“It’s the ultimate trunk show.”
That’s how entrepreneur David Lester describes his latest venture — a 238-foot “shopping” yacht. “The thrust of this is in pop-up retailing,” says Lester, who, along with his wife, Lee Ann, cofounded their new company, Expoships. “It changes the retail model and makes it more convenient for the customer.” Lester plans to send a six-story-tall liner, which is under construction, along the Eastern seaboard on a 34-city voyage in early 2008, stopping for five days at each port. “We’ll always be at the right place at the right time,” Lester adds. “Designers spend large amounts of money on advertising, and not all their customers live in an urban area. This way, we can take their flagship straight to the consumer.”
The proposed craft, SeaStyle, will have enough floor space to house up to 12 designer boutiques — including six that will have glass-walled views of the ocean — a restaurant, an open-air bistro, a cafe, bars and, yes, even a 78-foot runway on the sky deck. But only luxury labels need apply. Lester is quick to emphasize the exclusivity element. “It’s by invitation only,” he says. “You have to know somebody.” According to Lester, he and his wife are in negotiations with several top London, Paris and New York luxury houses.
But fashion isn’t the only project on the horizon. Expoships also has vessels in the works for the art, real estate, design and pharmaceutical industries. Not bad for a company whose launch was inspired by 15 months of leisurely cruising; after the Lesters sold their company, International Fine Art Expositions, for $18 million three years ago, the two retired and went to live on a yacht.
“This thing we’re doing is a hundred years old,” Lester adds. “It’s basically a very sophisticated, modern example of Mark Twain’s Riverboat.”