Selling Self Build Plans Online – A Viable Business?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Mark O Hara, May 27, 2020.

  1. Mark O Hara
    Joined: May 2020
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    Location: Mariveles, Bataan, Philippines

    Mark O Hara Junior Member

    I’m a boat builder to trade, now more of a boat building instructor and a Lloyd’s Qualified Small Craft Surveyor.

    I have built many boats over the years some production, some for private owners, but now I get a lot of requests for help and guidance from owners who want to build their own, or I get asked to do post build surveys on self-builds for insurance purposes.

    The designers are well known and I know a lot of them personally, I built their boats in the past and talked shop from time to time.

    I often see them online, working hard on social media and in groups, answering questions and promoting their work.

    The price of the self-build plans goes from the reasonable to the ridiculous and the after sales service goes from full support to none at all.

    I have to ask, is it a viable business?
     
  2. fallguy
    Joined: Dec 2016
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    fallguy Senior Member

    Not an easy biz model...

    I am building a Wood's Skoota in foam. A very complex boat. And a prototype as a demountable power cruiser. Along the way, I have encountered some difficulties that were harder to overcome than others. The boat is all dev panel, vacuum bagged. No matter what we did, we always encountered a degree of difficulty with our table side laminate quality. To the point I finally gave up on table side perfection and exteriors are always up. So, laminate quality has been my number one issue. Infusion would fix it most likely and reduce stress a lot. But..wrong core.

    We also encountered some difficulty getting ahead of drawings. Not much you could do there.

    And then, any boat you consult on would be a conflict of interest to survey. So, either or... Of course, you cannot survey all boats.

    I probably would have paid someone for laminating quality help. But to date, I am not sure if your help would have been great help.

    One thing I really wanted early on was help setting up the system. I wanted to find someone that could help me do infusion of panels. I could not find that person. I had one drunk guy reply and tell me he'd help as long as I didn't tell him not to drink on the job.

    I ended up buying $7000 of the wrong type of foam for infusion...uncut.

    So, you'd need to support people very early and specialize...perhaps in foam sandwich infusion laminate consulting. The model would need to not scare people away. And you'd need to help early on, it would be hard to jump in later.

    Designers might like you as a resource to reduce build questions, but you'd need to walk a fine line to avoid taking consulting fees from them.

    And you'd probably need to develop a network of retailers you referred people to for purchasing various products. Those retailers might like you as well. For those annoying, bothersome customers.

    But the hard part of the model is the fee.

    Let's say you help people setup infusions which was my unsatisfied need. If, for example, you said, I charge $100 for an infusion tutorial and links to all the equipment and materials. I would have paid. $500 less likely. Then you could also do infusion models to help the flows, etc. I was mosty worried about the flows being done wrong.

    So, short answer is yes. Long answer is there are certain things people would pay for in consultancy; not everything.

    If you had a question and answer service that charges $20 a question. I would never call it. If I know you are an expert in an area of my need; I will pay.

    Other areas of need...fuel systems, electrical systems, finishes. But if you are a paint expert, and I have a paint question, how would you transact it?

    ...my ramblings
     
  3. Mr Efficiency
    Joined: Oct 2010
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    Mr Efficiency Senior Member

    It must be a viable business, or no-one would be doing it. Like everything else, there are niches to be filled, where demand exists, or can be stimulated. From what can be observed on this forum, the market for plans is very price sensitive both in terms of the plans, and the materials required to follow them. Their "free" labour, is what those interested in self-builds, intend to use to bridge the gap between their desire to have a boat, and what finances would allow, to buy one already made. Whether that logic is sound, is another matter.
     
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  4. Mark O Hara
    Joined: May 2020
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    Location: Mariveles, Bataan, Philippines

    Mark O Hara Junior Member

    How big of a boat are you building? I know the Skoota range, looked at their study plans and they don’t seem that complex to me. However designer aside what you would have needed is a composites technician to help you set up. Usually if you buy all your composite materials under one roof then they usually would supply a remote consultation service for free. With regards to on sight help, well you get what you pay for.

    If you want a high end laminating job, a high end wiring job or a high end painting job then all the consultation in the world will not make up for 30+ years of experience.

    My job (usually at the request of the insurance company) is to come in and see if the boat is “Fit for Purpose”. The consultants and their recommendations are noted and I look to see if the builder has followed through on what the designer and the consultants recommended.

    However all that aside all I simply asked: Of all those designers selling their self-build plans today, independently or on various sites like Duckworks. Are they making money out of it or not?
     
  5. Mark O Hara
    Joined: May 2020
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    Location: Mariveles, Bataan, Philippines

    Mark O Hara Junior Member

    Mr Efficiency, you stand by your name! Thank you!
     
