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Stratos - A Nutshell History
Let me kick off the forum with a previous compilation of mine...
In September, 1983, Earl Bentz established Stratos Boats in Old Hickory, Tennessee.
Bentz had grown up in the marine world, working for his uncle at a his marine dealership in South Carolina as a set-up and service person but also helping in the pits at the boat races his uncle was involved in. Bentz soon became involved in his own boat racing. After breaking his back in a race crash on Lake Eufaula and upon recovering, he was invited to join Mercury Racing in 1973 and remained with them for 8 years.
At that time, the bass boat boom was fully motivated and 1975 found Bentz additionally taking a job with Hydra-Sport in Nashville, initially as research and development followed by customer service and then sales and marketing. In 1981, Bentz became Vice President/General Manager whereupon he retired from Team Mercury racing.
In September of 1983, Bentz resigned from Hydra-Sport in order to create his own boat building company, Stratos Boats, Inc. with the thought, "What else can we do to these bass boats to make them more user-friendly?"
Earl first eliminated the fuses and replaced them with circuit breakers. Trolling motors, as a standard, were fed juice by means of 10 gauge wire - Just as the boats were growing, so were the trolling motors. Therefore, Stratos as the first company to bump up to a 6 gauge standard. With Bentz' history and experience in the marine world, Stratos quickly sprang ahead in the fiberglass fishing boat industry. The venerable 201 was the Stratos flagship of tournament competition but turned out models from 16' to 20' for anglers' various needs.
In 1987, Bentz sold Stratos to Outboard Motor Corporation but remained on as president of the company and helped found Javelin Boats under the OMC banner.
At the time, OMC was purchasing boat companies to ensure out-the-door sales on hulls in order to compete with Brunswick (Mercury). Stratos maintained a enviable position in the bass boat building industry and now operated in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
In the late ‘90s, OMC developed an adaptation of purchased technology as it stepped into the fuel injection competition. The motors however, known as Fichts, brought a rash of difficulties with the 150-175 horsepower versions. A number of fixes were developed although none of them were a guarantee. Under the weight of crushing warrantied work costs, OMC finally succombed to an offer by George Soros to infuse the company with desperately needed funds and as often is the course of big business, ownership of OMC deferred to Soros. After Soros gained control for a brief period of time with management choices by Soros being of no benefit to the company but very lucrative for himself, OMC fell into bankruptcy.
With the 150-175 horsepower Ficht subject to extreme suspicion, and OMC-held boat builders being wed to OMC, sales suffered for all motors under a cloud of s along with the OMC-held boat building companies, including Stratos.
In February of 2001, the sale of OMC outboard motor production to Bombardier Inc. and the boat-building assets to Genmar Holdings Inc was approved by federal bankruptcy courts.
Stratos had went from a newborn company, to a step-child under OMC, to an adopted step-child under Genmar where Irwin Jacobs was at the helm. A favorable change to come about though was that Stratos was no longer locked into a single motor-maker and could be ordered with a host of power plants. Another benefit was that Genmar's VEC technology of producing hulls enabled the provision o lifetime hull warranty and 1 year warranty against cosmetic cracks or bubbling.
In June of 2009, Genmar filed bankruptcy due to widespread and extended economic woes while continuing production on many fronts, with materials on hand. During the course of the bankruptcy, opinions varied concerning Jacob's underlying motives in the bankruptcy filing. When Jacobs resigned as CEO of Genmar to allow him to bid on elements of his now-bankrupt boat building empire, cries of foul rang out among loyal owners of the Genmar-built hulls. While all, Stratos owners included, wanted to see their brand companies rescued and continued in production, most were leery of Jacobs' intent to bid on elements.
In January of 2010, bids by Jacobs, Platinum Equity, and HydroBoats LLC were approved, splitting the Genmar Holdings package 3 ways.
Platinum Equity exited with the largest number of boat brands including all of the bass boat builders to include Stratos, Champion and Ranger. Platinum Equity has most recently announced that Randy Hopper, will continue to serve as president of Wood Manufacturing (Ranger Boats) and will oversee production of Ranger, Stratos and Champion boats. Hopper was subsequently quoted as claiming production would be moved to Flippin, Arkansas where Ranger production facilities are currently operated.
Although Stratos production equipment was moved within a couple months of Hopper's announcement, no fresh news has come out of Stratos as yet, and it's unknown if any new Stratos production has come out with a postmark of Flippin, AR.
As of this writing, Stratos Boats' history is still in the making..........I can only hope.
Good things comin' outta Crap!
May/19/2010, 4:38 am
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