Starting a business from scratch is never easy, especially in the high-performance powerboat business. The history of the go-fast boatbuilding is littered with more than a few failed start-ups, most of which were going to “do it better.” In the end, they were undone by exorbitant start-up costs—from tooling to manufacturing—and by trying to compete as a new player in a saturated market. In the end, they found that what appeared to be a glamorous industry with a big-buck clientele was not, as Jean Porter-Brune of Formula boats told me 15 years ago, “a pot of gold.”
Entering the market less than a year ago, Frisini Motorsports, which has its corporate headquarters in Lyndhurst, N.J., has taken a “growth by acquisition” approach by purchasing two established go-fast boat brands. In early 2010, Frisini (owned by Tony Frisina and John Cunningham) purchased Spectre, a well-known line of—with one center-console exception—catamarans. Later in the year, the company purchased Sonic, a well-known line of V-bottoms.
To be brutally honest, neither of those brands was thriving when Frisini acquired them. (But to be fair, that also describes the majority of the go-fast boat industry.) The people at the company knew they would have to put their own stamp on them to have a shot at reinvigorating the two complimentary boat lines.
For Spectre, manufactured in Pinellas Park, Fla., that began immediately with new graphics designed by Chris Dilling of Grafik EFX across the line. Upgrades also included new deck tooling for certain models and an overall upgrade in parts and materials.
“When we started production at Spectre, we immediately looked at the models to upgrade them,” says Cunningham. “We’ve changed things as we’ve gone along, but one of our main goals has been to build them efficiently and quickly so we can sell them at lower prices.”
Without question, Spectre pricing is competitive, even aggressive. Powered by a pair of 300-hp outboard engines, a Spectre’s 32-footer lists for a little more than $200,000, which is on the low side for a high-performance catamaran in that size and power range.
Upgrades to the Sonic line, which as a later acquisition is not quite as far along as Spectre, are in progress. Chief among them is cosmetic retooling of their hulls and decks. Sonics have long been tall, high-profile V-bottom. The plus side of existing Sonic styling is that it creates exceptional cabin headroom. The downside is that it looks hopelessly dated, as the trend in V-bottoms has been toward a sleeker, lower-profile look.
To accomplish this in the Sonic line, which is manufactured in Fort Pierce, Fla., the builder is in the process raising the height of its hulls while cutting down its decks.
“Our larger boats will look sleeker but the headroom will stay the same,” says Cunningham.
As with Spectre, aggressive pricing is a priority for Sonic.
“We’re positioning our 26-, 31- and 35-foot models as sort of our ‘entry-level’ boats with affordable pricing,” says Cunningham. “Right now, you can get a 31 with twin engines for $115,000.”
With Spectre and Sonic, Frisini Motorsports now has two “production-built” performance boat brands. Options for both lines are primarily limited to exterior and interior graphics packages, and power.
The company also is offering two high-end custom models under the “Frisini” label. One is a 43-foot-long catamaran that was originally slated to be a Spectre. The other is a brand new 40-foot-long V-bottom called the Aronoli. Unlike offerings from Spectre and Sonic, both will be custom-built to the tastes and desires of each customer. Neither will come with a low sticker price.
At some point Frisini Motorsports will centralize production of all its brands. But for now, the focus is on production and sales in what remains a tough market.
The final chapter on Frisini is far from written, but one thing is certain: The company has breathed new life into a couple of venerable and customer-loyal brands that sorely needed it. According to Cunningham, the company is selling boats.
And that’s something that a lot of starts-ups in the go-fast boat business, despite their best intentions, never get to see.
For more information, visit the Frisini Motorsports website.
Bi-weekly columnist Matt Trulio is the editor at large for Powerboat magazine. He has written for the magazine since 1994. Trulio’s daily blog can be found on speedonthewater.com, a site he created and maintains, which is the high-performance arm of the BoaterMouth group.