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Winnebago buys Chris-Craft

Winnebago wants to build a larger presence in the marine industry over time. Show here: Chris-Craft’s 26-foot Calypso.

Winnebago wants to build a larger presence in the marine industry over time. Show here: Chris-Craft’s 26-foot Calypso.

Winnebago Industries Inc. has acquired Chris-Craft from Stellican Ltd., which has owned Chris-Craft since 2001.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Chris-Craft will be led by the same leadership team in Sarasota, Fla., sales vice president Gavan Hunt told Trade Only Today.

The purchase marks Winnebago’s entry into the marine industry as the two industries continue to cross pollinate.

“Importantly, this acquisition aligns with our strategic initiative to further diversify Winnebago Industries within the outdoor lifestyle market and gives us a strong base on which to consider building an additional revenue platform over time,” said Winnebago Industries president and CEO Michael Happe in a statement.

Chris-Craft builds sterndrive- and outboard-powered boats with 18 boat models ranging from 21 to 38 feet. In a slide show presentation, Winnebago pointed out that Chris-Craft employs “carefully controlled built-to-order manufacturing and dealer inventory management,” and provides an opportunity to share best practices with its model that’s similar to Winnebago.

Winnebago said it would invest in Chris-Craft to support organic growth through increased production capacity, as well as in new models and existing product lines.

It also wants to expand and improve the dealer network and enter into new boat categories and sizes. Finally, it wants to extend brand opportunities by licensing in “adjacent nautically-inspired categories.”

The company outlined its three-phase plan in the presentation, saying acquisition would be phase one of Winnebago’s entry into the marine segment. Phase two would include a near-term expansion opportunity of Chris-Craft’s existing facility, and the opportunity to scale processes in neighboring areas over time.

Finally, the company said that “significant fragmentation in the industry presents the opportunity to leverage Chris-Craft into new categories [and] acquire other strong brands.”

Chris-Craft has a brand heritage that dates back to 1874, and has 90 contracted dealers and 123 sales locations.

‘We believe there will be synergies realized across our value chain and that the Chris-Craft business has material expansion opportunities available,” Happe said. “Additionally, we see significant intersection between the RV and marine lifestyles and view marine as a natural adjacency to our existing outdoor lifestyle portfolio, with similar customer demographics and significant ownership crossover.”

Similar manufacturing processes and components focus on finely crafted interior/exterior design, and vertical integration is a core competency for both companies, said Winnebago. There is also “meaningful supply segment overlap,” which is expected to increase efficiency of design and manufacturing processes and improve customer service experiences.

With a broader, more balanced portfolio of products uniquely positioned across the outdoor lifestyle and leisure travel industries, Winnebago expects to continue to drive improved profitability and shareholder value over the long term, Happe said.

“We look forward to working with the talented Chris-Craft team and to welcoming them to the Winnebago family,” said Happe.

The luxury customer base is typically less sensitive to fluctuations in the economic cycle, Winnebago said.

“Chris-Craft is an iconic, premium brand that shares many similarities with our own heritage Winnebago brand, including a commitment to providing customers with the highest quality products and services,” said Happe. “The company’s strong brand, high-quality product line and premium position in the marine market make Chris-Craft an attractive addition to our portfolio. Chris-Craft marks Winnebago’s first entry into the marine market, which we believe has significant runway for growth, with a large and increasing population of current and new boaters who enjoy extraordinary experiences on the water.”

“I am delighted that Chris-Craft has found an ideal partner in Winnebago Industries,” added Chris-Craft Chairman and Stellican Ltd. Founding Partner, Stephen Julius. “Winnebago is a natural fit for Chris-Craft’s premium brand, with a similarly iconic brand, complementary cultures, and a shared dedication to design, craftsmanship, quality, and customer service.”

“We look forward to further developing our storied brand while leveraging Winnebago’s capital and resources to accelerate our growth and continue delivering an exceptional product experience for our dealers and customers,” said Heese.

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