Morris Gains Control Over Travis, To Expand Bass Pro

Bass Pro Shops Inc. founder and CEO John L. “Johnny” Morris became even more deeply involved in boat retailing when one of his affiliates gained control over financially struggling dealership chain Travis Boats & Motors Inc.
Additionally, Bass Pro announced it will add five more Outdoor World store locations before the end of 2004.
Morris gained control of Travis, a Nasdaq-traded company, in January when TMRC LLP, an affiliate of Morris’ Tracker Marine LLC, agreed, along with Travis’ two largest inventory finance sources, to provide Travis with up to $1.5 million in emergency cash.
Travis, the operator of 34 dealerships in nine southeastern states, needed the cash because it lost $16.8 million during the 12 months ended last September 30. That came on top of a $3.3-million net loss that Travis incurred during the year ended September 30, 2001.
As of January 16, Tracker had advanced $1.25 million to Travis, an amount which is to be repaid by April 30. The funding is basically an advance on the $1.8-million federal income tax refund Travis anticipates getting before the end of April, according to Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) document filed by Travis.
For the first quarter of fiscal 2003, ending December 31, 2002, Travis reported losses of an additional $3.7 million.
As part of the lending agreement, Tracker Marine now has ownership of 53 percent of Travis’ common stock and the boat builder gained the right to appoint four of the seven members of the Travis Board of Directors. Among the Tracker Marine-appointed members on the Travis board is Tracker Marine President Ken Burroughs.
Neither Burroughs nor Travis CFO Mike Perrine returned phone calls.
Separately, Bass Pro, currently the operator of 15 Outdoor World stores, announced it would open stores in Bossier City (Shreveport), Louisiana; Destin, Florida; Hampton, Virginia; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The expansion of the Outdoor World chain presents a bigger challenge to the independent dealer body than the acquisition of the 65 BoatU.S. aftermarket accessories stores by West Marine Inc., according to Phil Keeter, president of the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA).
Although West Marine now has 320 locations, “Bass Pro is of more concern to dealers situated near them because they sell boats and engines,” while West Marine sells only aftermarket parts and accessories, Keeter said.
Additionally, about half of all boat dealers “don’t emphasize accessories,” Keeter added.
Morris, originally a B.A.S.S. tournament angler, opened his first boat accessories store in his father’s liquor store in Springfield, Missouri, in 1972.
But through a savvy combination of entertainment, instruction and retailing, Morris’ first Outdoor World store, which opened in Springfield in 1981, now is Missouri’s most-visited tourist attraction.
Some Outdoor World locations are as big as 280,000 square feet and “literally bring the outdoors indoors,” according to the company.
Morris founded Tracker in 1977 to supply the Bass Tracker line of boats and the company has grown, both organically and through acquisitions, to become the No. 2 producer of aluminum boats and the No. 3 producer of fiberglass boats 14-feet and longer, according to Statistical Surveys, a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based independent market research firm.
During the first nine months of 2002, Tracker had a 16.6-percent share for aluminum boats, trailing only Genmar Industries Inc., which had a 22.7-percent share, according to Statistical Surveys.
In fiberglass boats, Tracker was a distant third with a 4-percent market share, trailing Brunswick, with 17.6-percent, and Genmar with 16.9-percent share.
In addition to the Tracker brand, Tracker Marine builds the Fisher, Nitro, ProCraft, SunTracker, Astro, Tahoe, Kenner, Mako, SeaCraft, Grizzly, Sliver King and Myacht brands.
Jeff Kurowski

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