Navigator sits down with Northrop & Johnson’s Crom Littlejohn who shares his vast industry knowledge and experience.
Q What is your background within the yachting industry and how did you come to be a yacht broker?
A Born and raised on the fabulous east coast of Florida in Indialantic — a barrier island only five blocks wide with the Indian River on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other — as kids, we water skied before school, surfed in the afternoon and sailed on weekends. At 13, my first “real” job was driving the forklift and travelift at a boatyard; eventually moving on to Hobie Cat rentals, commissioning new boats, then building Sea Rays. The realization, at an early age, that my passion was helping others fall in love with being on the water drove me south toward Fort Lauderdale to seek a job in boat sales. I was invited to a charter brokers open house aboard the classic 82-foot BLACK NIGHT (a BIG boat back then) and was introduced to the captain, who offered a mate/engineer position. Three years later, after BLACK NIGHT secured the position of America’s Cup Race Committee yacht, it was time to return to Fort Lauderdale to begin a career in boat sales — managing several new boat dealerships before moving into the brokerage sector and ownership of a small brokerage firm. Understanding that big boat experience was helpful in sales, I returned to the sea as captain of a tremendously successful charter boat, cruising The Bahamas, U.S. East Coast and Great Lakes before moving ashore to work in brokerage sales with Merle Wood & Associates as a senior sales and charter broker; a position held for 15 years before joining Northrop & Johnson this past summer after a quick demonstration of the sales and marketing tools the company had been developing. A Board Member of the Florida Yacht Brokers Association (FYBA) for 11 years — including two years as President — and current Board Member of the American Yacht Charter Association (AYCA), I was awarded 2015 “Broker of the Year” by the FYBA, a tremendous honor and one of the highlights of my career (to date!).
Q What is your best advice to a first-time yacht buyer?
A Call Me! Okay, find a broker that you can work with — someone with the experience and resources in the general size range of your interests and one with a firm that regularly works within that range. You’ll get access to better information, often including options not “officially” on the market. At Northrop & Johnson, we share with brokers and firms that have similar interests and have information and listings to share with us. Additionally, when one works with multiple brokers, you’ll hear why each has “the best” offerings and all the other options second or third tier. Establish a relationship with a good broker from a reputable firm and let them go to work for you!
Q What is the most important facet to a successful yacht sale?
A Relationships — with today’s Internet, buyers often have access to much of the same data as brokers. Creating a relationship affords you the inside run on the market place, and often gives you access to yacht options that are not officially on the open market. Those offerings are likely to be known to a select few brokers. All brokers are working from virtually the same inventory list (other than those few “confidentially offered listings”), so you’ll find the best information and the best opportunities when you’ve created a relationship that has both broker and client feeling comfortable.
Q What, in your opinion, are the biggest trends happening in yacht design?
A There are several big trends currently happening. I see them as follows, in no particular order: More owners are looking to do their part in creating more environmentally-friendly yachts. From cleaner, more efficient propulsion systems and generators to treatment systems and paint systems, eco-friendly is big. Several of the largest new launches of the past two years are diesel-electric. The industry continues to look for ways to lessen our environmental footprint. Glass is being used more and more, and in larger formats, with some of the newer yachts using glass as structural components of the construction. We’re likely to see this become a major factor in many new builds in the future. We also are seeing an increase in “series” and spec builds as the yards look to retain their workforce and reduce the time from contract to delivery, which drives many buyers to the brokerage markets when yard delivery times are years out. Working from a standardized engineering plan, with some flexibility in décor and exterior esthetics — which can greatly reduce delivery times — makes many of these new builds an extremely attractive alternative to the pre-owned market.
Q Where, in your opinion, do you see the global yacht brokerage market going in the next five years?
A If my crystal ball was clear, you’d find me out cruising on my yacht. But most indicators suggest that the market will continue to improve, slowly, but steadily. New build orders are strong, especially at the well-known, pedigreed yards, and new, start-up yards are launching projects in excess of 60 meters, often with surprisingly high quality. We’re likely to continue to see the driving force nationalities pass the baton several times over the next few years as global economics and social economics remain fluid and ever-changing. Global markets that were the engine of the market a few years ago are now virtually nonexistent, while markets that were rather quiet in recent years are now dominant.
Q What makes Northrop & Johnson stand out among other brokerage companies?
A Our people — Northrop & Johnson has bent over backward to create a true “team” atmosphere of professionals in every division: sales, charter (marketing and retail) and crew placement, all of whom are backed by one of the most talented and innovative marketing departments in the industry. With 16 offices in virtually every major yachting hub, Northrop & Johnson is ideally suited to capitalize on the ever-changing markets mentioned earlier. Yachts travel and they’re never far from a Northrop & Johnson office, so we’re able to better serve our clients almost anywhere in the world. Additionally, Northrop & Johnson’s global intelligence tools provide immediate access to the most comprehensive collection of data on every segment of the market from any Internet-connected device anywhere in the world. This offers access to not just photos and specifications, but also to hard current and historical data on every boat — it’s an amazing system that is continually being updated and expanded upon.
Q What are your five must-have features on a yacht?
A One, two and three are great crew, Great Crew and GREAT CREW. Should you find yourself on a sinking barge with a great crew, it’s likely you’ll still have a great time, but jump on the nicest yacht afloat with a bad crew, and you’ll soon be jumping off. Large tenders are a must as they offer an entirely new dimension to your time aboard. From allowing guest transport in comfort to day trips down the island chain, it’s like having two yachts at your disposal. And lastly, a great selection of water toys tremendously enhances the enjoyment aboard.