In a blue heaven on the Suffolk coast

PUBLISHED: 16:29 20 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:01 20 February 2013

In a blue heaven on the Suffolk coast

In a blue heaven on the Suffolk coast

From carpentry to catamarans, former furniture retailer Mark Elliot is changing course and returning to his first love - sailing - as he tells Jayne Lindill

From carpentry to catamarans, former furniture retailer Mark Elliot is changing course and returning to his first love - sailing - as he tells Jayne Lindill

The name Mark Elliot is synonymous with quality.

Thousands of homeowners throughout the county and beyond have bought his hand-crafted furniture, safe in the knowledge that theyre choosing something exceptionally well designed and made, beautiful yet practical, built to last.

Now the East Anglian entrepreneur, who built a national chain of high-end furniture stores and whose products were sold in the showrooms of the likes of Heals and Selfridges, has returned to his first love boats.

The last few years in business have, by Marks own admission, been turbulent at times and being at the helm hasnt always been easy.

The furniture company he spent the best part of 20 years building found itself in some choppy waters and almost foundered. Its been rescued but Mark has relinquished the helm and is putting his energy into a new venture, Broadblue.

His ambition for the company is typically straightforward simply to build and sell the best luxury catamarans in the world.

He has teamed up with catamaran specialist Mark Jarvis, of Multihull World, who operates from the south coast of England, and is already on the way to achieving his early goals. After just six months working full-time with Broadblue, Mark has double-digit orders for boats and is ready to crank up production at the companys factories in the UK, China and Poland.

His latest move is to open an office close to home on Southwold quay, a traditional boatshed, refurbished to a level of comfort youd expect from a company selling up to 1million luxury catamarans.

Marks plan is to have a demonstration vessel moored alongside in Southwold enabling him to work from his Suffolk base as much as possible. Family life is important. He, wife Jennifer and their four children are anchored in the county, although Mark admits hes seen little of it since the beginning of the year.

Hes had four days off since February and probably only been at home for four weeks in the last five months.

"Its quite tough for both of us. But the only way to build a business is through hard work. You create a momentum, bring people with you and get them to believe and they do," he says. "We have some lovely people connected with this business."

"The last few years have been turbulent at times and being at the helm hasn't always been easy"

If anyone has the right pedigree to run the worlds most exciting catamaran business then it is Mark.

His father, John, now retired, was a renowned boat builder and, according to Mark, built more wooden boats than any other yard in Europe. He also set up the International Boatbuilding Training College at Oulton Broad in the 1970s.

Mark spent his early career in the navy before joining his father in the business. Under his tuition he trained to be a boat builder and in management, but the two men eventually parted company when they couldnt agree on the future direction of the business.

"He didnt seem to want to do the things I wanted to do," says Mark. "It was a classic situation of the old man wanting to keep the boat on an even keel while I was young and impetuous, both right and wrong! I didnt know what to do. I was trained as a navigator, there was nothing else I could do."

Mark turned to a close friend who was a cabinet maker. There are, he says, a lot of similarities between wooden boat building and furniture making. So he decided to start up a furniture business. He began by learning how to make furniture and soon had a high quality range he could offer top retailers such as Heals, Selfridges.

Within 12 months he was selling to Multi York and became a significant manufacturer with his own retail presence, Period Home Centre.

"They were phenomenally successful from day one," says Mark. Despite the success of the furniture business Marks love of boats never waned. Ten years went by and his father was ready to retire. The two men were reconciled by this time so Mark took over the business from him.

Around the same time he also decided to start his own catamaran busines, taking on the ex MD and designer from Prout Catamarans.

It was at this time that the furniture business began to suffer. First a fire destroyed the factory and although Mark had manufacturing up and running within a month so the company could fulfil customers orders that time also saw a period of over expansion. Having pumped several million pounds into the business Mark admitted defeat and the company was purchased from administration by one of seven bidders.

Mark admits it was hard to watch what then happened to the company he established and built, but he learnt from his experiences.

"The vast majority of very successful business people have been through something like this," he says. "Now I have a different way of doing business.

"Sometimes before I wouldnt make tough decisions. Now its all focus its about building a business. You have to put a lot of heart and enthusiasm into a product like this." Hes equally enthused by his business partner. "Mark Jarvis is known and respected throughout the multi-hull industry, a brilliant engineer and technically great," he says. "Im not good at technical stuff I have the attention-span of a gnat. I hardly ever look at the engine."

The companys range includes sailing and power catamarans. Smaller craft are made in China, mid range in Poland while the larger catamarans are built in Canvey Island and Cornwall. By next year Mark expects Broadblue to be manufacturing and selling a range of seven catamarans.

He has poured all his energy into Broadblue since February this year and says while its been physically tiring, its mentally fantastic.

He recognises himself as an entrepreneur in the true sense of the word. "I have an idea and I turn it into reality. I can visualise something and make it happen and bring people with me. Inspiring people and bringing them with you is what its about. I like creating something and I get bored easily."

So, will he get bored with Broadblue? Its unlikely.

"Everything happens for a reason. I should have left the furniture business ten years ago, sold it and handed it over. The great thing is Ive always loved sailing," he says. "I joined the navy at 16 as a midshipman. I could sail a proper cruising boat at seven years old. And my dad is an exceptionally accomplished sailor.

"And what an opportunity to build the worlds greatest catamarans. Furniture was good, but Im doing a great job now. And Im content."

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