Since its launch in 1969, the impact of the International Laser Class sailboat cannot be understated. However, the current manufacturer of this product – LaserPerformance – has not quite lived up to the responsibility. Class enthusiasts have suffered through a lack of supply, creating a vacuum filled now by alternative single-handers such as the RS Aero, Melges 14, and D-Zero.
The Laser has been used for in the Olympics since 1996, but that status is in jeopardy for the first time as a review of its appropriateness for Paris 2024 is underway. This would have any class or company worried, and LaserPerformance is no exception.
The Laser hasn’t been the only problem product for a company that also supplies equipment for the Sunfish Class and High School/College competition. In their lengthy ‘State of the Union’ address, they seek to explain the past and define the future:
With 2018 behind us, we have perspective on an impactful year that will shape the group’s strategy for the next decade. In 2018 LaserPerformance saw the full results of its 2016 restructuring. Of particular importance has been the implementation of company-wide operations on integrated digital platforms and the re-establishment of effective supply chains for core products allowing for timely fulfillment.
However, LaserPerformance has also faced new challenges that were simply beyond its strategic and operational planning.
When we announced our restructuring in January 2016, we could not imagine that the world would change the way it has. The most significant of these changes are BREXIT – the UK decision to leave the EU – and the US introduction of tariffs for imports from China and Europe.
Brexit has already taken its toll with repeated delays in shipping schedules in and out of the UK as well as the threat and uncertainties of a hard BREXIT yet to disrupt our business further.
US tariffs have already increased our product costs. We have not passed any cost increases to our customers but have seriously suffered financially as a consequence. We continue with our strategy of reducing costs of participation to our sailors and curbing an upward cost spiral.
Both Brexit and US tariffs create significant limitations in our flexibility to work with the best sub-contractors possible in an industry that already suffers from a lack of choice for quality volume manufacturers.
Meeting the demands of volume and consistency in quality for our one design boats has proven practically impossible anywhere in the world with no contract manufacturer able to give us what is needed. Furthermore meeting the demand for parts has directly impacted supply of original equipment.
These challenges have impacted us at a time when we have been working to become a digitally conversant business, whilst suffering from an onslaught of litigation and legal challenges from the International Laser Class Association (ILCA) in coordination with Bruce Kirby and his Australian partners at the Performance Sailcraft Pty group.
Ironically, there seems to be a continuing desire to attack and claim our intellectual property assets by these parties whilst insisting that they want our support to fund their activities and maintaining the Olympic status of the Laser boats.
The result of these remarkable and spurious challenges has been a diversion of millions of dollars into legal fees which would have been otherwise available to our sailing community initiatives; an unsigned Olympics 2020 contract and an expiring license to operate for ILCA ending August 2019.
All these are critical elements in our ongoing review of long-term strategy. We are seeking not only to reposition LaserPerformance but also to impact sailing in a meaningful and sustained manner for many years to come.
As a result of the US-China trade war, we have decided to set up our own manufacturing facilities in Portugal with the objective of becoming fully operational by this year end. Manufacturing of all sloops and collegiate sailing boats will be given priority.
Our existing resources in China will continue to supply the Asian markets. Laser Sailboats manufacturing in Banbury, UK, will expand to include the Sunfish boat. As a result of Brexit, we will review our UK based service operations to ensure reliability of timely supply and avoiding the disruptions of the past year experienced by the group.
Also in the UK, we will launch a new SailLaser Centre on the same principles of the original centre in Weymouth as part of a plan to launch four flagship centres around the world including USA, Portugal, and China.
This year will also be an exciting year for us in product development. This will include new products under a strategic design relationship with Tripp Design, naval architects based in the USA and Holland, for a family of new products with the first launch in June 2019.
Furthermore we will introduce the ARC in May 2019, a contemporary racing rig and sail for Laser and Laser Radial that broadens the sailor weight range and increases overall performance. We will also relaunch a redesigned family of SEITECH trolleys, dollies, and racks in March 2019.
Class relationships and World Sailing will be a focus of our external partnerships. As key stakeholders, we would be engaging with them in the hope of bringing them requisite resources for their successful expansion and continuity. These include:
• Move for a motion to bring back ILCA to the UK;
• Move for a motion to fund a full time and dedicated executive team for the ILCA;
• Support the Laser Class Action Group led by stakeholders in Europe;
• Ensure the ILCA license is renewed and the Olympic contract is executed accordingly.
Also with regards to the International Sunfish Class Association (ISCA), we would move for a motion to modernise the ISCA Constitution for gender and geographic balance with support for the addition of two continents to the ISCA to meet World Sailing 6-Continent rule; and to provide ISCA with a multi-year sponsorship program that would support its activities and increase sailor participation and retention.
Finally, the successful support to the 2018 Charter and Events Program will continue and be expanded in 2019. Primarily focusing on events involving Laser and Sunfish sailors, the Program will further expand in North America, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean to directly support our sailing community and the classes they are members of.
We cannot close without giving special mention to Jeff Martin who passed away suddenly on January 11th. Jeff served ILCA for over 40 years and his tireless and selfless commitment to Laser was a huge contributor to the success of Laser over the years. We are saddened and will remember him with fondness and reverence.
Story from Scuttlebutt Sailing News