MGM Boats have a global presence, with friends and customers in every continent. But in Dun Laoghaire, they’re among the most significant participants in the neighbourhood life of the harbour today, and in the future. Their contribution now - and in the years to come - is beyond calculation, and it deserves the widest possible recognition.