Published in the October 2004 issue of the National Marine Marketers Association in its Innerport publication (pages 12-14, 18)
Robert Hammond, 1998 NMMA Hall of Fame Inductee
The Barometer is a monthly feature in Innerport in which leaders of the industry take part in a brief inter¬view about current issues. As part of NMMA’s yearlong celebration of serving the boating industry for 100 years, we are interviewing NMMA Hall of Fame members each month to gain their insight on the history of boating and the significant innovations and people who have shaped the industry into what it is today.
Robert Hammond started his career in the boating industry in the early 50’s. Seeing the untapped potential of the recreational boating industry, he became a pioneer not only in the manufacture of fiberglass boats, but also in the promotion of the sport.
In 1953, Hammond was a production manager and designer for the fiberglass division of an aluminum boat builder. Dreaming of heading up his own company, Hammond met with a small group of potential investors in 1956 and rented a garage to build molds and a prototype boat. On the strength of that prototype, he and his investors raised a little more than $20,000 in cash and found a 4,000 square foot build¬ing to rent in Austin, TX.
Over the next 17 years, Glastron became the industry sales leader, operating the largest boat plant in the world under a single roof with a Glastron boat being produced every four-and-a-half minutes. The company established leadership in style and performance, introducing two-tone gel coating, custom designed hardware, carpeting and vinyl, walk-through windshields, positive flotation and mechanical steer¬ing. It also marinized Ford engines, and using Volvo stern drive and Berkley jets, packaged them under the Glastron name.
In 1974, Hammond resigned from Glastron and founded a new boat company that bore his name. The Hammond Boat Company won Powerboat Magazine’s prestigious “Boat of the Year” award during its second year of production, and in 1983, Hammond again sold his interests in the company. Since that time Hammond has been primar¬ily involved in personal investments, living on Lake Austin.
In this month’s Barometer, Bob looks back at his career in the boating industry.
1. Bob, what sparked your interest in owning your own boat company?
I think my curiosity about new technology in the fiberglass industry and in all facets of design, fabrication and marketing of boat building led me to think that perhaps I could build my designs to my own stan¬dards and be my own boss. I had a “state of the art” design I had intended to build at home for myself that management saw and decided to build as a one of a kind show model which they introduced at the New York show in 1955 for publicity. To our surprise they found people insisted on buying one. I still take a ribbing about the headlights and tailfins but they put an outrageous price on it and we sold all we could build. It convinced me that I wanted to start my own small company. Besides, I was never best at working for someone else.
2. What were some of the biggest changes in the boating indus¬try during your career?
One of the first things that sped up production and made fiber¬glass easier to work with was the introduction of pre-Cobalt-mixed resin and thixotropic gelcoat. I think there may still be a few of us who remember when we had to be do it yourself “chemists”, buy¬ing cobalt napthanate, adding it to resin, then mixing up our own catalyst from BP powder and MEK. We had lots of fires and small explosions back then. We learned to mix Cab-O-Sil into gelcoat and experimented with spraying it instead of brushing one side of a hull and waiting to let it dry before going to the second. When I started at Lone Star it took 3 or 4 hours just to get a mold ready for layup. It’s a far cry from brush and bucket to the chopper guns and other molding techniques employed today.
- The change from wood and aluminum to fiberglass was slow but some old records indicate that by 1965 more than half the boats at the New York Show were fiberglass.
- The introduction of the Volvo stern drive 1959 at the New York Show was a major turning point in bringing more people into boat¬ing as well as moving others up.
- The annual dealer meetings in late summer to help manufactur¬ers keep factories going was something that wasn’t done when I started in late 1953. The starting of the fall trade Chicago trade show was a marketing milestone by gathering marine manufactur¬ers in one place to show their wares and a chance to sign up more dealers. Glastron exhibited at the first one at Navy Pier.
- As the industry grew in the ‘60’s we started seeing the first wave of conglomerates come in with varying degrees of success and the resolution to stay but I’m glad to see some of my friends are still independent. In some of the industries I follow there is still a place for quality oriented and adaptable companies.
- The deep vee and later the tri hull were two of the most important changes in hull design.
