Local firms urged to seek Queen's Award

THE success of Suffolk-based Spirit Yachts in winning a Queen's Award for Enterprise should inspire other local firms to seek similar recognition.That was the message yesterday from a senior official from the Queen's Award Office during a visit to the Ipswich-based yacht builder, which was the only business based in the county included in this year's awards.

THE success of Suffolk-based Spirit Yachts in winning a Queen's Award for Enterprise should inspire other local firms to seek similar recognition.

That was the message yesterday from a senior official from the Queen's Award Office during a visit to the Ipswich-based yacht builder, which was the only business based in the county included in this year's awards.

Spirit's hand-crafted wooden yachts represent one of the most luxurious sailing experiences around - one of them featured in Daniel Craig's first James Bond movie, Casino Royale - and the company received a Queen's Award for its outstanding export sales, which represent some 70% of total turnover.

Yesterday's visit to the company by Steve Brice, secretary from the Queen's Award Office, was part of a tour of award winners around the East of England to promote awareness of the awards and the opportunity they represent for businesses of all sizes to enhance their reputation.

“The Queen's Awards are not just about multinational businesses,” said Mr Brice. “A good number of smaller businesses win each year.

“The Queen's Award emblem is recognised as a mark of quality and success, and feedback from past winners shows that it can help a business in a variety of ways, including winning new customers, recruiting staff and even raising finance.”

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The Spirit team, led by managing director Sean McMillan, was yesterday preparing for the Southampton Boat Show which runs from September 12 to 21, after which they will be setting off almost immediately for the Monaco Yacht Show, which runs from September 24 to 27.

It will be the first time that Spirit has attended the “super-yacht show” in Monaco, and the decision to attend reflects the scale of its ambition.

Having already constructed the largest single-mast yacht to be built from wood in Britain since the Second World War - it is 100 feet long and its mast clears the Orwell bridge by 18 inches - Spirit is currently quoting for three yachts of more than 100 feet, including one as large as 130 feet.

The company, which already has an order book providing work until the end of next year and is now quoting for vessels for delivery in 2010 or 2011, is keen extend its offer even further up market as larger vessels offer a greater margin and are also, historically, even more immune to the vagaries of the economic cycle.

“People with that kind of disposable income are fairly immune to the credit crunch,” says Mr McMillan. “Most of them don't need credit; it's as simple as that.”

The Spirit workforce has continued to grow, now totalling 35, and says Mr McMillan: “I'd take on 10 more tomorrow if I could find them, because we have work for them, but finding skilled boat builders is not easy.”