RV maker Winnebago gets into boating with purchase of Chris-Craft

DES MOINES, Iowa (LOG NEWS SERVICE) — Recreational vehicle manufacturer Winnebago Industries announced June 4 that it had acquired boat maker Chris-Craft to expand beyond motor homes and travel trailers and create a diversified outdoor lifestyle products company. Winnebago, based in Forest City, Iowa, hasn’t disclosed details of the transaction but said it would finance the deal with cash and debt. Chris-Craft has a recreational boating brand history dating back to 1874 when 13-year-old Christopher Columbus Smith built his first wooden boats referred to as “punts” or “skiffs.” Known worldwide for their luxurious mahogany-hulled open cockpit powerboats of the 1920s through 1950s, Chris-Craft built their last mahogany boat – a 57-foot Constellation – in 1971. In the early 1950s, Chris-Craft expanded its lineup to include 139 powerboat models and by 1955 they had manufactured their first fiberglass boat. Currently, Chris-Craft has a broad portfolio of stern drive and outboard boats ranging in size from 21 to 38 feet, which the firm says, have been sold in more than 50 different countries since 2010. London-based investment firm Stellican Ltd. has owned Chris-Craft since 2001. Michael Happe, Winnebago’s president and CEO, said he sees a significant intersection between the RV and marine lifestyles and views the boat business as a natural addition to its existing outdoor recreation portfolio, with similar customer demographics and ownership crossover. An article in the June 4 edition of the Des Moines, Iowa Star Register reported Ashis Bhattacharya, Winnebago’s vice president for strategic planning said that about a third of the company’s customers are boat owners in addition to having recreational vehicles and that the opportunity for Winnebago to have an added presence in the general outdoor lifestyle market has been a priority. Stephen Heese will stay on as Chris-Craft president and Winnebago expects to maintain the boat manufacturer’s Sarasota, Florida headquarters.

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