Riding wave of policy support
One may have a thousand reasons to love the ocean, but for Stephane Gonnetand, 39, a French entrepreneur in Dalian, the love for the ocean comes from the joy of sailing in his yacht during the tides.
When he moved to Dalian in 2004, his ambition was triggered as he witnessed the development of China. The then 26-year-old engineer made up his mind to start his own yacht-building business in the northeastern port city of China.
“Dalian attracts me with various livable conditions: comfortable climate, friendly locals, beautiful ocean,” Gonnetand said. “But what made me choose this city to start my business is that it is the best place to fulfill my entrepreneurial dream.”
In 2006, when Gonnetand was 28, he opened his startup ODC Marine with compatriot Gildas Olivier, who was then 26. “ODC” sounds like “Odyssey”, indicating their resolve to achieve success without fearing any challenge they may face in the long course of development.
Indeed, it took them some time to win the trust from the supplier, and more to gain the market share as most customers considered them too young to handle their business. But fortunately, good opportunities came their way, giving them many advantages.
“Dalian is a city whose shipbuilding history dates back to more than 100 years ago,” said Gonnetand. “The technicians and workers here are very professional and skilled, which was a significant factor that bolstered us to start our business.”
Xavier de Montgros joined their business in 2009. From a small office with only four working staff in 2006, to the sole dealer of Beneteau in Northeast China in 2010, Gonnetand has conquered many challenges during the period to shore up the company’s position in the market.
“We have been welcomed and well treated since we started our business,” Gonnetand said. “China is becoming more and more friendly to foreigners setting up startups in the country. Besides, Le Havre and Dalian are sister cities. The bond between the two cities is a strong backing for French entrepreneurs like me.”
In 2009, ODC Marine succeeded in wheeling out the first 100 percent lithium-powered passenger boat. In the same year, the company offered a clean-up boat to the local government to improve the environment of the harbor.
So far, the company has delivered 45 aluminum-alloy vessels to customers abroad and 14 Beneteau leisure yachts to Chinese customers, among which the biggest deal was worth more than 8 million yuan ($1.2 million). The boats are enjoying good reputation in its major market Europe.
With the business growing, the company is planning to expand the shipyard to boost its production capacity.
On future prospects, Beneteau’s official dealer for Northeast China considers yachts a developing but promising market in China.
“Yacht sailing is a very popular sport in our country (France),” Gonnetand said. “It stresses the coordination of the team and strengthens our bodies. It is a hot sport among French youth and I hope it will gain popularity among Chinese youth too.”