LiverBoat : My First Adventure with a Vessel Charter

On 14th August 2010 I hosted my first business endeavour, LiverBoat. It is probably my greatest achievement so far but it is also my biggest failure. I didn’t really want this blog to be about me, and what I’ve done, but I think you will find this story interesting.

In February 2010 I spoke with some friends and decided to charter a Mersey ferry, I spoke with Merseytravel, the owner of the ferries, and arranged a visit to familiarise ourself with the size of the ferry and how the night would work. These ferries aren’t small ferries they carry 370 passengers and have two onboard bars. The Mersey Ferries are made up of the Royal Iris of the Mersey, Snowdrop and the Royal Daffodil. My ferry was the Royal Daffodil.

In case you don’t know I’m twenty, It was quite funny to watch the face of the Merseytravel staff member look at us when she seen how old we were, it was her ‘You’re about four years old, you cannot afford to hire this ferry, what do you think you’re doing’ face. 

However she was really helpful and helped us make decisions about the ship layout and what to expect on the night. She also put me in contact with companies who could provide the electrical & DJ equipment.

Ticket sales were restricted to being sold after 1st April, the hope being that we could build momentum and ticket sales would be quite fast, however the 1st April came and went and ticket sale were slow, this was a significant problem as future promotion was to be funded by early ticket sales. It was expected that friends and family close to those involved would be quick to buy tickets, in fact the opposite was true. This was by far the biggest hole in the business plan.

In an attempt to ramp up ticket sales, thinking once we reached a certain amount all the tickets would quickly sell, we used special offers and promotions, mainly on Facebook.

This proved to be a silly mistake, we ended up basically under cutting ourselves to people who were already going to buy tickets. At the start tickets were only available from the organisers. So we branched out and made them available from two shops in town and from the website  

We did however sign some of Liverpool best DJ’s, one from Liverpool’s top radio station. We expected these to be major pulls, but we just didn’t have the promotion tools to push it to a market larger than our friends. We also pushed the tickets basically from the signing of the charter agreement, this actually just made people hate us, six months of pushing ticket sales for one night. That was a bad marketing strategy.

As an extra pull, we worked with a local nightclub to host an official after party, and a bar in the ferry terminal to host a pre-boarding drinks. These were at no cost to us, but created extra value for our customers and where significant promotion tools.

On the night I was amusingly unable to get onboard my own ship as we couldn’t get into the ferry terminal, having finally got on by waving our vessel charter agreement at people we found the ferry all set up. We however didn’t have enough passengers to fill the ship, by more than half. Ticket sales had been worse than my own worse case scenario. So we closed the top deck, which condensed people into a smaller space, creating the appearance of a busier ferry. The night wasn’t actually so bad, it had a great atmosphere and people seemed to enjoy themselves.

I learnt a lot from my adventure, It was however a financial disaster. Actually It was awful, the loses from the event was more than enough to pay for a cruise for a family of four in the Caribbean (from the UK), Something which still worries me now! But would I do it again, If I could yes, I would, I still feel I have unfinished business with the ferry. It was sad as it was very publicly not the great success I hoped for.

I compare it to (on a significantly smaller scale) the beaching of the Mardi Gras of Carnival Cruise Lines first voyage. Known as the Mardi Gras on the Rocks moment, Since then Carnival has become the most successful passenger shipping business in history, and has achieved what JP Morgan failed. They have taken over Cunard Line, from whose former Head Office my ferry set off from. So maybe I can do something similar too.

The spare web space was used to create this website, so in fact this is a sister project to LiverBoat. I hope you enjoyed that, I was wary about typing this, actually I originally typed this on the 14th August 2011, the year anniversary but wasn’t sure to post.