Sun-soaked docks, crystalline waters, and smoothly sailing yachts. That’s the “office” crew members go to when placed for jobs by Cotton Crews, a yacht crew staffing company based in Palm Beach, Florida. Profile spoke with Lauren Cotton, president and founder of Cotton Crews, about the people-forward approach that makes the company so striking within the yachting industry.
“As a kid growing up in Fort Lauderdale, I always loved the water,” Cotton says. “I was always boating up and down the coast.” Cotton stayed true to her passion for water activities after graduating from Palm Beach Atlantic University, securing a position as guest services manager at a superyacht marina and service facility called Rybovich.
But Rybovich wasn’t just where Cotton’s career got started—it was also what laid the groundwork for her future work at Cotton Crews. “I made so many personal relationships, with the employees at Rybovich and the crew on the yachts,” Cotton explains. “Eventually, I realized that the relationships I had established could fill a niche in the industry.”
What Cotton saw was a notable lack of effective hiring methodologies for yacht crews. Captains and hiring managers in need of short-term or permanent crew had no comprehensive, cost-effective yacht staffing platform at their disposal. So, for lack of a better option, those positions would frequently be posted on Facebook, Cotton says. And the same positions would often be posted over and over again, resulting in further confusion for everyone involved.
Cotton Crews eliminates those problems, enabling captains and hiring managers to find top-quality crew members in a timely manner. “The relationships I made throughout my career paid dividends,” Cotton says. But although her existing connections were critical to her company’s successful launch, Cotton knew that she needed to create new and impactful relationships with her customers moving forward.
“That is kind of a big thing for us, being relationship-focused and customer-driven,” she remarks. “Ultimately, the marina, yacht, and staffing industries are all service industries, but I think people lose sight of that and of what service actually is. I always put customers first.”
“Cotton has a strong reputation in the industry because we do right by people, and really value people: we set ourselves apart with our honesty, values, and relationship-driven business.”
In the nearly six years since Cotton established the company, she has continued to seek new ways to improve the service she provides to her customers. In addition to expanding her staffing services to New England, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean, Cotton has founded a management company that provides safe, clean housing for crew members unable to stay onboard their ships; launched two apps to help streamline the hiring process for yacht crew; and begun extending the company’s customized staffing solutions to land-based events such as high-end parties at local estates and estate positions.
“Ideally, I’d like to grow our customized client base,” Cotton says. “I’d love for our app platform to be the go-to place for all luxury staffing. We always want to be the first call for someone that’s looking to hire crew, and when I look at how many people we’ve converted to loyal customers, I know we’re succeeding.”
Coton Meets Cotton
Lauren Cotton prioritizes the happiness of all her staff, but there is one member of the Cotton Crews team that gets a little special attention—Crew Dog, the company’s official mascot. Crew Dog is a Coton de Tulear, a breed widely known as the Royal Dog of Madagascar. As Cotton notes, this makes him the perfect fit for her and her team: “In English, the name actually translates to ‘Cotton,’” she chuckles.
From the beginning, Cotton says, she knew that those loyal customers would be essential to her ability to gain credibility, particularly in a small, tight-knit industry like yachting. “It’s always a little harder as a woman in my industry,” Cotton acknowledges. “But I was pretty driven to find my champions and make them happy. Now, I feel that Cotton has a strong reputation in the industry because we do right by people, and really value people: we set ourselves apart with our honesty, values, and relationship-driven business.”
To that end, Cotton encourages her employees to foster relationships and give the business a personal touch whenever possible. But the employees themselves benefit from the personal touch that Cotton brings to every aspect of her work. “It’s a democracy here—I make it a point to ask and listen to my employees to make sure that we’re all happy with the vision and direction we’re going in,” Cotton notes. “But I also like to try to keep my employees happy, since employee happiness is directly correlated with their performance.”
Cotton takes note of what is important to her employees and strives to create hiring packages that appeal to key employees. One such employee, she says, is passionate about traveling. “So I try and make sure she does that—she’s going to go to the Monaco Yacht Show,” Cotton says. “We encourage all our employees to travel and set up programs to help them do that—people always return so fired up for work.”