April 16 2014 Latest news:
Saturday, February 15, 2014
It was a ceremony that brought together 70 years of Broads boating history.
Back in 1944 a youthful Robert Richardson bought the motor cruiser ‘Mac Nab’ for the princely sum of £175 to launch his family’s hire boat business.
With no fridge, heater or shower on board, it was light years away from the gleaming five-star Broadsman that he proudly ushered down the slipway yesterday at the company’s Stalham marina.
Although hard of hearing and content to leave the day-to-day running of the business to sons Paul and Clive and CEO Greg Munford, he still plays an active role at the age of 90.
“He still comes into the office every day including weekends. Boating is not just a business to him, it has been his life and his passion,” said Clive.
The start of the business, which has grown into the largest hire fleet on the Broads, came when Robert Richardson and his father (Robert Richardson senior) bought Old Mill House Boatyard in Oulton Broad and began letting rowing boats, sailing boats and motor cruisers after the second world war.
By 1957 the fleet had outgrown the Oulton Broad site and Richardson’s made the move to its now familiar home on the northern Broads.
Since then the business has seen its ups and downs - Robert Richardson actually sold the yard in 1974 before buying it back a decade later - but the last six years has seen a distinct upturn.
Mr Munford said: “In 2008 the business made a loss of £1.6m and we have turned that around to an operating profit of £500,000.”
The turnover of Richardson’s boating division now stands at £5m while its holiday parks in Norfolk and Sussex turn over an even more healthy £10m.
He said success had been achieved by focusing on what they did well and selling off inn and restaurants acquired in the 1990s - their last pub, the Hog in Armour in Norwich, was now up for sale.
Having not built any new boats since the late 1970s, they took the bold decision to design and build a new generation of Broads cruisers in 2008 and had since added 18 to the fleet.
Mr Munford said: “Until then most hire boats on the Broads had been built using moulds from the same company. To break the mould we had to build our own.”
Their commitment to building new boats had seen the yard’s boatbuilding staff increase from four in 2008 to 21. As well seven £200,000 Broadsman cruisers - coming with such modcons as three ensuite bedrooms, satellite television, electric toilets, LED lighting and electric canopies - their other striking new designs included the Carousel and Broadlander.
Mr Munford said: “Our new boats are the most attractive on the Broads and they are all 95pc booked.
After their busiest January booking period for a decade, they are now looking forward to a bumper season.
However, amid all the success, Mr Munford paid tribute to the man who started it, describing him as a “true legend of Broads boating”.
Do you know anyone as dedicated to his work as Robert Richardson. Email firstname.lastname@example.org