In late July, Winnebago Industries entered an agreement to acquire Bristol, Ind.-based Barletta Pontoon Boats. The $270 million deal includes newly issued Winnebago shares and incentives up to $15 million in additional shares for meeting performance goals for the remainder of the year, with performance-based cash considerations of up to $50 million in 2022 and 2023.

Barletta’s network of 125 dealer locations in North America generated $120.6 million in revenue in 2020. The pontoon builder estimates a strong growth trajectory for this year, projecting revenues of $214.6 million.

The pontoon builder projects revenues of $214 million in 2021. 

The pontoon builder projects revenues of $214 million in 2021. 

Earlier this year, Barletta opened a new, 146,000-square-foot facility within the company’s 37-acre campus, which it says can more than double output.

The acquisition of Barletta significantly expands Winnebago Industries’ presence in the strong and growing marine market by “acquiring the fastest-growing brand within one of the most rapidly growing boating segments,” Winnebago CEO and president Michael Happe said in a statement.

It was the second company founded and led by Bill Fenech that was acquired by Winnebago; in 2016, it paid $500 million in cash and shares for towable RV brand Grand Design.

“Barletta was not for sale,” Fenech told Soundings Trade Only. “We watched what [Winnebago] did with Grand Design, and once they dipped their toe in the marine business with Chris-Craft [purchased for an undisclosed price in 2018] the executive team at Barletta agreed it was a great fit.”

Fenech says causal discussions began with Happe last fall. “Mike was the only person I went to,” Fenech says. “We didn’t [approach] any other company.”

Winnebago says Barletta will operate as a distinct business unit as part of a newly formed marine segment with Chris-Craft; Fenech will remain on board as president.

“We were thrilled to have the opportunity to add Barletta to our portfolio,” Happe told Soundings Trade Only. “What really attracted us to Barletta was its success in the [pontoon] marketplace and as a complimentary [brand] to Chris-Craft. We’re excited to have both brands. It’s meaningful for the marine industry and a great day for Winnebago and Barletta.”

Barletta founder and president Bill Fenech (left) with Winnebago CEO Michael Happe. 

Barletta founder and president Bill Fenech (left) with Winnebago CEO Michael Happe. 

Barletta employees aim to bene­fit from the acquisition as well. The day after the merger was announced, Fenech and Happe hosted an all-employee meeting in at Barletta’s Bristol facility to celebrate, and to make some announcements about the future of the organization.

Advantages for current Barletta employees from being part of the publicly held company include improved benefits packages to stock options that give its workforce a financial stake in the company.

In addition, Fenech announced an “appreciation bonus” for each employee — from $5,000 to $15,000 — at the close the of deal. “It’s a big thank you and a very small token of our appreciation the absolute right thing to do,” Fenech said in a statement. “We want our people to know that we appreciate all they have done. We want them to be happy, healthy, and proud of what they do and where they work. With Winnebago’s support, we hope to do more in the future. We’ve always strived to be an employer of choice; this acquisition only strengthens our position to be just that.” 

This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.

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