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North Norfolk boat builder’s new home creates fresh wave of opportunities

PUBLISHED: 09:38 21 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:21 21 August 2018

Owners of Neil Thompson Boats, Neil and Richenda Thompson, by one of the Norfolk Range sailing and motor yachts they build at the North Norfolk Marine Centre at Wells. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Owners of Neil Thompson Boats, Neil and Richenda Thompson, by one of the Norfolk Range sailing and motor yachts they build at the North Norfolk Marine Centre at Wells. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

A boatbuilder and repairer is looking to create a “one-stop shop” for boating in north Norfolk after moving to new premises.

Neil Thompson Boats makes and maintains traditional Norfolk launches, servicing around 150 boats a year and dealing with hundreds more through sales, brokerage and restorations.

The business, a certified Honda dealer, has customers all over the world from Florida to Australia.

Founders Neil and Richenda Thompson have been running the £500,000-turnover business for 18 years – but they are ready to take it to the next level after moving from Glandford to new premises in Wells-next-the-Sea.

Mr Thompson said: “There has been quite a big gain in the market here. Before Wells became a proper harbour again it was not a popular place to come but Wells and Blakeney harbours are much better served now which is good for us.”

Neil Thompson, right, owner of Neil Thompson Boats at the North Norfolk Marine Centre at Wells, with the Norfolk Explorer, their new build motor launch. With him are Henry Key, left, and Tom Bowden. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYNeil Thompson, right, owner of Neil Thompson Boats at the North Norfolk Marine Centre at Wells, with the Norfolk Explorer, their new build motor launch. With him are Henry Key, left, and Tom Bowden. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

With grant funding from the Local Action Group (LAG), which covered 40% of their moving and expansion costs, the couple moved to the new site in Stiffkey Road which has a barn three times the size of their previous workshop and a purpose-built office.

The company builds four boats a year during the summer and for the rest of the year its workshop operates as a service centre for Norfolk boats, with space for up to 120 vessels in its new backyard.

For the past three years it has been making motorised explorers alongside its yachts – the first of which was funded by the customer who requested it.

As part of the expansion the couple has bought a van which they operate as a mobile workshop, which spends a lot of time parked at Morston Quay, where many of its customers moor, to provide assistance and maintenance.

Will Darby, manager of the North Norfolk Marine Centre at Neil Thompson Boats, repairing a customer's boat. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYWill Darby, manager of the North Norfolk Marine Centre at Neil Thompson Boats, repairing a customer's boat. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mrs Thompson said the purchase of the van had been a “god send”.

“Some of our customers don’t use their boats for six or eight months of the year so when they get back on there are things they forget to do. To have someone down on the key to advise them is very helpful.”

The mobile van is also helping the company reach out to the commercial fishing market, with services offered to fishermen in Wells and Overstrand.

Mrs Thompson said: “When we moved here I wanted it to be a yard that was open for everyone. It is important that everyone is able to come here and have the same level of service and attention.”

Some of the Norfolk Range sailing and motor yachts in the workshop at Neil Thompson Boats North Norfolk Marine Centre at Wells. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSome of the Norfolk Range sailing and motor yachts in the workshop at Neil Thompson Boats North Norfolk Marine Centre at Wells. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

To this end the company has set up a separate servicing arm, North Norfolk Marine Centre, to deal with all business outside its traditional Norfolk yacht range. One employee, Will Darby, has been tasked with running the department – the 10-strong firm plans to hire more staff this year, some of whom may join his team.

Mr Thompson said: “The company offers a set service package for the Norfolk range of boats, but we want to go back to offering all the services that you need on this part of the coastline through our marine centre, which Will will head up so that Richenda and I don’t have to take our finger off the pulse.”

An opportunity for expansion came around five years ago when an investor approached the Thompsons with an idea to beef up production at the company.

A visit to Morgan Motors was organised due to the overlap in demographic – older with a large disposable income pot.

“But we decided we didn’t want to go to a factory process because we would lose our connection with the customers and we definitely didn’t want to compromise on quality for the sake of orders,” said Mrs Thompson.

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