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THE HOYOS FILE: Doyle Caribbean brings home the foreign exchange

Pat Hoyos, [email protected]

THE HOYOS FILE: Doyle Caribbean brings home the foreign exchange

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In the few times I have gone sailing on a yacht, I don’t remember hearing the classic melody of the same name by Christopher Cross, or being conscious of his immortal lyrics, “Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be/Just a dream and the wind to carry me/And soon I will be free.”

Sorry Mr Cross, but “fantasy does not get the best of me” when I am sailing. I am more likely to be gazing longingly at the disappearing shoreline as I try to keep down whatever it was I had for lunch.

The above is all, of course, a set-up to extricate myself from a huge hole in my supposed journalistic knowledge of business in this country, to wit, the contribution of Doyle Offshore Sails (or Doyle Caribbean) to the Barbados economy over the past 30 years, and its staggering contribution every year, currently over US$2 million a year, to the foreign exchange earning effort.

I apologize for my ignorance. (That should not be taken as a general comment.)

Doyle’s contribution is produced by 60 mainly Barbadian employees at the firm’s Barbados Investment and Development Corporation-owned premises at Six Roads Industrial Park, St Philip.

Wait, did I say industrial park? Yes, for while you might – if you had just arrived on a time machine from the 60s when the industrial era was at its height – reasonably have concluded that a special neutron-like bomb had exploded over Barbados destroying only its manufacturing plants, leaving our industrial estates like our sugar estates, unhallowed empty spaces devoted to a bygone, no longer productive economic era.

Of course, we do have a few manufacturers left, and they are among our leading firms, as well as exporters: Banks, Oran, Harris Paints, BRC, Structural Systems, BICO, Hipac, and a few more.

But, dear reader, unlike me, would you have put up your hand and said: “You got to add Doyle Offshore Sails to that list”?

As David Staples, director of new business development with Williams Industries Inc. recalled at the company’s 30th anniversary event last Wednesday, the idea was “apparently hatched in a rum shop, where Andy Watts was talking to Dick Stoute and said: ‘You know, you really ought to set up a sail company down here.’” 

Staples, who was brought by Watts at the start, said: “When Andy Watts and I shook hands 31 years ago, neither of us could have imagined where we are today and what this company has accomplished.”

He said the company’s success had been due to the hard work of all the management, staff, and shareholders, who also include Ralph Johnson, Dan and Dick Stoute and Ralph “Bizzy” Williams.

The company had changed over the years as it reacted to market and technology changes, and had moved from cutting sails on the floor with a scissors to lasers and computer design, with Barbadian Kwame Hinds being the company’s new designer.

When the company started, he said, they changed the business model existing at the time, when sails were produced by “family sailing shops”.

The brash start-up decided it would focus on one (which turned out to be two) sectors only, and be the best in the world at it.

“And for 20 years we were,” he told the invited guests, “and we think we are  still one of the top five ‘sail-offs’ (apparently the term for a sailmaker) just in terms of what we put out.”

Today, Doyle Offshore Sails (by the way, the company is locally-owned but licenses the worldwide Doyle technology and sells to clients within its network, helping to produce that foreign exchange) has leased a fourth building at Six Roads Industrial Estate to embark on a new venture – making really, really big sails. 

To explain to shoreliners like me, Staples said, helpfully: “For those of you who don’t know sailboat sails, they might look similar, but they’re very different in terms of how they’re built and how they’re designed and the size of them, so it’s a new experiment.”

Later, Dana Seymour helped put what Doyle does in a bit more context for me.

“Mass production is not what we do here – we build custom sales, to a certain standard, and that niche market has helped us move forward and compete against the lower labour markets that are building many, many sails of the same kind.

“So we’re not building anymore for the boat manufacturer.

“We’re building for the person who bought the boat and is renewing his sails and needs something of a higher quality that is not the same low-cost product that the boat builder is forced to buy to keep his boat price lower.”

Seymour, who has also been with the company since inception and is therefore the longest-serving employee of a whole long list of long-servers (people don’t seem to leave this company much), said Building No. 4 represented the company’s thrust into the future.

“This building could not survive without us being able to use CAD (computer-assisted design).

“And the processes we’re using now with CAD have stepped us way forward from when we started building sails on the floor with chalkiness, batons, pencils, and a pair of scissors.”

And so, 30 years on, Doyle Offshore Sails, the little sailboat that could, is still sailing, home again, across the sea, providing work for Bajans and punching way above its weight in the foreign exchange earnings.

Not bad for a dream that started in the minds of two yachtsmen while enjoying another famous Bajan export.