  6. Rumars
    Joined: Mar 2013
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    Rumars Senior Member

    One can certainly make money from it, the question is how much. The golden days of living only from plans sale are probably over, but it can be a lucrative sidejob. If your "dayjob" allows you the time you can certainly make it pay by using the "dead" time for this. Think of it like the old time "shop boat", the boat that gets worked on when there is nothing else to do.
    Marketing is a big thing, people need to know that you and your designs exist. The better you are at this thing, the more you will sell.
    Consultation is not so bad, only a small percentage of the sold plans get to actually be buildt, and not every builder requires extensive consultation. It also helps if you have complete construction drawings and build sequences that can be easily understood by the amateur. Today there is no excuse for a designer to not provide plans for self aligning building jigs for example. Most amateurs want to build, not loft, so full size patterns or CNC cutting files are preferred.
     
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  7. Mark O Hara
    Joined: May 2020
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    Location: Mariveles, Bataan, Philippines

    Mark O Hara Junior Member

    Thank you Rumars! Some good points! I’m afraid you’re right about lofting, it seems to be a lost art and it shouldn’t be. Our large format printer at work broke down and where I was quite happy to loft up the patterns old school I was asked in the name of efficiency to bring them to a printshop that could do it. I was floored when I found out the price! Not only that, paper is easily susceptible to warp and damage so when you do get back to the workshop you may find the full size patterns have distorted.

    With regards to CNC work I find that any company I have dealt with, prefer to draw up their own cutting files to suit their own software and accept full size .dwg files to do so.

    As I said Rumars, good points, thanks again!
     
  8. Ike
    Joined: Apr 2006
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    Ike Senior Member

    So true. A few years ago I bought plans from a well known seller of boat plans, and they said in the instructions that the paper patterns dimensions may be off a bit. I checked them against the dimensions given in the instructions and they were off by as much as a quarter of an inch in some directions. So if you send patterns on paper you have to tell t. he builder that up front. But knowing that, I was able to build the pieces to the correct dimensions. However, amateurs may not know how to do that.
     
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  9. Rumars
    Joined: Mar 2013
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    Rumars Senior Member

    Full size patterns don't get printed on paper, they get lasercut out of thick mylar film. If you are working with sheet goods you can even use self adhesive mylar. This are exactly the kind of details that make the difference. While there are skillful amateurs out there, the designer needs to work to the lowest common denominator, wich is the monkey that can glue, screw and measure only to the nearest inch.

    The lofting anecdote is actually relevant to the thread. You found the printing expensive, but you probably did not think like a accountant. Let's say you make 100$/h. Lofting by hand would take you 10h from initial setup of the floor to finished drawing so that's 1000$. Sending the files to the printer and getting them back by courier is 1500$. So you think you would be cheaper, but the plans actually cost the firm only 500$ because while they are beeing printed you work on another project and actually make money from customers. Making and selling plans is the same thing. Let's say you work 100h on the plans and your normal rate is 100$/h. The plans now cost 10 000$ and you sell them for 1000$ a copy, means you need to sell 10 sets before you see any profit. You could have some hot product and sell 10 sets in a month or it could take 10 years. To lower the risk designers often have preliminary concepts and the actual construction calculations and drawings only get done when the first order comes in. But it's still a risk, one that anyone having to develop a product on their own money and time has to take. You are the only one that can say if it's worth doing it.

    Lofting is not lost, it has evolved. Fairing on a computer screen requires a different set of skills but they are just as demanding. The art is keeping pace with the times. What we see is a transfer of work from the shop floor to the office. This is not good or bad, it's just reality. Handing a builder, amateur or professional 3 hand scribbled pieces of paper for a boatplan is not acceptable anymore. Just like today you would not be designing a 30ft cruising yacht without an enclosed head or standing headroom.
     
  10. Mark O Hara
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    Mark O Hara Junior Member

    I don’t really want to get off topic here but, yes they do, they do in the yard I am contracted in (much against my advice) they do in the yard next to me, and it’s a selling point for a lot of plans out of there (full size patterns included).

    A designer selling a set of plans on Duckworks for $20-$30 is not going to print on anything else and certainly not anything more expensive. How do I know this? Because I have unboxed many and I have them piled high on my desk. Furthermore, a lot of the full size patterns are shipped folded (not rolled) which distorts and damages the patterns even more.

    I say the art of lofting is dead because in my day when I was graduating you could give any one of us one piece of paper (a table of offsets) and we’ll draw you a boat full size on the lofting floor. I’ll give that same piece of paper to many working in a boat yard today and they’ll scratch their heads waiting for a full size pattern out of the design office.
     
