The longtime kingpins of North Carolina’s hog business are now at the helm of two boat brands produced in Edenton for decades. Raleigh-based Edenton Boatworks LLC, affiliated with Wendell Murphy and his son, Dell, now owns Albemarle Boats and Carolina Classic Boats. These just aren’t any boats — Edenton craftsmen have built 3,600 units since 1978, ranging in cost from $150,000 to $900,000 depending on size and accessories, such as navigation and depth- and fish-finding electronics. Production takes place at a 100,000-square-foot factory, and boats are sold through dealerships in the U.S., Australia, Asia and Europe.
Scott Harrell founded Albemarle in 1978, and Mac Privott left that company to start Carolina Classic in 1992. The businesses have traded hands over the years and were most recently owned by Scott McLaughlin, president of Raleigh-based telecommunications installer Strategic Connections Inc. He purchased Albemarle Boats from Lake Forest, Ill.-based manufacturer Brunswick Corp. in 2008, then bought Carolina Classics three years later. Terms of the Murphys’ purchase weren’t disclosed.
Members of the founding families have stayed on good terms. Burch Perry, Scott Harrell’s grandson, is general manager, and Privott’s sons, Keith and Wade, also work for the company. Thirty employees, who have an average tenure of 14 years, are also staying on board. It’s good news in a region where jobs can be difficult to find. Chowan County’s April unemployment rate was 6.6%, compared with a statewide rate of 5.5%.
The Murphys ran one of the nation’s largest pork-production companies, based in Rose Hill, before selling much of their business to Smithfield, Va.-based Smithfield Foods Inc. for more than $500 million, including about $200 million in debt, in 2000, according to a news release. Wendell Murphy also served in the N.C. General Assembly between 1984 and 1992 and is a major donor to N.C. State University. Their Murphy Family Ventures LLC now has many investments, including a car dealership, hotel, portable-storage business and restaurants, according to the company website.
Albemarle and Carolina Classic boats are known for their smooth handling in rough water, enabling some owners to use them as cruisers, capable of taming sloppy seas that keep other makes in port, Perry says. “This is the beginning of many new things to come from both brands,” Dell Murphy said in a news release. Having the Murphys’ backing will lead to improved product development and service for customers and dealers, Perry says, but some things won’t change. “We’re not going to depart from what put us on the map,” he says.
The Murphys’ timing coincides with renewed optimism for boat builders. About 171,500 new power-boats were sold in 2014, a 6.4% increase from 2013, according to the Chicago-based National Marine Manufacturers Association. Sales of smaller fiberglass and aluminum outboard-powered boats fueled most of that growth. North Carolina sales of new powerboats, motors, trailers and accessories hit $580 million in 2014, ranking sixth nationally. Sales are likely to grow another 5% this year, says Thom Dammrich, the association’s president.