In this neck of the woods, even a few years back, Ranger Boats dominated the boat brand scene.
If you didn’t have one, you dreamed of owning one. It was an affinity like Harley Davidson was to motorcycles — at just about every outdoor venue, folks could be spotted wearing a Ranger hat, jacket or sticker on their trucks. It was a badge of honor.
Now, it seems folks have started talking badly about the brand. Honestly, I don’t get it. I am sure each has a good reason, but, simply put ... it’s a boat.
Mike and Sylvia James were local Ranger representatives who made a buyer a part of their family. I have never met anyone that was more organized or efficient as Mike was. His team consisted of Mike McDonald, George Liddle, and Jason Parsons, and they, too, knew they had to mirror Mike’s lead.
Owning a Ranger was a prestige thing, but more importantly, each buyer knew that the boat, the sales staff and everyone that put them together were pulling the rope in the same direction. If something broke, you always had four or five people you could call and have a part on the way in a couple of days. There were times you felt like you were their only customer because they looked out for you.
Mike James was also was integral in starting a yearly “product knowledge” session where Ranger owners could come to Flippin, Arkansas, for an in-depth plant tour and drive each of the models. It allowed more people to know more about how they were built and also what differentiated a Ranger from other boats in the market.
The funny thing is, at its origin, everything was done via an email, snail mail or a phone call. I can remember getting those invites in my mailbox and it made me feel like I wasn’t just a consumer, but part of a family that Forrest and Nina Wood developed to make each and every customer part of that family. Randy Hopper and Keith Daffron at the plant did things the same way and it was much more than glad-handing, it was real.
After Mike James' unexpected passing due to a heart attack (while, of course, helping a buddy move), others had to step up. He trained them well. Jason Parsons was the glue that kept that big wheel turning. He was our Illinois rep but at times it seemed like there were two of him. He was at boat shows, dealer’s events and every tournament. Not just once in a while, but all the time, all year.
Parsons hustled and it was evident it was more to him than a job. It was his life. He walked the walk and he talked the talk and, until a few years ago, remained at Ranger as a leader there. He eventually left to join Daffron, Hopper and Liddle at Vexus Boats, and they carried that message to an upstart company. It, too, has grown significantly under their leadership.
Most of the people I worked with back then have either retired or moved on, and today I don’t know who is in charge of what. With that said, Ranger still builds an excellent, top-of-the-line boat, but something is missing. Social media is alive with a lot of negatives of those living on the edge of knowledge. Buying what boat you want is an option you have, and I would hope we can just like what we like and not disparage those we don’t. It just works better that way.
Some say things changed when Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops, bought the company but the reality is I saw things changing way before that. A couple of sales prior, a bankruptcy, and a couple of equity firm’s purchases before Whitewater took over changed a lot of the "old” Ranger.
Many of the things that were always done in house were outsourced. And materials purchased that fit Ranger, Triton, Stratos (at the time) and Nitro product lines allowed for better volume of purchases and span of control over raw products for all the boat lines.
I do not think we should blame Whitewater for all the “negative.” It was a combination of growth, and a change of the guard and what folks were used to at the old Ranger. Their lineup is still stellar, but the business model changed, and, like with most things, changed cause angst. I believe it came down to the people factor.
Ranger will still build all the boats they can and folks will still have an affinity with the brand, and it may entice new Ranger owners to build their own affinity group moving forward. I hope so.
Ranger is still a leader and fishing boats and will always be as long as they build them “one at a time,” It’s just changing. We don’t just have Ford, Toyota or Chevy. We have all kinds of choices, but the difference is we just are closer to those making the decisions. It's OK and it will work itself out.
If you like Ranger Boats, stay liking them, but it’s time to put the negative behind us. Let’s let Whitewater do their thing without pointing fingers or hollering from the mountaintop. I have a lot of friends in this industry, and we need all of them as demand has exceeded supply.
It is important we don’t look at Whitewater as an evil empire, but just a company trying to build products for their customers. As with most things, I hope we let the soup simmer a bit before we throw it out.
There are all kinds of great boat brands and I don’t have a dog in the fight. I just want folks to see the forest for the trees and give it a chance. Never before have we had more options and more opportunity to get into that boat of our dreams, no matter the brand, and we should look at it for what it is — a boat that allows us to fish and enjoy our time on the water. That's what really matters.
Terry Brown is President of Wired2Fish.com, an industry leading, daily website and social media fishing centered community that provides information on products, industry newsmakers and fishing techniques. You can read more by going to www.Wired2Fish.com.