September 4, 2015

Industry Spotlight on Boating in Florida

Chris-Craft finds its footing after two bankruptcy filings

Dale DuPont | 1/31/2014

By the time two private equity investors bought Chris-Craft in 2001, the company — one of America’s oldest pleasure boat builders — had little going for it aside from its past glory.

Founder Christopher Columbus Smith had built his first boat in 1874 in Algonac, Mich., and went on to produce classic mahogany runabouts that appealed to the Vanderbilts, the Fords and their ilk. But in recent years, the storied brand made two trips through bankruptcy — the first in 1988, when it was owned by Murray Industries. Then, in 2000, Outboard Marine, which had bought Murray’s assets, filed for Chapter 11 protection.

Genmar Holdings’ investment arm and Bombardier scooped up Outboard’s boat and engine companies, but decided not to keep Sarasota-based Chris-Craft, selling it in 2001 to Stellican, a London firm headed by investors Stephen Julius and Stephen Heese.

The new owners set out to develop New models and reposition them as premium products, “and we haven’t looked back,” says Heese, president and CEO.

Today, the company has more than 200 employees, produces about 450 boats a year and is profitable, with annual revenue of about $50 million — about 70% of prerecession levels. Boats range from 20 feet to 36 feet and from $50,000 to $600,000. “We have more large products on the drawing board, but the market for 40-foot and above is very challenging,” Heese says. “We’re selling product to people that are trading out of those big boats.”

Some yacht owners buy the smaller boats as tenders, says Josh Hendrix, who specializes in Chris-Craft at Grande Yachts International, a boat dealer in Palm Beach Gardens. Hendrix says he used to get people who said, “ ‘Oh, Chris-Craft, I didn’t know they were still around.’ But that’s less and less nowadays.” Heese and Julius, he says, “really brought the brand back.”

Tags: Transportation

Digital Access

Add digital to your current subscription, purchase a single digital issue, or start a new subscription to Florida Trend.

An overview of the features and articles in this month's issue of Florida Trend.


Florida Business News

Florida Trend Video Pick

Virtual Tour of Tampa International Airport Expansion
Virtual Tour of Tampa International Airport Expansion

From the rental car center to people mover to baggage claim, Tampa International Airport takes you on a virtual tour through its historic Master Plan expansion.

Earlier Videos | Viewpoints@FloridaTrend

Ballot Box

Will you labor on Labor Day?

  • Yes, I work on Labor Day.
  • I won't be working, but have a lot of stuff to do.
  • No, looking forward to a day off, relaxing!

See Results

Ballot Box