by Bob Wonders
The name Gordon Houser may not be all that familiar outside the United States, but within the American boating industry C. (for Charles) Gordon Houser enjoys legendary status.
Very much a rose betwene two thorns, Vida Houser with husband Gordon (left) and colleague Bob Black.
During the recent Miami International Boat Show, both the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) And Marine Marketers of America (MMA) were on hand to pay tribute to the man recognised as an ‘industry trailblazer.’
It’s a mark of the respect in which Gordon is held that the two awards presented to him had never previously been presented; the NMMA honoured him with a Lifetime Boat Show Pass, while the MMA backed it up with the inaugural Neptune Lifetime Achievement Award.
Prior to his arrival at the show, Gordon’s family and friends also joined in to pay their own tribute to the ‘silver fox’ on the occasion of his 80th birthday (February 12) and I was privileged to be at the memorable celebration in Sarasota, Florida.
Gordon and his wife, Vida, certainly proved gracious hosts and it’s as well the 80-year-old boasts good sense of humour; outside the Houser home was a sign erected by family members which stated, ’80 is not old, if you’re a tree’.
It has been my honour to call Gordon a friend for more than 20-years and I could not have been more pleased than to be there to mark his 80th.
Gordon and Vida Houser can only be termed a magnificently-matched couple.
It’s the second marriage for both; Vida’s first husband was the legendary offshore powerboat racer Bill Sirios, whom I met several years ago when he was throttleman for the late Al Copeland and the legendary Popeye’s championship team.
Bill passed away nearly 15-years ago.
Gordon and Vida married nine-years ago and as I said reside in Sarasota, not far from three of Gordon’s former places of work, Wellcraft, Chris-Craft and Donzi.
Gordon Houser has been involved wit the boating industry for more than 55-years!
He had joined the Thompson Boat Company which later acquired the famous Chris-Craft marque and Gordon was to become in turn its marketing manager, marketing director and vice-president.
Gordon Houser then joined forces with another man who easily identifies as an industry legend, Dick Genth (another former offshore racer of note who succumbed to cancer aged 77 in 2002) and the pair took over performance boat specialist Donzi Marine.
Gordon served in management roles with Donzi until it was acquired by the former OMC (Outboard Marine Corporation).
He then joined the Wellcraft Corporation, serving as President of its High-Performance Group, later as marketing Vice President and eventually as head of marketing for the Genmar Group.
He retired from Wellcraft in 2004.
So where did Gordon Houser earn his reputation as a ‘trailblazer’?
Gordon Houser, the industry 'trailerblazer' in a pensive moment.
For a start, he is credited with being the first ‘boat salesman’ to realise that advertising in non-boating media, such as The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek and the New Yorker proved productive to selling boats.
It is widely believed that Gordon Houser almost single-handedly made recreational boating more appealing to millions of middle-class Americans.
He pioneered the use of ‘schools’ to help sell boats.
By schools I mean such programs as the Wellcraft Offshore Boot Camp for new Scarab owners, the Wellcraft Offshore Fishing School and the Genmar Backwater Fishing School.
When the spectacular Universal Theme Park opened in Orlando, Gordon saw it as another means to sell boats and introduced the Scarab jet boat races which not only drew crowds, but sold boats.
Hollywood was also targeted by the innovative marketing ‘guru’ and he was to serve as technical adviser on boating scene for a number of movies.
He lists some his fondest memories as playing cards with late movie great Henry Fonda and teaching the Tonight Show’s Johnny Carson’s sidekick Ed McMahon how to handle a high-performance boat.
Gordon Houser not surprisingly rates marketing as his ‘passion.’
He describes it as 'a multi-disciplined occupation.'
'In boating, you need to be part of the sales department to know what’s moving and what isn’t; part of the engineering department to understand what’s special and how it works, part of new products planning, part of the public relations and a big part of the advertising,' he explained.
Gordon Houser also devoted himself to serving the industry in other ways; he has been on a number of NMMA committees including the all-important Boat Shows Committees where he served two terms, one as chairman.
'I believe we clearly demonstrated that boat shows are one of the most efficient ways to market boats,' he said.
Wanda Kenton Smith, president of Marine Marketers of America, called on another industry identity almost as well-known as Houser to present the Neptune award.
The honour went to Bob Black, a life-long friend and colleague (and sparring partner!) of Gordon Houser.
Introducing Houser, Wanda Kenton Smith said the MMA was 'very proud to present this distinguished award to one of our industry’s marketing and promotional giants, a man who has been an inspiration to many of us.'
Earlier that day, at the annual marine industry breakfast, NMMA Executive Vice President Ben Wold was the one making another presentation to Gordon Houser.
This, too, had never been done before.
The NMMA presented Gordon with a Lifetime Boat Show Pass, perhaps only a token gesture (I can’t imagine C.G.Houser ever being refused admission to a US boat show), but it was genuine recognition of a man who has well and truly made his mark.
Wanda Kenton Smith, president of the MMA with Gordon Houser.
NMMA Executive VP Ben Wold (right) at the presentation to Gordon Houser.