Summer means fun in the sun and on the water. For more than 20 years, Leisure Kraft Pontunes in Crossville has been building and manufacturing the boats that have played a part in making memories that last a lifetime.
Leisure Kraft Pontunes opened for business in 1986, offering Gruman brand pontoon boats.
“We advertised a 24-foot boat without a motor for $3,995, and the same boat with a motor for $7,500,” said Wade Davenport, owner. “We sold boats like crazy that year. We sold probably 130 boats.”
In 1989, Davenport decided to make a change in his business model and stop being a dealer and start offering his own boats.
He recalled starting Leisure Kraft in the metal building still across from the Kmart shopping center in Crossville, working with friends Jerry Haney and Butch Webb after work.
“We’d work until about midnight most nights trying to get it going,” Davenport said. “It was stressful but fun.”
As the business grew, word of the workmanship and service spread, bringing referral business.
“Probably about 80 percent of our business is from referrals,” Davenport said. “That’s been important in the past few years when a lot of the other business had gone away.”
As the manufacturer of the boats, Davenport was able to offer great value to his customers, including quality products like Kevlar thread for sewing the upholstery.
“It’s guaranteed to last as long as the vinyl,” he said. “It costs more up front, but it saves me on my warranties and helps me have happy customers.”
As the business grew, Davenport saw he would need to move to a larger location. Leisure Kraft moved to its current location at 1996 Peavine Rd. in 1992, expanding the original facility four or five times to its current 80,000 square feet.
“A lot of people are surprised at how much room we have here,” Davenport said.
The facility not only offers a show room and a retail outlet with all the accessories and water toys needed for a fun and safe day on the water, but also serves as the manufacturing and service facility and home of Cave Man Plastics, a separate plastic molding business. Leisure Kraft employs 42 people.
Leisure Kraft fabricates the aluminum pieces, constructs the seats, dry boxes and upholstery and installs all the gadgets that add value and enjoyment for the owner. This allows Leisure Kraft to ensure a quality product.
“We can build a boat every day,” Davenport said. Last week, the manufacturing facility was a hub of activity as boats were being readied for the Memorial Day weekend, the busiest holiday of the year for the company.
The predominant motor used on Leisure Kraft models is Suzuki motors, offering a variety of levels of power to boaters.
Davenport said, “They work great for us, and Suzuki treats us really well.”
When Leisure Kraft first began building boats, most used a 40 to 50 horsepower engine capable of reaching about 25 mph. Today’s boats can reach speeds of 40 to 50 mph, and beyond. Davenport said the three-pontune model offers a smooth ride across the waves.
“It’s one of the best rides you can get,” he said, adding that model had started taking some of the runabout market, reaching those wanting a high performance boat with high speeds and more room.
Leisure Kraft also services all of the boats they build and provide necessary maintenance to keep each boat operating at peak performance.
About nine years ago, Davenport found a need for plastic molding capabilities and started a second business, Cave Man Plastics, to support Leisure Kraft’s manufacturing. Since then, Cave Man Plastics has expanded to serve other boat manufacturers and a variety of other industries, as well. The business began about nine years ago and has grown over that time.
“It’s not just parts for boats,” Davenport said, pointing to candy machines, games and aftermarket products, as well as parts for other boat manufacturers.
Leisure Kraft Pontune boats are shipped across the country and around the world. Davenport said the business has been selling its boats in Australia for about four years, and they’ve also supplied pontoons to Brazil.
Pontoon boats aren’t manufactured in Australia, Davenport said, due to the cost of the raw materials and labor. The boat dealer there is able to offer the Leisure Kraft models less expensively than they could make their own, he said.
Around the world or right at home in Tennessee, Davenport said ensuring a positive experience for customers was the goal of the business. That’s why Leisure Kraft received the Suzuki Cutting Edge Service Excellence Award in 2010-’11 and has finished in the top three every year since the program began five years ago.
“It’s about offering service after the sale to make sure our customers are happy,” Davenport said.
Leisure Kraft competes against 350 dealers in the Southeast, including Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and parts of Alabama and Virginia.
To learn more about Leisure Kraft Pontunes, visit www.leisurekraft.com or call 484-2681.
n A Salute to Industry series is a project of the Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce to feature local industries and businesses.