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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 17, 2010 10 years ago

'Stay Alive'

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A Gulf Coast family business famous for its luxury yachts wants to go small in order to get big again when the economy comes back.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

The Rivolta family's line of businesses — yachts, luxury condos, custom homes and a community bank — was tailor made to be walloped by the recession.


The condo business, for instance, which includes an amenities-loaded 15-story tower in downtown Sarasota, has been hindered by slow sales. The homebuilding side, meanwhile, through Sarasota-based Tivoli Homes, has followed the industry trend by going from big-ticket homes to build smaller homes that cost less.


And the bank family patriarch Piero Rivolta co-founded in 1999, Flagship National Bank of Bradenton, was shut down by federal regulators last October. The bank's four offices and $175 million in deposits were taken over by Lake City-based First Federal Bank of Florida.


So last year Rivolta and his son Renzo Rivolta decided to overhaul a major part their business, Rivolta Yachts, in an effort to stave off more recession pain. The plan was to form a new division of the company to focus on smaller boats. (See related story on industry trends.)


The division, which the company officially launched in July, manufactures and sells a line the Rivoltas created called Mojito. The boats, similar in shape to panga-style boats prominent in the commercial fishing industries of Central America and Mexico, are designed to be both “sophisticated and practical,” Renzo Rivolta says.


“You have to stay alive [and] the only way to do that is to produce some new products,” says the younger Rivolta. “We went back to where we started. We used to be all about building custom.”


The Mojito line took at least six months of prototypes to design and another few months to build. It cost the company several hundred thousand dollars to get the line market-ready.


“It's certainly a risk,” says Renzo Rivolta, “but what is life without risks?”


The Mojitos range from 16 to 22 feet long and the company eventually plans to add other models as long as 28 feet. A jet version of the Mojito is also in the works, says Renzo Rivolta.


The boats are priced from $11,000 each to $60,000 — a pittance compared to the $600,000 and up Rivolta Yachts sold its vessels for during the boom. The company still has a few yacht projects, including one 40-foot ship Rivolta says is options-heavy and will sell for more than $1 million.


Still, Rivolta concedes, “that market is kind of quiet right now.”


To make more noise, the Rivoltas hope to sell at least 100 Mojitos a year, Renzo Rivolta says, once the product gets past the introductory stage.


“You can always work on changing details,” says Rivolta. “The key is having a boat that performs.”


The performance part stems from the curvilinear sheer and unique bottom design Rivolta says was built into the boat. Those features, combined with the fiberglass construction, lead to what Rivolta calls a smooth, dry ride.


“We always try to push it when it comes to design,” Rivolta says. “We want to be unique.”

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