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For more than 60 years, Winnebago Industries has been manufacturing RVs in the United States. Based in Forest City, Iowa, the company produces popular motorhomes such as the Minnie Winnie, Outlook, and Journey Class A diesel pusher.

But in 2018, the industry leader acquired an iconic recreational boat manufacturing company. Many don’t realize the well-known watercraft supplier, respected among boatbuilders, is owned by Winnebago Industries.

Winnebago gets into the boat business

A forklift holds a Launch 27 boat at Winnebago Industries' Chris-Craft manufacturing facility in Sarasota, Florida, in June 2018
Winnebago Industries owns Chris-Craft | Eve Edelheit/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A few years ago, Winnebago, a leading outdoor lifestyle product manufacturer, announced its plans to purchase the legendary Chris-Craft boating line. Both recreational companies share similarities, including a commitment to providing quality services and products.

Winnebago Industries President and CEO Michael Happe said in a press release: “Chris-Craft marks Winnebago’s first entry into the marine market.”

He added, “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 build an additional revenue platform over time.”

The RV and marine industries naturally exist through the creation of outdoor lifestyle products, sharing similar demographics. Many consumers are interested in owning a boat and an RV to enhance their leisure activities.

Chris-Craft President Stephen Heese said, “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.”

History of the iconic boatbuilder

Established in 1874, Chris-Craft is known for the superior craftsmanship and quality that goes into its extensive product line. Headquartered in Sarasota, Florida, the boatbuilder offers premium fiberglass vessels such as the Capri, Corsair, and Catalina, ranging from 21 feet to 38 feet long.

Rich in history, the legendary boatbuilder began making wooden boats around the same time Henry Ford introduced the automobile. Innovative designs led to record-breaking speeds, unsurpassed comfort, and supreme performance.
According to Mahogany Bay, “By 1927, Chris-Craft was the world’s largest manufacturer of mahogany boats.” The next 30 years led to rapid expansion, with 10 factories and 5,000 employees. To date, the well-regarded company has produced more than 250,000 quality boats.

Mahogany Bay points out that the formula to success for Chris Craft “is an approach to building boats that combines craftsmanship with efficiency, beauty with practicality, performance with comfort, style with elegance, reliability with longevity, traditional with modern, and most importantly, quality with innovation.”

Future plans for Chris-Craft

Happe, hired to revitalize the Winnebago product line, has successfully acquired several major recreational companies over the past few years. Chief Executive explains how the CEO oversaw the purchases of Grand Design and Newmar to remain competitive in the RV market.

Winnebago’s revenues increased by $2 billion in only five years, currently accounting for more than 12 percent of the market share.

A year after purchasing Chris-Craft, Winnebago announced it had big plans in the works for the boat manufacturer. According to The Courier, “The blueprint for increasing the number of boat models Chris-Craft offers, the size of its plant and its workforce are about the same as they were before the recreational vehicle manufacturer bought the boat maker.”

Winnebago reportedly has plans to “invest multiple eight figures in this business.” Heese noted, “It’s pretty much our same growth plan we had before the acquisition, but now we can execute it more quickly.”

Plans for Chris-Craft include expanding its 17-acre manufacturing plant in Sarasota and adding 250 employees. The company has no plans for new boat lines because it already has 18 models in production.


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