When Don Aronow founded Cigarette in 1969, I was nine years old. So while I learned of Aronow by the time I was in my early twenties, I really didn’t “grow up” with him—if you will—during my time covering the high-performance-boat world, which began in 1995.
Instead, I grew up with Reggie Fountain. I have to be honest: I had no idea of what to make of the founder and former chief executive officer of Fountain Powerboats in Washington, N.C. He was at times both a character and a caricature. He was a relentless pitchman with an Elvis obsession and hunks of gold jewelry—he even went through a thankfully brief black spandex fashion period.
But regardless of his personal style, Fountain was always, and I mean always, charismatic. Sure, he built high-performance boats, about 10,000 of them, that brought the go-fast boat world to the mainstream in a way that no builder ever had or likely ever will again. But it was his personality that sold them.
That was then. Now, having parted ways with Fountain Powerboats last year, Fountain is embarking on a new venture called RF Powerboats, which he says will produce “custom and semi-custom” boats.
What if he fails?
“Hell, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and live well,” Fountain told me earlier today. “I’m doing all right. I own apartments and a shopping center and a grocery store. What I’ve got is enough, but it’s not enough to fund a boat company.”
And that’s where things get tricky for Fountain, because he needs to raise capital—roughly $5 million—for a new boat company at a time when capital for such ventures is scarce. Fountain freely admits that securing funding is his largest hurdle at this point, and one that he might not be able to overcome.
“If I can’t raise enough money, I’ll do service work and custom work,” said Fountain. “We’re in the best position in the world to service Fountain boats. We built all of them. If I can’t raise the money and if the economy doesn’t cooperate, that’s what we’ll do.”
One more question that’s nagged me since I started following this story: Why is Fountain—at age 71 with capital lacking and a less-than-robust performance-boat market in front of him—even bothering?
“First, I like building boats,” Fountain said. “Second, I hate getting beat. I try not to get mad. I try to get even.
“Is the marine industry good to get into now?” he continued. “No. Then why would I get back into it? Because I’m good at it.”