Iconic brands getting a much-needed rescue

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes
Fountain is one of four once-thriving lines Iconic Marine Group is hoping to reinvigorate. It won’t be easy, says chief operating officer Joe Curran, but the new owners are confident they will prevail, citing the strong retail following of each of the brands.

Fountain is one of four once-thriving lines Iconic Marine Group is hoping to reinvigorate. It won’t be easy, says chief operating officer Joe Curran, but the new owners are confident they will prevail, citing the strong retail following of each of the brands.

Joe Curran is a West Side of Chicago kind of guy. He says this is the background that will give him the stamina and guts necessary for Iconic Marine Group — the company that quietly purchased all four brands of Baja Marine LLC in May — to bring the iconic brands back to their glory.

“This is a street fight that’s worth fighting,” says Curran, the new chief operating officer of Iconic Marine Group. “This is cool. With the talent we have and the talent we’re going to bring, it’s going to go places and it’s going to be fun.”

That said, Curran does not think the turnaround will be easy for the four brands — Baja Marine, Donzi and Donzi Classic, Fountain Powerboats and Pro-Line — which have changed hands, sometimes contentiously and out of bankruptcy, in the last decade or so. The 30-year industry veteran, formerly of Crest Pontoons, anticipates it taking a good two cycles, or two model years, to differentiate the brands and help them find footing again. He will work side by side with Iconic Marine Group president Carol Price, an instrumental part of Fountain for three decades, in strengthening the operational team for the company and executing its business plan.

“We have four brands that have a great following at retail,” says Curran. “Every brand has a place and has a distinct personality. These are no different. Each one of them will end up being responsible and distinctive. You’ve got to be respectful of the past, and you’ve got to develop for the future. That’s the kind of thing we’ve got to massage and juggle.

“All of those brands, Pro-Line aside, competed at one time,” Curran says. “The positioning of these brands is so they aren’t going to be toward competition. Basically, the personality of that brand will pull forward.”

The company will trim the Baja offering from where it was, focusing on the Outlaw series, so it hits a different price point than Fountain Powerboats. “Fountain is what it is. It’s been a leader in speed forever,” Curran says.

Fountain will be the first to reveal the results of renewed investment in product development. A new Fountain 38 Thunder — a center console set up for poker runs with four 400-hp Mercury racing engines — will debut at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in November. It also will make a November appearance at a poker run in Key West and at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in December, Curran says.

Joe Curran

Joe Curran

“Frankly, as we develop new product for Donzi, we might take it in a little different direction,” Curran says. “If you go look at that brand through the years, it’s been everything. So we can focus on some different things really creatively. It’s got some great appeal. And it gives us leeway to take a direction that makes sense for the company and not compete with the other brands. It’s got a lot of intrinsic value in where it can go.”

Donzi Classic, boats that have not changed much since 1967, also have a place in “heritage locations” such as Lake George, N.Y., Lake Geneva, Wis., and Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H. “We’ve got a lot of events on the plate between now and show season, and we’re introducing something at every event,” he says.

The development of refined brand identities will soon be integrated into websites, sales tools and other consumer specialty tactics. “Our short-term priorities are to build our sales and marketing teams and secure the right selling tools for our dealers,” Curran adds. “These action plans, well under way, are paramount in attracting new dealers as well as generating excitement with consumers.”

“We’ve got emphasis on engineering and product development that’s going to, between now and the next 90 days, take shape — between now and the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show,” Curran said in late August. “We’ve got to get in the groove of bringing out a project in every brand in the next 12 to 18 months.”

The company is also investing in its plant, which is on the water, as well as in the workforce. “Right now we’re training people on the line, developing more advanced processes and systems, and planning for growth,” Curran says. “Every process has to be scalable for growth. Whether it’s people in training, or the actual building and purchasing of equipment, all the way through to the dealer and retail consumer, every process has to be dialed in, and that will take time. It usually takes a business cycle or two. In my mind, a business cycle is a model year. I think it’s going to take two.”

Building a dealer network for each brand also will take time; at one point Fountain had moved to a factory-direct model. Curran is clear that this won’t be the model moving forward. He spends one of every three weeks on the road, speaking with dealers he knows from his years at Crest Pontoons, and he scheduled the MDCE event to talk with dealers there. “The dealer relationship, to me, is of the utmost value to the company,” Curran says. “That’s what I’ve been doing for years. Those relationships keep companies going. We’ve got to create some consistency. That helps the most. It’s been running pretty slim for a couple years. We’ve been working to get the tools together for various floorplans with lenders.”

Bank of the West Commercial Banking Group has been secured as the wholesale financial source of choice for the company, and IMG is working with others. “That’s really key,” Curran says. “It’s pretty tough to find dealers out there who are going to pay cash for this type of product.”

Curran says the passion from the team — which includes Price — is fueling the turnaround. “The people that are here today, the people who’ve been at this facility their whole lives, they’re pouring it in big time on this deal,” he says. “Otherwise it doesn’t come off the mattress.”

“All you can really do is put together a great team, make sure they’ve got the tools at hand to do a good job and make sure you’ve got the patience to get it done,” he adds. “Whether it be product development, dealer development, physical plant improvements — and in this case, it’s all of the above. But we’ve got four brands that have a great following at retail. I don’t see that as so difficult to surmount.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue.

Comments

3 comments on “Iconic brands getting a much-needed rescue

  1. Ernest J. Schmidt

    These people have no clue on how to resurrect any of these “iconic” brands. Smith built Baja, Genth built Donzi, Reggie built Fountain and none of the people presently in charge have a clue as to what it took to make these brands what they became. Want to rebuild it….rehire Reggie….the only guy around who knows what to do! 5 to 1 the entire boat group will be back on the market in three years.

  2. D. Erickson

    I’ve worked side by side with Joe and I can tell you for sure he is the man for this job. Yes, I agree these are iconic brands and the founders were all amazing people, however they all had short comings. If you know this industry, then you know what I am talking about. Reality is the dealers need a brand they can market and sell. Add a management team they can trust, and let the dealer build brand equity in their market with brands the consumer knows and respects. Good Luck!

  3. Mike Carrigan Sr.

    Well, having worked side by side with Ernie Schmidt, Bill Erickson, Chris Erickson and David Erickson, I can say I have the deepest affection and respect for all and their views.
    BUT…..And here’s the all the time “But” that will always show up.

    The latest and greatest news is that Pro-Line has spun off the other three and can now regain it’s place in the sun.

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