WHEN Sam Dawson’s father, Ronald, died in 2003 at the age of 74 from a stroke it changed his son’s life completely. For years, the pair had been running the film lighting and equipment hire company – called Rainbow Lighting – that Ronald had founded in the 1960s, working long hours and travelling all over the country.
So Sam, 47, and his wife, Sally, 43, from Sykes Drive in Staines sold the lighting hire business and spent four years enjoying their children and travelling around Florida in the US.
Back in the UK, the couple were invited out on a friend’s boat at Littlehampton – an experience which started the germ of an idea with Sam for what he could do to get back into the world of business – namely hiring boats.
The couple did some research and discovered that there was a distinct lack of boat hirers on this stretch of the Thames and slowly, they put plans together to plug that hole in the market.
“Initially, I thought about buying British boats but then after I really started looking into it, I realised that they were astronomically expensive and we decided that we ought to source them from the States,” said Sam.
So it was back to Florida to Tracker Boats based in Bradenton on the Gulf Coast near St Petersburg and the maritime entrepreneurs quickly found themselves the proud owners of three gleaming new Crownline boats – and with a new business to float.
The couple bought two 28-foot boats and one slightly smaller one at a total cost of around $200,000. It cost them another £8,000 to have them crated up and shipped over to the UK. A lot of money, to be sure, but they are quick to point out that similar craft sourced from Europe would have cost two or three times as much – and with the current favourable dollar exchange rate, the risk was limited.
“None of us knew anything about boats,” Sam admitted, “but I’ve spent most of my working life hiring out equipment and I know how to run that kind of a business. I’m really excited by this opportunity.” The boats, which are superbly-equipped luxury craft, will be for hire on a daily or weekly basis with rates starting from around £215 a day, plus fuel.
Sally has done most of the organising and taken care of the paperwork – including putting in place hire insurance and making sure the boats met UK safety standards.
She said: “To a certain extent we’ve been making it up as we go along, but we’re confident that there is a market for hiring these kind of boats and we’re keen to give it a go.”
The three boats – called, appropriately, Over the Rainbow, Under the Rainbow and Beyond the Rainbow – are berthed at Penton Hook Marina and Sam and Sally and delighted by the support and cooperation they’ve had from the marina in setting up their business. They’ve also enlisted the help of their 14-year-old son, Jorden, is a pupil at Matthew Arnold School, to help with preparing and cleaning the boats ready for the next hirer.
I was interested to learn how much of a risk the couple thought they were taking with their boat hire business.
“We’re committed to giving it a proper go,” said Sam. “We’ll run it for at least a couple of years and just see how it goes. If it’s successful, we’ll maybe buy more boats and expand. If it doesn’t work, we’ll sell the boats and get most of our money back.”
For more information, take a look at www.rainbowcruisers.co.uk or email Sam and Sally at info [at] rainbowcruisers.co.uk