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50 Years A Princess

Princess yacht

Director and Co-founder of Princess Yachts, David King, sits down with us to talk about the company’s humble beginnings and its rise to become one of boating’s most respected global brands.

David King

How did Princess Yachts First get its start?
Well, two friends and I wanted to run a charter boat in southwest England. We looked into buying a boat but quickly realized we couldn’t because they were so expensive. We thought we could build a better boat ourselves anyway so we bought a 31-foot hull and [with no previous building experience] we fitted it out. We went on to learn about boatbuilding and learned that the charter business in 1965 was challenging.

Eventually we thought, “Gosh we better sell this thing.” We sold the boat for £3,400. Thinking we built it for £2,500 and that we made money, we threw a big party. Unfortunately we learned afterwards that it actually cost us more than £3,400 to build the boat.

Quite the inauspicious start. How did you recover from that?

We actually had two clients that came forward and said, “We really like what you’ve done with the boat; we’d like to buy one.” So, we built and sold two and all of a sudden we were boatbuilders.

What kind of conditions were you working in during the early days?
[Laughs] We rented a 3,000-square-foot shed from the local authority. That shed had previously been used to store fertilizer, so the first thing we had to do was get the fire brigade to come in and hose down the walls. The first money we spent was for a barrel of beer to say, “Thank you very much.” 

Why the name Princess Yachts?
We launched a boat called the Princess 32 in 1970 and built a dealer base around Europe. That boat was successful. We sold about 1,000 in 12 years. Princess Yachts was born.

What were some of the early challenges you faced?
Being in southwest England, we didn’t have much industry to subcontract out to. We built our own fuel tanks, metal work, handrails, and pulpits. We became very vertically integrated. 

The last 50 years have seen a lot of ups and downs; how has Princess managed to thrive?
People and luck have an awful lot to do with it. That probably makes up two-thirds, no, probably more, of why we were successful. You need the right people in your company. And attention to detail. One of my favorite quotes is from Leonardo da Vinci who said, “Details make perfection and perfection is not a detail.” It’s not enough to watch the details in the products, which is where more of the detail goes, but in your company too. 

What is your most proud accomplishment at Princess?
[Without hesitation] The thing I’m most proud of is the extended Princess family ... the people in our company and our dealers. Then trying to be at the cutting edge. But it’s really the people that mean the most to me. It’s a great business to be in. 

What does Princess have to do to ensure it sees its 100th anniversary?
Good question. Today you have to be more aware of what’s happening on a global scale, whether it’s climate change, or politics. When you’re employing 10 guys, global issues don’t affect you as much. One’s distribution chain is vital for future success. You must understand the markets. Up until 1990 probably, we could have made boats suitable for Western Europe and we sold about 80 percent here, and we were lucky that the rest of the world liked the rest of the 20 percent. Now you have to design for the global market. 

What advice would you give to a new boatbuilder?
You gotta have a clear vision of what you’re trying to do. Know your customer, give them value and help them have fun. [Pauses] It’s a great industry with great people. And if I were to talk to someone just starting out in the marine industry, I’d say to enjoy yourself. If you’re not enjoying it you’re doing something wrong. 

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  • Builder: Princess

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.