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It began with a directive: You’re gonna need a better boat. And one man delivered. And so, MasterCraft was founded in 1968 in East Tennessee by Rob Shirley who, by all accounts, took the water sport industry to a new level with a line of craft designed to give the water skier excellence in performance. Today the company boasts lines of boats that supply not only the skier but the wakeboarder and surfing enthusiast with an unmatched experience. The water might be choppy but inside a MasterCraft vessel, the experience is as smooth as a mill pond.
Shirley, an engineer, was a water sport enthusiast himself, and felt he could design a better ski boat. “We still own the first boat he built,” says Jay Povlin, vice president of sales and marketing. This was an inboard boat with the engine at the center of the boat. It helped to fulfill a recreational demand that occurred at the end of World War II, when water skiing became a popular recreation. By the mid-1960s, tournament skiing was gaining speed, and by the 1970s, water skiing had reached a new pinnacle, with trick skiing and jumping demanding new and better boats.
When MasterCraft began supplying V drives that changed the dynamic of the boat – and the industry – the second directive came into play: You need a bigger wake. And the V-drive, a child of 1990s innovation across the industry, delivered, placing the engine at the back of the boat and bringing big, surfable waves to the next generation of water sporters.
As V drives changed the industry, they also facilitated growth for MasterCraft. “That’s when our sales volume increased – a lot of people saw the V drive as a viable alternative to the inboard – the boats handled well and they rode well, because the propeller is tucked under the boat.”
This invention brought the human activity close to the back of the boat, where people could sit together and enjoy the water experience close to where the action was. This helped to further propel MasterCraft forward.
The Beach Boys weren’t talking about boat surfing when they penned their classic ode to the surfing life in the 1960s, but the theme of happy times on the water may aptly apply to something that you don’t need to paddle onto the water.
In its push to develop the best products on the market, the $214.4 million company, offering the widest range of surf-capable boats on the market, has perfected the art of surfing through a series of innovations: The X26, the X23 and the NXT line of boats, among others, each offering different price points that allow the company to compete, not only in the surf enthusiast market, but for those who purchase larger, luxury runabouts.
The company’s X23 expands the boating experience, allowing 15 people to enjoy the water with luxury appointments that give new meaning to surf and sun, all in 23 feet. It offers 3000 pounds of ballast and churns out the longest and most customized surf waves in the industry. Innovative sundeck seating keeps vests, towels, rope and other essentials in easy reach.
Another innovation is the new X26, which has 26 feet of luxury, offering a hull shape that provides a smooth, dry ride even in big water. Available extras like a head and a refrigerator will enable you and your guests to enjoy longer excursions.
In addition to luxury, there is also technology at work here. MasterCraft offers its exclusive Gen 2 surf system that allows users to customize the height and length of the wake to make for greater wave experience – such innovations have been enthusiast driven, Povlin says.
The Gen 2 Surf System Consists of 4 Pillars:
- The individual boat hull;
- The ballast system (including tanks, plumbing and placement);
- Software to control it all;
- A wake shaping device beneath the transform that sculpts the wave.
Because the wave is also adjustable, regardless of boat model, board type, port or starboard wave, all ability levels get the best experience, according to the company.
MasterCraft produce its superior lines of boats in Vonore, Tenn., a hotbed of boat manufacturers, in a 250,000-square-foot facility with 500 dedicated employees, who operate within a series of best practices and efficiencies that make each boat not only a masterful creation, but streamlined and cost-effective. This production machine is directed by COO Shane Chittum, who came to the company with an extensive background in lean manufacturing, Povlin says. “He is very keen on manufacturing efficiencies. We focus heavily on making sure we maximize these efficiencies.” One of the key differentiators between MasterCraft and its competitors, he adds, is employee engagement – more than 13,000 employee suggestions have been implemented into the end product.
“Our innovation process is never-ending,” he adds. “We always have ideas moving in the innovation stream. We’re always thinking about how it could be done better for our consumer.”
MasterCraft’s ambitious goal, he adds, is to deliver three new products every year, and the company has done this consistently over the past several years. “This allows us to engage and reach out to people who may not have heard about MasterCraft’s products; those accustomed to stern drive runabouts, for example, whose heads have turned in MasterCraft’s direction and never turned back. In 2015, the company was able to offer another first: Its MasterCare five-year warranty, based on audits that showed the durability of the boats.
Today, MasterCraft distributes its products across the world with an average run rate of 15 boats per day, depending on the season.
“We’re really about the mindset,” he says. “We are hyper focused on the end user and making sure their time in our boats is well worth their investment. This consumer has a high standard in terms of quality and we believe we deliver in terms of features and designs and appointments.”