3. While you were at Glastron, the company introduced a number of innovations to boating—which innovation(s) are you most proud of, and which do you feel have had the greatest impact on boating?
I think this needs to be qualified by saying that we were among the first with them. It’s hard to recall between developing an idea or improving on one you’ve seen somewhere. What we did well was to keep up with new ideas, materials and trends and bring them to mar¬ket. I think I visited about every builder in the country I thought was innovative at one time or another and picked up a lot of ideas we took further. Our plant in Austin was always open to our competitors as well. (“Except for the splashers”)
- Before starting production we took the first Austin built production boat to Galveston for destruction testing. I started that at Lone Star and continued the practice through the last Hammond model.
- You mention we were one of the first to use two tone gelcoat. In the early days we had to use a spray on parting film and you couldn‘t mask on it. We found that a special carnauba wax we bought from the Cadillac dealer could be used to eliminate the film and we were able to mask, spray the first color then come back after it dried with the next. We kept it “secret” as long as we could.
- Safety was always a major issue for Glastron. We gave Teleflex a target price for a mechanical steerer with an order for 5000 units if they could develop one to replace cable and pulleys. By spring of 1968 it was standard on all but the 14' model.
- Many builders were using air chamber flotation, if not all, when I started. Polystyrene bean bags and Styrofoam gave way to foamed in-place polyurethane flotation and that same year Glastron featured upright flotation in every model. I was on the BIA Boat Engineering Committee from 1960 to1968 and Chairman the last three years. Glastron participated in the BIA certification program, much of which was ultimately adopted into the USCG Standards. I like to think our pushing the safety envelope encouraged many manufac¬turers to do the same.
- I think Glastron was the first national manufacturer to push the deep vee and by 1963 accounted for half our sales. Our version of the tri-hull was really our deep-vee with sponsons. We tested the 17' prototype against a couple of the best known conventional tri hulls (one of which we broke at Galveston) and were so enthused we built a 100 boat inventory before announcing them with as much fanfare as we could. I recall counting 14 direct copies at the 1966 Chicago fall trade show after we had introduced it earlier in the spring. The next year they copied our V156 15 foot tri-hull but no one could match the features, quality and list price of about $1100. 5,704 were manufactured in It’s peak production year. It introduced a lot of first timers to boating. Glastron Executives Break Ground in 1972
I always felt the most successful companies were the ones who could attract and develop a good management team, keep ahead of industry trends while providing an atmosphere they and the employees could work in was the most important thing in any company’s growth. I believe this is still true. I think we did that while I was there and wish I could list in this article all the people who helped to make it happen.
4. Glastron also employed great marketing tactics—building a boat for the James Bond film Live and Let Die; the Bat Boat for the first full-length Batman movie ; and sponsoring a 17’ outboard to drive from Houston to New York City to prove the durability of the Glastron boat. Do you feel the boating indus¬try is doing a good job of marketing itself to the public?
There is a lot of competition for the consumer’s time and dollar. I think the same problems exist in the amount of dollars it takes to reach the mass market through advertising other than boating magazines.
We used long distance boating promotions, racing, movie joint ven¬tures and anything else we could think of to attract print media we couldn’t afford to buy. Having the distributor organization to help pick up part of the tab made possible our annual dealer trips to Mexico and Europe where we invited key boating editors as guests didn’t hurt. Glastron executives, dealers and distributors swapped ideas and many became great friends. With the zip code and other databases available to computer savvy dealers today there are other ways to reach the consumer, I understand some of them are building websites and direct mailing to get people into the showroom.
5. In a 1973 interview with Boat & Motor Dealer you said that in order for the boating industry to enhance its appeal to the public that it has to “make boating easier, safer and more trouble-free for the consumer … giving a more carefully engi¬neered and manufactured product as well as improved after-sale service.” Do you think the industry has been successful in providing those services to boaters?
I spent a little time at the Austin Boat Show this winter and the qual¬ity, sophistication and manufacturing execution of the boats I saw was really impressive. Jessie Gonzales, who I hired in 1957, is the most “senior” marketing guy still working in sales for Glastron. He gave me a tour of their booth ( along with a sales pitch). Jesse says service is an important component of the dealers’ profit.
