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Genmar bankruptcy filing catches boating industry by surprise

11/5/2009

The announcement that Genmar, the country's second largest boat manufacturer, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection sent shockwaves through the boating industry.

However, the rumors that the various companies it owns might be going under are unfounded, according to the manager of one of its best-known brands.

The filing was confirmed Monday by Genmar Holdings Chairman Irwin Jacobs and first reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

"Even up until the last few weeks, this is something I never even dreamt was a remote possibility," Jacobs told Star Tribune reporter Susan Feyder.

Genmar's filing came in the wake of sliding sales and no prospects for a quick turnaround. Jacobs also alluded to the company's struggle to maintain a consistent source of financing.

The bankruptcy filing included such popular fishing brands as Ranger, Champion, Stratos, Wellcraft and Hydra-Sports, and left many boat owners wondering what the future held.

FLW Outdoors, the tournament organization that conducts freshwater and saltwater events, was not included in the filing. And the bedrock companies such as Ranger say the ripple effect won't capsize their efforts to maintain market share.

"To us, it's a lot like the GM announcement," Ranger president Randy Hopper said. "They're in bankruptcy, but that doesn't mean divisions such as Corvette and Cadillac are going out of business. Ranger is the marquee name at Genmar, and there also are several other very strong brand names in the group.

"Obviously, it's not pleasant when your parent company goes through something like this, but it happened to us in the early 90s when Miramar was our parent company. We've got a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Flippin [Ark.], the strongest brand in the boating industry and a very committed work force. We're in it for the long haul."

Despite Hopper's optimism, the fact that Ranger's parent company filed for bankruptcy blindsided many boat owners.

"I'm stunned," said Bassmaster Elite Series angler Denny Brauer, who first learned of the bankruptcy filing Tuesday morning while he was practicing for the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph on Kentucky Lake. "It just illustrates the times we're in. The boat and outboard motor industry has been hurting for a while and this is just the latest bad news."

Brauer's relationship with Ranger began in 1978 when, as an aspiring Nebraska bass fisherman, he bought his first boat. Beginning in the early 80s, after high finishes in Federation and Open tournaments, Brauer became a member of the Ranger pro staff and dealt directly with then-owners Forrest and Nina Woods.

Like many other Ranger owners, Brauer's brand loyalty extends beyond a professional relationship.

"Genmar will get it straightened out, and I have no doubts that Ranger Boats will survive these tough times," Brauer said. "Those guys build too good a product and have such a loyal following to go under. They'll probably come out leaner and meaner. I know I'll do whatever I can to help them get through this rough period.

"They stood by me through the good times and the bad times and I'll do the same for them."

Official statement from Ranger Boats President Randy Hopper