  11. Alik
    Joined: Jul 2003
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    Alik Senior Member

    Qualified Lloyd's Surveyor? I don't think alumni of so called Lloyd's Marintime Academy (owned by Informa Group), online courses, are Lloyd's surveyors ;) Or You work for the Lloyd's Register?

    Cost of plans: this depends on deliveries available. We provide designs with all drawings and calcs to CE-certification, or for commercial craft certification. Yes, and we update calcs if standards change! Thus, not cheap.
    Some designers sell three sheets of paper for 150$...

    I have done a write up on designers in small craft industry - pls have a look: Albatross Marine Design https://www.facebook.com/AlbatrossMarineDesign/posts/2752198708347318?__tn__=K-R
    The resonable cost will be increasding from top of list to the bottom. Certified naval architect/engineer will charge more for the design, becasue of years and efforts he invested in his qualifications.
     
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  12. Mark O Hara
    Joined: May 2020
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    Location: Mariveles, Bataan, Philippines

    Mark O Hara Junior Member

    I say Lloyd’s Qualified because I done my surveying certificate under Lloyd’s Maritime Academy. Lloyd’s Registrar developed the course in association with the Informa Group and Kent College because they thought it about time there were some formal qualifications needed to regulate the surveying industry. Prior to that there were all manner of Marine Engineers and Naval Architects calling themselves Surveyors and writing all manner of reports about things they knew little about.

    It was either them or IIMS and considering Lloyd’s Registrar Surveyors, Underwriters and Lawyers were delivering the seminars in London I went with them. One of my peers went on to survey for them so he is a Lloyd’s Surveyor, I remain independent but hold their certificate so I am Lloyd’s Qualified.

    With regards to your piece on Facebook, I read it and it’s quite condescending to be honest.

    You can have all the qualifications in the world but if there is no passion or artistry in your work then all the finite element analysis won’t transfer to sales or develop a loyal following.

    I know the qualifications of most of the designers that I work with because some of their builds go under flag or class and therefore their designs get scrutinized. Some are highly qualified and some not at all but yet they have a time proven track records on their designs and many nautical miles under their keels.

    Most of their clientele, the home builders I know or have worked with are not just looking to get a boat on the cheap, they do it in their spare time because they enjoy the process, they do it because of the passion and the comradery with similar home-builders, then when they usually get to sail it’s not long before they consider building another one.

    I have seen boat plans of similar design, on the same amount of paper go for 10 x the difference in price, most of that is down to name and reputation, not qualifications.
     
  13. Alik
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    Alik Senior Member

    Here is a big confusion. Lloyds Register is reputation on marine industry. 'Lloyds' from Informa Group is just using the name. To me, anyone claining he is a Lloyds Qualified surveyor (after completion of online study course from Informa Group) is a misleading statement.

    Regarding NA and ME calling themselves surveyers, they can do so if they work at position of surveyor. I know namy of them doing this type of work. Those NA and ME woking in classification socities are surveyors, no doubt - they get in-company training as surveyors. But I hardly believe Classification Society will ever hire just 'online alimni from Informa'. Survey of ships, buildings, etc. is licenced type of work in many countries. I sometimes also do the enginering surveys, such as structure assessment, propulsion, etc. There is no way alumni of 'Lloyds Maritime Academy online courses from Informa Group' can do structural survey and assess compliance of structure to standards, just becasue they are not qualified to.

    So now the question: if You sell the design made by others, who takes the responsibility and who provides the cosntruction support?
    There are many amateur designers in boatbuilding. The might have 'artisty' (or they might think so), but the boats they design could be substrandard. In many countries, there are legal consumer rigths, this covers design services as well.
    As I said, now anyone able to use the 3D now calls himself a 'boat designer'. But most of them are unable to calculate the displacement!
    So being a middlemen to sell amateur designs is risky business. Professionals are not likely to sell their designs though third party.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2020
  14. gonzo
    Joined: Aug 2002
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    gonzo Senior Member

    The toughest competition to beat are the thousands of online free plans. Also, many lines plans are published in books and magazines. Anyone can build a boat from them.
     
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  15. Mark O Hara
    Joined: May 2020
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    Mark O Hara Junior Member

    As I said Lloyd's Register Group Limited was part of the set up. Lloyd’s Maritime Academy, not to be confused with, Lloyd's Register Group Limited, Lloyd's List, Lloyd's of London, Germanischer Lloyd (now DNV GL) or Lloyds Bank. Which in today’s world are all different entities but come from the same family tree.

    But don’t worry about it, a lot of people in the industry get RINA and RINA confused as well, which both have the same name both work within the maritime industry but other than that have absolutely nothing in common.



    .....and who said anything about selling plans as a third party? I certainly have no intentions on doing so!
     
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