MDL Marinas – More Than Marinas

After the Covid pandemic, MDL Marinas is expanding its offering to create a robust, sustainable leisure business for tomorrow.

MDL Marinas has been in business for over 45 years as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yattendon Group PLC. The company operates 19 of the most premium marinas in the UK, as well as another marina in Spain between Barcelona and Valencia. The firm’s facilities occupy one of the highest price points in the industry while offering perhaps the most attractive product proposition on the market. But currently, the company is expanding its areas of operations.

“Through strategic development, we’ve branched out into new markets, expanding our holiday and holiday park offer as well as launching our first gym, a green gym brand that’s very exciting and complements our core business,” says Michael Glanville, Managing Director of MDL Marinas.

As MDL Marinas moves into new markets, it is looking to bring its customers with it through “Otium” (“leisure time” in Latin), a points-based loyalty scheme that allows customers to choose which benefits they take from regularly using MDL’s services.

“It generates points from the services customers buy and uses them against future purchases such as fuel and boat lifting services, Holiday Park stays and Gym membership,” says Glanville. “We just expanded that to allow customers to use those points against other third-party services with preferred suppliers, so for example, if you’re a motorboat owner who wants to try a sailboat for a day or weekend, you can use those points to do that. It helps to keep customers within our network, which gives us a competitive advantage.”

Changing Currents

It is a time for companies like MDL to engage in adventurous thinking and expand into new markets, as the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic has already had a widespread impact on the leisure and hospitality sector.

“Like most companies, we have seen the effects of Covid, not just the early-stage impact on customer operations but also longer-term operations on increasing costs,” Glanville explains. “Marina businesses are capital intensive. It is a huge investment maintaining the assets we’ve got with costs like dredging, pontoon infrastructure, and steel piles, and prices are rising there like everywhere else. That’s difficult for us because it’s difficult to balance maintaining our margins with a price increase while being able to deliver a competitive price offering.”

Facing this new environment, Glanville adopted a three-pronged strategy to help MDL thrive.

“We started out being clear and transparent about tariff increases. We are building more effective procurement, using our big buying power to pre-buy steel piles and bulk buy pontoons for better prices, while finding general business operating cost savings,” Glanville says. “We’ve switched the way we manage our labour, moving to a more holiday-focused labour resourcing model to be more flexible. We are bringing in a huge amount of summer staff which is good for the market. It increases service for customers when they are around but gives us the flexibility not to have to use those staff through the off-peak period. We have a much more holiday park focused model. It means we can be more agile, labour being one of our largest operational costs.

It is a model of human resources that relies on rigorous training, and a foundation of core, experienced staff.

“We’ve got a significantly comprehensive training programme, with additional training for full-time staff members,” Glanville explains. “Much of our customer service training is undertaken in-house with plant, safety other more specific training undertaken by a range of high-quality training providers such as GAR and the RNLI. We are always focused on developing our core team, we’re hugely fortunate to have a lot of long-time staff members. Some of our staff have been with us for 40 years.  I am proud to say that eight of our team have successfully taken on more senior roles including general management roles since the pandemic. Our team have built up a huge amount of experience, so new recruits learn a huge amount in their induction.”

MDL Marinas manages its recruitment through its internal HR department, which advertises for roles and then initially assesses candidates through an online interview. Glanville observes that recruitment has been easier this year than last, when there was a post-pandemic gold rush for customer-facing staff.

“Last year we had huge challenges in getting enough labour because we were fighting with the restaurant world opening up and wages increasing fast,” he recalls. “This year we’ve attracted a lot more candidates.”

This is good news, because above all Glanville emphasises the importance of his team, from front-facing staff to the company leadership.

“I’m really proud of all of the MDL team but in particular my senior leadership team, for all we have achieved so far and for helping me steer the organisation through the pandemic and in new directions,” Glanville says. “We’ve just had our first company conference for three years, around 150 people focusing on teamwork and working together to get the very best for our customers. We had Graham Gooch come and talk to us about teamwork, and I’m proud of the awards we were able to give out reflecting how flexible and agile the whole MDL team has been through Covid. The business is doing well with marina occupancy continuing to rise and a strong leisure marine market.”

Broadening Choices

Moving forward, MDL Marinas is planning to offer its customers more choices and opportunities than ever before. It is streamlining customer service with partners such as HUB Parking to provide a completely frictionless experience, while also working to broaden its offering.

“We are making a shift towards being a much more leisure-focused business, with luxury floating and static lodges, growing our holiday park brand and investing in new units for that,” Glanville says. “We are offering different holiday propositions including camping, bell tents and glamping, floating holiday homes which are proving popular, and we want to expand the gym brand.”

The gym, MDL Fitness in Plymouth, has been put together through a partnership with leading green fitness partner SportsArt. The gym features exercise machines that use your exertion to generate electricity, which can then be put back into the local grid.

The gym is only part of a broader commitment to sustainability by MDL, alongside a green marine technology show the company launched last year, working with various partners in the green marina sector.

“We are not just looking at energy generation and removing costs but also increasing awareness in customers about Aqua Superpower, which puts high voltage supercharging boat chargers into marinas,” Glanville says. “We just got one installed in Plymouth, effectively a Tesla supercharger for boats. We’re very focused on supporting the development of alternative sustainable propulsion systems in the marine sector.”

MDL also has some great projects in the pipeline focusing on using more wind and wave-based power generation. The company is a big property owner with lots of buildings, and has been expanding its solar cells across those buildings with plans to develop further going forward.

“We are building a wider, broader ESG strategy for our next five-year plan coming up later this year,” Glanville tells us. “We want to make sure we have a long-term sustainable business with owners who are in it for the long term. We have great support from shareholders and great support from the board to invest in the customer experience and product development. We are working with boat manufacturers and other partners, with lots of opportunities to expand the core product we’ve got.”

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