As a high-performance powerboat industry icon who never shied away from the spotlight, Reggie Fountain took his fair of ribbing over the years. People poked fun at him for everything from his dyed jet-black hair to his mercifully brief infatuation with wearing spandex in Fountain Powerboats catalog photos and advertisements. A self-confessed Elvis Presley fanatic, he even had a sequined jacket worn by The King himself in his office at Fountain Powerboats in Washington, N.C.
Fountain was a hardcore pitchman for his company’s products, which he extolled relentlessly in a thick Southern drawl. To spend a few minutes with Reggie Fountain, much less interview him, was to hear the words, “safest, fastest, and best-handling powerboats” in your sleep.
A harder worker did not—and still does not—exist in the go-fast powerboat world. When Reggie Fountain worked a boat show, he was the first to arrive and the last to leave. The Fountain booth always packed in a crowd, especially at the annual Miami International Boat Show. It didn’t matter whether the person in front of him was a serious buyer or a hull-thumper—the boat show equivalent of a car lot tire-kicker— Fountain greeted everyone he met like a long-lost friend. And the visitors ate it up because they knew they were spending a few precious moments with a living legend.
“I enjoyed what was I doing or I couldn’t have done it all day every day for all those years,” says Fountain, now 73 years old and currently out of the boat-building business. “I was always on vacation when I was dealing with boats. At least that’s how I felt.”
Those moments turned out to be precious indeed, especially now with Fountain out of the boat-building game. Embroiled in a bitter dispute with the new owners of his company after its much-publicized bankruptcy, Fountain parted ways with the company in 2009. He left behind a legacy of building approximately 10,000 boats valued at $1 billion—and working seven days a week.
Things have slowed considerably for Fountain since he left the company, and though he misses boat building and offshore racing—he won more than 100 races in his career and marketed the Fountain brand on its racecourse success—he’s hardly idle.
“I’m doing OK,” said Fountain. “I’ve been doing several things since I left Fountain. I’ve been tending to my real estate properties, which I acquired over 30 years. I have 350 apartments in Greenville, a small shopping center and a Piggly-Wiggly franchise. That’s what pays the bills and keeps everything going.
“The real estate business is providing me with a good living,” he added. “Of course, it’s not as good as it was when we were having $70 to $80 million years.”
Fountain’s other primary interest has been helping his 28-year-old son, Reggie III, in his go-fast boat service and restoration business called Real Fast Marine, which also is in Washington. The company has changed names several times since it was started more than three years ago by Fountain’s namesake and his older son, Wyatt, who has since moved on to the timber harvesting business.
“We had to change the name because the organization that owns Fountain Powerboats was kind of tough on any name that might be associated with Fountain Powerboats,” said Fountain. “But we have a trademark on Real Fast Marine.
“Though our service business is unrelated to the current Fountain company, we service some of the 10,000 boats I built, as well as Skaters and MTIs and all sorts of other boats,” he continued. “We’ve done a couple of million dollars in service work so far.”
While Fountain pointed out that he has no immediate plans to build boats of his own, if he had investment backing he would start with a center console in the 39-foot range, and later introduce a 43-foot sportboat. To his credit, Fountain seized the opportunity of entering the performance-oriented center console market long before most go-fast powerboat builders realized it existed.
“In 2006 when we had an $80 million year, 65 percent of the boats we built were center consoles,” he said.
Of course, Fountain realizes, though ongoing contact with former dealers, customers, and other boat builders that the go-fast boat market has contracted dramatically in the past five years, and may not be done contracting. He estimated that the go-fast boat industry produces 25 percent or less of what it did in its best years.
To make matters more challenging, at least for a man who based much of his advertising on the offshore racing success of his boats, offshore racing has contracted with the performance-boat market. The fleets are much smaller than they were when Fountain V-bottoms dominated their classes and the fan base, too, has dwindled. Simply put, “dominance” on the offshore racecourse doesn’t have the meaning, much less the perceived marketing value, it once had.
In the event he ever does build boats again, Fountain does not see that as a problem.
“I would work off what we’ve already done, all the races and fishing tournaments we won,” he explained.
Fountain’s critics contend that he spent far too much money on offshore racing, including entire circuit and factory-backed team sponsorships, for a return that really didn’t exist. And when the hard times came, money that could have kept the company afloat had already been squandered on the offshore racecourse.
For Fountain, whether or not that’s true simply isn’t relevant. Not only did he consider offshore racing a marketing expense, he used it for research and design.
“Some people say I was crazy to spend the money I spent on racing,” said Fountain. “We all have different things we care about. How much money I made and put aside in the boat business never mattered to me. It was always about having the best boats. We spent $150 million on research and design and racing boats to improve the development program. I am proud to say I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Though his notion of building boats again is still with him, Fountain is not unhappy doing what he’s doing, and won’t be unhappy if he never builds another boat. His real estate holdings keep him busy, though not as busy as he once was, and he enjoys advising his youngest son in matters regarding Real Fast Marine. In short, Reggie Fountain is as content as an endlessly energetic and driven man can be when he’s not working flat-out.
“Fortunately, the good lord has kept me pretty healthy,” said Fountain. “My mother lived to be 93. I might not make it to that, but I feel pretty good.”