6. The Glastron Boat Company has built a lot of history over the last 47 years, but after you left the company in 1974, you started the Hammond Boat Company. Can you share some of the history of the Hammond Boat Company?
Like I did at Glastron, I built and financed a prototype (at consider¬ably more cost than our total capitalization the first time) and invited a number of my former distributors to a meeting at DFW to look at it and listen to what we now call a business plan. The other day I ran across a presentation booklet dated May 2, 1975 made for the initial investor meeting that day. An excerpt from my address to them: “My objective to build a small company with models incorporating the latest in technol¬ogy, safety and luxury aimed for the second or third time buyer, would complement their dealers’ lines without harming Glastron.”
I went on to say I would never again become a minority stockholder in any company I headed.
We achieved $1.5 million in sales in the first 9 months ending July 1976 and over $3 million a year later (with reasonable earnings) when we were recognized by Powerboat magazine as Boat of the Year in their premiere introduction of the award. That recognition of our effort was one of the most important I ever received. Sales peaked at about $4.5 million but a combination of economic factors, the fuel crisis and difficult market change to dealer direct never let us achieve the modest sales volume we had planned on to regain consistent profitability. I had known Ralph Renken since we were both small out¬fits and talked to him and his brother about a consolidation at Austin where we could set up an assembly line for their boats to absorb some of the overhead, reduce their freight costs to the West and I could help them with their product planning, styling and promotion.
Our company was restructured as Hammond Boat Company and oper¬ated as a Division of Renken from 1983 until their bankers had them move the operation to Charleston S.C. Their labor force was not suc¬cessful in building the quality and complexity of the Hammond line and the dealers forced them to discontinue it. I negotiated my name back and successfully sued one guy who obtained some molds and copied the my trademarked nameplate and forced him to quit after he had built a few.
7. In late August, NMMA honored West Marine with the Hammond Award, which you worked with NMMA to introduce in 1998 to recognize industry leadership. Can you explain the genesis of the Hammond Award, and why you felt it was important to launch it?
In 1997, I wrote Jeff Napier and asked if he would have time for a short visit during the fall Chicago trade show to discuss NMMA’s interest in my funding some sort of annual award to be given in my name to recognize the small boat segment. I had not attended the show since 1985 and was unaware of NMMA’s award programs but I wanted to give something back to the industry. Bettye and I went up and it was Jeff’s idea for it to be a “Leadership Award” for work that was of “benefit to the entire industry”; rather than people nominating their own bosses as he so succinctly put it. I had been privileged to work with Jeff since 1964 when he came aboard BIA and felt he had a better feeling for what would be appropriate.
8. How did Bettye come up with the name Glastron?
I asked her to put it down in her own words for this story. She was an advertising copy writer when we met. This is it verbatim.
“GLASTRON…what kind of word is that:? A word that became instant recognition worldwide for the most wanted boat in the “small boat” world. Think about….glass for fiberglass, the material that revolution¬ized the boating industry, and “tron” the word that symbolized all that was new and futuristic in the design world. Put the two together and they spell GLASTRON, the most imitated small boat ever.”
9. After working in the boating industry for more than 30 years, how would you like to be remembered?
Still alive! Seriously, I was a very lucky guy with a helpful and under¬standing wife, who was at the right place at the right time in a fun business. We were able to attract and keep a group of co-workers that led Glastron to the forefront of the industry while I was there.
My work on the BIA Boat Engineering Committee and BIA/NAEBM boards were extremely rewarding and I made some great friends.
Hosting the first joint meeting of the two boards in 1968 and later that evening at my home in Austin was a high point I won’t forget and I hope to be remembered as one of many people that worked to unite the marine industry.
I have to briefly mention the 1995 Glastron Reunion we held in Austin that some of my former execu¬tives insisted on having. We put together a small committee and developed a video and 32 page col¬lection of the history as best we could remember it and 275 former distributors, dealers and employees came from all over the country and Europe. The present Glastron management arranged for the original prototype 15’ FireFlite I built in Arlington to be on display and assisted in underwriting part of the meetings cost. Many of us had not seen each other in 20 years and it was a great occasion with a lot of fond and proud remembrances.
(As of the printing of this article), Bob lives in Texas with his wife Bettye on Lake Austin.