Q&A with Joe Curran, COO, Iconic Marine Group

Earlier this year, the Iconic Marine Group announced plans to restructure several boat brands, including Baja Marine, Donzi, Donzi Classic, Fountain Powerboats and Pro-Line.

Joe Curran, former managing partner at Crest Marine, has been named COO of the company, and will be based in the Washington, N.C., facility. Curran was part of the team that relaunched the Crest pontoon brand in 2010 before leaving the company in 2014. He has also worked for a number of companies in the industry during a 30-year career, including Brunswick, Wellcraft and Chris-Craft.

The IMG brands have been through a series of mergers and changes in ownership and leadership since the recession. We talked to Curran about Iconic’s plans for the brands, what brought him back to the industry and more.

You can read the full Q&A with Curran in the November issue of Boating Industry.

Boating Industry: When you look at what’s happened over the last several years, there’s really been a lot of turmoil for these brands. With that in mind, how do you rebuild confidence and relaunch these brands?

Curran: It’s a complex situation because you have a historic past for all these brands and I think with brands like Baja and Donzi, especially, they’re all brands that the consumer is extremely passionate about.

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We’ve got a great facility here in Washington, N.C., that was originally the Fountain plant and we’ve got a great team in place to start the growth period. So we’ve got experienced boat builders, No. 1, and we’ve got experienced managers, No. 2. …

We’ve got a facility that is one of the best in the boat business. … It’s a very unique place. We’re not landlocked. It’s a cool place to work. …

It’s about the future. It’s not about the past six years for this company right now. I’m going to enjoy this project. I’ve been around this business for 30 years. … There are some projects where it’s worth going 24/7 and this is one of them. It’s exciting to be part of this group.

Boating Industry: What are your plans for the specific brands going forward?

Curran: There is a tremendous investment to be made … in product development across all brands, frankly. We will be implementing it gradually in some and a little more urgently in others.

When you have storied brands, historic brands, whatever you want to call them … there are people attached to each one of these brands.

When you look at Pro-Line … they kind of reinvented the saltwater fishing boat for the guy who wants to go fishing on the weekend. It’s one of the first companies that actually did that.

Then if you look at Doug Smith who started Baja with Neal Baker up in Ohio … they used to build little outboards that go fast and wouldn’t kill you. They moved down the path of the affordable sport boat, if you want to call it that.

Then you look at Donzi, which has been everything over the years, it’s had its roots in racing and performance. … It’s been a lot of different things, but the core value of the brand has been performance and it always will be. At the same time, it has a lot of opportunity to grow into today’s market and modernize if you will. Donzi has an opportunity to grow as our revenue grows and we dedicate funds to the expansion of the brand.

Fountain has a clear definition: go fast. It’s the epitome of American muscle in a boat.

Each one of them is distinctive, but at the same time, Pro-Line aside, there are a lot of synergies.

We’ve got the basis of phenomenal engineering and running surfaces. With today’s propulsion, which has really changed the business, especially in outboard power, it makes it a lot easier to put together product going forward. …

The market has changed and we know that. And the customers buying those brands – they’ve changed, too. …

Beyond that, we’re looking at marketing plans for each brand and with Julie [Johnson] on board, I think we’ll have a good shot at really differentiating [the brands] and making sure they have brand identities that are respectful of the past but looking toward the future. We hope it will be something a dealer can buy into and enjoy doing business with us.

Boating Industry: As you look to expand that dealer network, what’s the message to dealers?

Curran: If we’re going to grow, we need to have a distribution and dealer network to accommodate it. When we’re restarting a company like this, got to make sure the plant is in good shape, of course, but we’ve got to look at things like floorplan. We’ve secured floorplanning with Bank of the West and we’re looking at other lenders right now.

In respect to the dealer network, we want a business proposition that can be profitable. These brands don’t fit every dealership, so you’ve got to find the right fit, the right personality. Someone who’s going to be passionate about what they’re selling, believe in the branding.

Boating Industry: You intend to keep all the production there in North Carolina?

Curran: We’re going to keep our base here, that’s for sure. We can probably make a few changes, but we have plenty of space here, about 60 acres.

If it would make sense to be in a different geographic area for various reasons, we could expand into another location if we ever needed the capacity. Right now, we don’t have any capacity restraints. Hopefully we’ll get there some day.

Fortunately, the way the plant is laid out, we’re going to be able to accommodate the different types of assembly these brands take. As you can imagine, a Pro-Line is drastically different from lamination to engineering from a 38 Fountain.

Boating Industry: And the plan is to keep manufacturing all the brands at this point?

Curran: Yes. Each brand has a great following. There will be financial considerations as we go forward. The toughest thing to do with so many brands is to keep them all fresh.

Pro-Line has been a high-volume boat in the past, so I think Pro-Line can create some volume for this place and cover some overhead during good times, bad times. That’s a brand we want to build as a cornerstone of our financial model. The rest of the products have to survive on their own, too. We’re not set in any ways here. We can roll with the technology and with these brands it will be accepted.

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