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Starboard CEO is 'selling memories' at every price point—from $5 to $500,000

Beth Neumann - 'My job as a retailer is to make people feel special and to give them a memory. Not a thing, an experience. My job is to sell memories'
People on vacation want to discover and be entertained. They should come back from a cruise with a memory that reminds them of the joy they experienced. That's the retail sales approach of Beth Neumann, who took the helm of Starboard Cruise Services one year ago.

'My job as a retailer is to make people feel special and to give them a memory. Not a thing, an experience. My job is to sell memories,' she said.

When it comes to diamonds, for example, a cruise provides the opportunity to invite a woman who's bought on a ship before or is a very loyal cruise line customer to an event where she can get her makeup done, sip champagne and 'play with diamonds.' She can even wear diamonds to a special on-board occasion and be photographed in a red carpet setting.

'Maybe she'll buy the diamonds, maybe she won't,' Neumann said. 'We find more people buy them than not.'

When a Starboard employee inspires someone to buy an engagement ring on a cruise, they might arrange a romantic delivery to the couple at sunset on deck, or work with the maitre d' on a special dinner presentation with a flourish.

'We sell memories, not just merchandise,' Neumann stressed. It's important, she added, to provide a luxury experience, whether the merchandise costs $5 or $500,000.

'I want everyone's merchandise to be special on every cruise line,' she said. 'There is a group of people who want to indulge at the luxury level and a group of people who want more accessible luxury. It's about how you're treated and what you're experiencing—we have to offer memories at every price point.'

Neumann has set Starboard's mission as 'inspiring guests to indulge in a memory from their dream vacation' and beefed up her team by leveraging talent from the network of parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. She's also striving to forge true partnerships with the cruise lines.

More and more, the cruise industry is 'great at differentiating experiences and brands. I've got to be tightly linked with them. Therefore, it's a partnership,' she said.

Starboard has long relationships with Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Costa Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line. The company has recently launched both brand-new ships like Costa Diadema and Quantum of the Seas, and ships new to Starboard, including Crystal Cruises, Pullmantur and Silversea Cruises.

Neumann has hired business leaders for Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to work closely with them on everything from the guest experience to the supply chain. She's strengthened marketing with two senior figures and created a new vp role with an exotic name: guest experience transformation.

David Goubert just started as svp, Luxury Cruise Retail, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Asia office. He's tasked with evolving Starboard into a strategic retail partner for Celebrity, Crystal, Pullmantur, Royal Caribbean and Silversea.

Goubert joined from the LVMH group's Louis Vuitton Americas, where he was svp of the Southern US, Caribbean and Mexico region. He had a 15-year career with LV in leadership roles such as managing leather goods subcontractors in Europe, leading the leather goods factory in California and spearheading the LV global supply chain.

Martin Pereyra-Rozas is the new svp, Carnival Corp. Retail and leads the Starboard Italy office. He joined from Nestlé, where he led the introduction of Nespresso in Brazil and Italy. Pereyra-Rozas brings extensive expertise in management and brand/marketing capacities with Nestlé and Moët Hennessy.

In September Patrick Gates joined as chief merchandizing officer following senior roles in retail organizations such as Barney’s New York and Neiman Marcus. He also led multi-channel retail environments like the Home Shopping Network, QVC, AOL and Discovery Commerce (Discovery Communications' retail division). Most recently, he was chief commercial officer for Spiegel LLC, a direct marketing company working in wholesale and licensing programs with major retailers.

Robin Rosenbaum-Andras was tapped as svp marketing. She's a 20-year veteran of Starboard's sister company, Onboard Media, which Neumann also oversees. 'She's one of the most talented marketers I've met in my career,' Neumann said.

Reporting to Rosenbaum-Andras is Chloe Lloyd-Jones as vp guest experience transformation, a new position focused on creating shopping experiences that 'surprise and delight' through retail theater elements and superior service. Lloyd-Jones joined from Moët Hennessy.

Neumann herself previously led Avon's $3bn fashion and home business, a 'transformational' job, she said. Avon is known as a beauty company, yet 30% of revenues come from the fashion and home area, much of that from outside the US, especially Latin America. Her approach was that beauty, for women, extends to all aspects of life, including home furnishings.

In the cruise business, Neumann sees a major opportunity to reel in well-known brands like Bvlgari, Hublot and Cartier. There will be more news on that front this month.

'When we bring brands on the ships, they are wowed,' she said. 'They will never find a retail environment like this anywhere else. In seven days, they can connect with the customer.'

When Hublot representatives were aboard for a Quantum of the Seas inaugural, Starboard threw an impromptu event at the Hublot boutique where the new Moët Ice Imperial champagne was served. 'We had a really fun time. People enjoyed it and we sold watches,' Neumann said.

Cruise ship retail has started to be relevant to luxury brands.

Starboard is building 'a strong reputation within the luxury industry, starting with fine watches, Swiss timepieces,' she said. The cruise industry is now a major player in fine watches. Five years ago, that wasn't the case. Starboard has even helped build brands, like Invicta watches, by focusing on the cruise industry.

Key to that is hiring the right brand ambassadors and training them well.

Neumann wants every cruise ship employee to walk into their job feeling proud and also 'to desperately want everything they're selling.'

Starboard recruits globally and currently has about 2,000 employees. Given the global nature of cruising, each ship's team has to cover at least five languages. A big trend is recruiting in China.

As cruising grows in Asia, the region is becoming more important for Starboard, too. When the company stages a shopping show or fashion event on a ship in Asia, a whopping 900 people attend.

In China, particularly, 'Luxury is very relevant and it's equally true that it's important to sell at every price point,' Neumann noted.

The Starboard chief is proud of her people on the ships and energized by the opportunity to partner with the lines to make more memorable experiences while continuing to entice the big luxury brands to sea.

Her goal is that when people think about a cruise, one of the first things that comes to mind is great shopping.