C. Gordon Houser, a marine marketing veteran who helped transform yachting into recreational boating by making the sport more appealing to millions of middle-class Americans, will be honored Feb. 17 during the Miami International Boat Show by Marine Marketers of America (MMA) with its first Neptune Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Houser launched his career in boating in 1954 with the Thompson Boat Company and transferred to Chris-Craft when Thompson was acquired. He became marketing manager, director and vice president before he and Dick Genth took over Donzi Marine in 1985. He served as executive vice president and then president of Donzi until OMC bought it and later closed it. He then moved on to Wellcraft as president of the High Performance Group, then served a stint as marketing vice president for Wellcraft, and finally headed marketing for Genmar’s group of companies in Sarasota.
Houser was one of the first to recognize that non-endemic publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker and Cigar Afficianado were especially productive as advertising outlets for selling boats, particularly during the New York National Boat Show. He also pioneered the use of schools as a way of marketing boats, inventing the Wellcraft Offshore Boot Camp for Scarab owners, the Wellcraft Offshore Fishing School and the Genmar Backwater Fishing School.
At the forefront of promoting boating as an exciting avocation, he introduced Scarab jet boat races at the newly opened Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Fla. to draw crowds and sell boats. Along the way, he collaborated with a number of major Hollywood studios, serving as a technical advisor on films such as On Golden Pond, where he not only advised, but staged the famous boat-crash scene. Some of his fondest memories include playing cards with Henry Fonda in the evenings and teaching Johnny Carson’s sidekick, Ed McMahon, how to drive a high-performance boat.
Effective marketing has always been Houser’s passion. “Marketing is 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 public relations and a big part of advertising. I was never bored. Never ever,” he said.
Houser served on a number of National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) committees, noting that the greatest satisfaction came from his years on the NMMA Shows Committee, where he served twice, once as chairman. “We demonstrated that boat shows are one of the most efficient ways of marketing boats.”
Houser retired from Genmar in 2004, recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and lives in Sarasota, Fla. with his wife, Vida.
In presenting the award, MMA president Wanda Kenton Smith said, “Gordon Houser is an industry trailblazer who helped to transform recreational boating into a multi-billion dollar industry that serves more than 10 million boat owners. MMA is very proud to present this distinguished award to one of our industry’s marketing and promotional giants who has been an inspiration to many of us.”
The MMA Neptune Award for Lifetime Achievement will be presented to Houser by long-time industry marketing pro, Bob Black. The MMA meeting will be held in room A 201, is free of charge and is open to the boating industry. The meeting will feature a keynote presentation by BLASTmedia social media director, Julie Perry, entitled, “The Secrets Behind What YouTube Can Do For You.”