Gordon Houser, called the boating industry’s first marketing guru, died at Sarasota Memorial Rehabilitation Center on March 1, after a long battle with the complications of dementia. He was 88.
Houser leaves his wife, the former Vida Sirois, two daughters and four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.
Charles Gordon Houser started out in the marine business in 1954 with the old Thompson Boat Company in upstate New York. Thompson was bought by Chris-Craft and Houser transferred to the parent company, first becoming marketing director and then vice president. In 1985, he and Dick Genth took over the struggling Donzi Marine, and when Genth retired, Gordon became president and CEO until Outboard Marine Corp., its new owner, over-expanded and closed Donzi down.
Houser, who moved on to Wellcraft as president of the High-Performance Group (The Scarabs), eventually became marketing vice president for Wellcraft and finally was in charge of marketing for all of Genmar’s companies in Sarasota.
Recognizing that movies offered a unique tie-in with boating, Houser became an advisor of films shot around the country. Perhaps the best known was On Golden Pond, where he both advised and staged the famous crash scene.
Houser also introduced Wellcraft boats to the fledgling Universal Studios in Orlando. Universal was to be a theme park with a waterfront and the operators wanted an exciting waterfront activity that included high-speed chases. Wellcraft trained all the drivers. The program lived for several years after Universal opened.
He invented the Wellcraft Offshore Boot Camp to teach high-performance boat owners how to use their boats and ran the full three-day class for boating editors and publishers to test the concept. Later, he invented the Wellcraft Offshore Fishing School and the Genmar Backwater Fishing School.
As a marketing director, Houser was among the first to realize that publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated were valuable additions to the media buy, particularly in conjunction with the The New York National Boat Show. The New York Times advertising columnist interviewed Houser for his use of movie stars at his exhibits at the New York show.
Houser graduated from the State University of New York at Canton and was later named one of SUNY’s distinguished graduates. He was a veteran of the United States Army, serving as an airborne paratroop medic shortly after the Korean War.
I first met Gordon Houser toward the end of the1964 New York Boat Show. My assignment was to write the summary of the show. My boss suggested I start with interviewing Gordon Houser. “He knows it all,” he said. “You’ll find him with an old army pistol belt with tools hanging off it, supervising the takedown of the exhibit. The union guys will be lined up against the wall. He won’t let ‘em touch the display. He’s paid ‘em off. He’ll tell you how Chris Craft did, and he’ll forecast the whole industry for the year ahead.”
Then my boss, an old-timer, shook his head a little and told me: “Just take a little Kentucky windage on Houser. He’s very good at making the stars shine brighter than they are.”
After the interview, we became friends—close friends—for 55 years. I was his best man when he married. It was a relationship that could only end one way. As it did last Friday morning.