Wroxham hire boat firm reaches landmark
Two of the Broads hire boat industry's leading lights have given a resounding vote of confidence in the future as they reach a significant personal landmark.
Paul and Barbara Greasley, both 50, have been at the helm of Wroxham-based Norfolk Broads Direct for 10 years this month, investing more than £5.75m in new boats in addition to delivering major improvements to the site's boatsheds and moorings.
In that time, the couple are proud to have spearheaded the industry's gradual move away from its 1980s reputation for cheap and cheerful booze cruises towards a green and upmarket future.
Now, despite the gloomy economic outlook leading to an unwelcome dip in early season bookings, they remain buoyant about the Broads' long-term prospects as a holiday destination.
Reflecting on their personal investment in 45 new craft – 41 cruisers, three day cruisers and a trip boat - Mr Greasley said: 'All the companies have begun investing at this time and it is the newest, most luxurious boats which are in most demand.
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'This winter we are building two new top-of-the-range Fair Statesman cruisers and they are already nearly fully booked for the coming season. We are also carrying out a full refurbishment of eight cruisers as part of an ongoing programme. Our aim is to be the best on the Broads and focus on the top end of the market.'
Mrs Greasley highlighted the fact the design of new boats needed to reflect the modern-day customer's demand for home comforts.
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'Some of our cruisers now even have whirlpool baths on board,' she said. She added that customer feedback last season showed 70pc of boating holidaymakers were also influenced by a company's green credentials in making their booking.
As chairman of Broads Tourism, Mrs Greasley has championed the development of a green boat mark for eco-friendly boats. And Norfolk Broads Direct has led the way by piloting a diesel electric hybrid cruiser Fair Princess.
She said Broads Tourism was striving to encourage all businesses – pubs, restaurants and other land-based enterprises as well as boat firms – to 'provide the best quality they can' to further the re-branding of the Broads as a holiday destination.
Mr Greasley said he had been working as an accountant for the then leading Broads operator Len Funnell and when he decided to sell up a decade ago he had been 'in the right place at the right time' to lead a management buy-out.
In 2010 they had sold the Potter Heigham side of the business, Herbert Woods, so they could redevelop their site at Wroxham.
'We have built up the fleet here from 45 to 59 and our aim has been to establish a fleet of 60,' he said.
'The key for the future is continued investment. We have spent £500,000 every year on providing the quality our customers expect.'
The couple hope that their children Laura, 22, and James, 18, both currently at university, will eventually lead the firm into a new era.