Adding to its stable of plastic-hulled watercraft, Johnson Worldwide Associates Inc. has purchased Leisure Life Ltd., a leading manufacturer of small, thermoformed boats.
The stock purchase, for $10.2 million in cash, gives publicly held Johnson extra heft as a major producer of small marine vessels. Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Leisure makes a variety of pedal boats, small fishing boats, canoes, electric-powered pontoon boats and dinghies.
Outside of canoes, Johnson previously had not made the other plastic-skinned products, said Carl Schmidt, chief financial officer for the Sturtevant, Wis., company. The firm is considered the largest maker worldwide of canoes and kayaks, he said.
``For the most part, the product line is different from our own, and that attracted us,'' Schmidt said. ``It was time for us to grow into new areas.''
For Leisure, the acquisition also represents the end of a 21-year-old, family-owned business. Founder Charlie Billmayer plans to retire and leave day-to-day operations to Leisure President Bob Koch. The thermoformer recorded sales of $13.4 million for the 1997 fiscal year ended Oct. 31.
At its 154,000-square-foot plant, Leisure makes boats and accessories that primarily are vacuum formed from high density polyethylene. Leisure also makes some boats with acrylic styrene acrylonitrile and ABS hulls, and is considered to be the first firm in the marine industry to use plastics for small boats, Koch said.
The boat maker operates three thermoforming lines and employs 75 full-time staff, with 100 more seasonal employees working from late fall through midsummer. It plans to expand its work force to 230 people this year, Koch added.
``They get what they need in terms of a great company with a different boat lineup, and we maintain complete stability,'' Koch said of the Feb. 10 sale.
Johnson plans to weave the Leisure product lines into its existing mix while keeping the brand name intact, Schmidt said.
The two companies plan to trade manufacturing techniques. Johnson, a rotomolder, may use that process to make Leisure boats, while Leisure could thermoform some Johnson canoes and kayaks, Schmidt said. Johnson's one- and two-piece watercraft are made mainly from HDPE.
Johnson, which recorded $303 million in 1997 sales, has been steadily growing through acquisitions. In October, it purchased Plastiques LPA Limitee, a maker of plastic kayaks in Quebec City, and Soniform Inc. of El Cajon, Calif., which makes buoyancy compensation vests for scuba diving.
Besides boats, Johnson also makes marine electric motors and diving, camping and fishing equipment. Three of its 10 plants rotomold canoes and kayaks.