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Former MasterCraft CEO buys majority stake in boatbuilder

John Dorton recently bought the majority interest in Sweetwater, Tenn.-based Bryant Boats, a privately held family company that builds 18- to 27-foot boats, including deckboats, bowriders and runabouts.

The former CEO of MasterCraft officially exited his month-long retirement when the deal closed Friday.

“This is a neat opportunity for both of us. We’ve been so like-minded on so many things,” Dorton told Soundings Trade Only. “I never dreamed they would have an interest in selling some of their business.”

Bryant will seek opportunities, but the company will stay out of the inboard ski boat market, Dorton said.

“This is a non-competitive segment to my old life — they have no interest in the sterndrive segment and I have no interest in the inboard segment,” Dorton said. “I have no intention of getting into the inboard segment. When someone gets out of a certain segment, the rumors fly, but Bryant has no intention of getting into the inboard market. That’s a tough category.”

“I do see some opportunity in the sterndrive segment for some excitement [and] to bring some new styling and innovation,” Dorton added. “We’re going to make all our boats saltwater-compliant; we’re seeing a lot of runabouts now going to coastal regions, both domestically and internationally, and I think that will make the boats more robust, even for the exclusive lake boater.”

The company also will look to add to its dealer network — which numbers about 40 in North America — in the Deep South, Central South and the West, Dorton said.

“We really believe we can help dealers find niches of buyers that are currently being underserved by other manufacturers,” Dorton said. “Again, Bryant being a smaller, lower-production manufacturer, we’re able to go in and focus on more of the niche subsegments of the sterndrive business.”

Jim Bryant launched his first boat company in 1960, and 30 years later he and his son Joe founded Bryant Boats. The two will still have a large presence at Bryant Boats, Dorton said.

Read more about Dorton’s plans for Bryant Boats in the November issue of Soundings Trade Only.

— Reagan Haynes

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