By Ed Semmler
South Bend Tribune
ELKHART — Winnebago Industries continues to expand its presence in Elkhart County area with the planned acquisition of Barletta Boats in the next couple of months.
The proposed deal, which was announced Tuesday morning, would give Winnebago Industries an expanding presence in the marine industry. Known primarily as an RV manufacturer, Winnebago purchased Florida-based Chris-Craft in 2018.
The deal with Barletta is valued at $270 million based on Barletta hitting certain performance milestones by the end of the year, and it could provide an additional $50 million in incentives based on the pontoon manufacturer hitting growth objectives in 2022 and 2023.
Tuesday’s announcements mark the second time Bill Fenech, founder and president of Barletta, has been involved in the sale of a business to Winnebago. After starting Grand Design in Middlebury with his brother Ron and their friend Don Clark in 2012, the trio sold that towable RV business to Winnebago in 2016.
Clark continues to lead Grand Design for Winnebago, but Fenech eventually decided to leave the business to pursue his passion for watersports. In 2017, he founded Barletta in Bristol and today the company has grown to around 300 employees and expects to reach $214 million in revenue this year.
Fenech, who will remain president of Barletta, said he wasn’t actively looking to sell the manufacturer of premium pontoons. Instead, the deal developed because of the relationship he had with Michael Happe, president and CEO of Winnebago.
“He told me to give him a call if I was ever interested in selling,” said Fenech, adding that the passing comments eventually turned into a conversation. “We were not shopping Barletta. Mike is the only person I talked to about a potential acquisition.”
Because of his previous experience with Winnebago, Fenech said he was comfortable with the company and knew it could help Barletta continue to grow by bringing scale, knowledge and resources — especially when it comes to suppliers and manufacturing efficiency.
For its part, Winnebago was interested in Barletta because it wanted to expand its presence in the marine industry and it knew of Barletta’s reputation for focusing on its dealers, its customers and its products.
“There are plenty of other companies that are focused on higher volumes and lower costs at the expense of employees and customers,” Happe said. “Barletta has a reputation for quality, innovation, service, work culture and dealer relationships.”
Excluding the Barletta acquisition, Winnebago already employs about 4,000 in Indiana at Grand Design, Newmar and Winnebago Towables.
“Our approach is to find exceptional companies that have tremendous runways ahead of them, and use our resources to take them to higher heights in the future,” Happe said. “Barletta was a great fit for us overall.”
The Iowa-based company, which now refers to itself as a premium outdoor lifestyle company, most recently reported its revenues rose 139% to nearly $1 billion in its most recent quarter ending in May.
Most companies involved in RV and boat-building production have reported record-breaking sales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic as consumers have been looking for safe recreation opportunities.
This article was published through Hoosier State Press Association.