Only a fool would argue that Cigarette Racing Team isn’t the world’s most iconic brand of performance boat. It just is. But in addition to creating Cigarette, the late Don Aronow—a performance-boating icon in and of himself—founded several other go-fast boat companies that in one form or another are still around.
Chief among those is Donzi Marine, which builds high-performance V-bottoms from 18 to 43 feet long, as well as three center-console models. In the early 1990s, the Donzi brand had all but fallen off the map, but by the end of the decade—and into the early years of 2000s—the company was among the most successful production builders in the go-fast boat game.
Unfortunately for Donzi and fellow production boat builders Fountain and Baja, the production-boat side of the market was particularly hard hit by the recession of the last few years. The credit crunch—for consumers and dealers—conspired, so to speak, to effectively kill the market. The custom go-fast builders weren’t completely spared, but they felt a much lighter pinch because they build boats to order for customers who don’t need financing.
In the summer of 2009, Donzi was sold to a group of new owners, the largest of these being Liberty Associations, which also purchased Fountain Powerboats. A year earlier, Craig Barrie, who managed Cigarette Racing Team for almost 10 years, had come on board as Donzi’s vice president of sales and marketing.
“In a way, the economy fit with our vision of where we wanted Donzi to go,” says Barrie. “We wanted Donzi to become much more of a custom boat company. And if you look at the level of customization were offer now in everything from paint to options like misting systems, you can see that’s where we’ve gone.”
Barrie and his team took another page from the custom boat book in that, at present, Donzi currently builds boats to order. That helps the company keep tight control of its labor and material costs. It also takes the pressure off Donzi’s dealers to “floor-plan”—meaning buy a certain amount of Donzi product in advance and try to sell it. Now, if a Donzi dealer sells a boat it submits the order to the builder and construction begins.
“In the old days, dealers would take on brands just to have the name, figuring that the name alone would sell the boat,” says Barrie. “The world has changed. Now if a dealer wants to sell a boat, he really has to learn and understand the brand. That’s why we prefer our dealers carry only Donzi as their performance-boat brand.”
Building to order also helps Donzi control inventory—and a couple of years ago, unsold inventory was a problem for the company. According to Barrie, when he arrived at Donzi the builder had 60 boats at its Sarasota, Fla., facility. And there were more at various dealerships. At the Donzi plant that number is down to six, according to Barrie.
Barrie says Donzi will build and sell 70 boats in 2010, which at one time was a small number—at its peak the company built approximately 200 boats a year—but now is relatively ambitious. Yet Barrie is confident.
“In my years with Cigarette, I created an international network of loyal customers who have followed me to Donzi,” says Barrie. “They are recognizing, as customers here are recognizing, that Donzi has become a completely different company.”
Barries points to the recent Miami International Boat Show last month, where Donzi reportedly received five orders—without displaying in the convention center—for new boats.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” he says. “My expectations weren’t very high. But we were giving boat rides at the marina, and the boats, their ride and performance, are just so dialed in. We’ve worked hard on that, and it shows.
“We still have to work hard,” he adds. “But we are going in the right direction.”