The headline above may seem a bit out of place in that many people may consider Forrest and Nina Wood the First Family of Bass Boat Legends. Honestly it’s a good argument being that Ranger was one of the first to manufacture contemporary bass boats and the company is still going strong today, although the Woods no longer own the company.
But when it comes down to it, a boat company isn’t worth the fiberglass on the production-line floor without a venue in which to promote, market and sell their product. This is where boat dealerships come into play and you would be hard pressed to find a dealership, then or now, that’s as legendary as Greene Boat and Motor of Spindale, NC.
At the height of the bass boat market in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Greene’s sold over 1000 bass boats per year – yes folks, that’s a “one” followed by “three” zeroes – or an average of 3.2 bass boats per day for a 6-day work week. That number doesn’t include other boats like jon boats, pleasure craft or aluminum v-hulls. I’d challenge you to find a boat dealership that had anything close to those sales numbers – ever. Does the headline make a little more sense now?
For those of you who have been bass fishing from the ‘70s on, it would be hard not to know of Greene’s, no matter where you lived in the United States. Their full-page ads in national magazines, such as Bassmaster Magazine, commanded attention with phrases like, “Number 1 Ranger Dealer in the World,” or “Over 200 Boats in Stock.” They truly were the giants of the retail boat industry for many years and because of that you can’t talk about the history of bass fishing and bass boats without talking about Greene Boat and Motor.
For this piece I made the trip to Spindale to meet with Greene matriarch Rose and her son Andy. It was my first time to their dealership. Upon driving onto the property, you can’t help but get goose bumps. The property still reflects those earlier days – old manufacturer signs, early bass boats in the back lot and other historical memorabilia you can only find at a place that’s “been there, done that.” If it were allowed, the place would be a bass fishing “pickers” dream pick.
Moving into the facility you notice right off the bat the floor and building design is like no other boat shop. There are old tournament trophies hanging on the wall, dated pictures of anglers holding giant bass, and a fully refinished, early 1970s Ranger TR-10 bass boat – fully rigged with the equipment of the time. Walk into the main office and you’ll see Hubert Greene’s coveralls – so many patches attached you’re hard pressed to find the actual cloth they’re sewn on. You can tell, just by looking around, the place is important.
The old adage, “if walls could talk,” holds true here. In the day, visitors to Greene’s included many of the top pros and industry moguls who made the sport what it is. Tom Mann graced the halls many times, David Fritts used Greene’s as his dealership, Bill Dance would venture by on his way from tournament to tournament – the list goes on and on. Anyone who was someone in the sport knew Hubert Greene through business or as a competitor on the many trails he fished and/or supported.
For this article I wanted to talk with the Greenes about how the business got started, their involvement in the early days of competitive bass fishing, how they became the biggest bass boat dealership in the world and what’s changed about the business today.
For two hours Rose and Andy talked with me about the business Hubert and his father Otto started in the 1950s. They talked the old days, the hay days of the ‘70s through the mid-‘90s, the tough times of the early 2000s and what brought them back into the business after being closed for four years. It was an amazing trip back in time – one I hope you enjoy reading about.
From Hobby to Business
Greene Boat and Motor traces its roots all the way back to the Depression-era South when Otto Greene was the head mechanic for a local textile mill. By the 1940s, a young Hubert Greene began helping his father when he wasn’t fishing or playing football.
“It started as a hobby in the 1920s when Hubert’s dad was servicing motors in his garage,” Rose Greene said. “When Hubert got older all he did was fish, play football and work on motors with his dad. That was the extent of his childhood.”
“They lived in a small mill house next to the textile mill,” Andy Greene added. “I met a man a couple of months ago that was their neighbor back then. He was a teenager at the time and he’d tell me, ‘You know, there’s nothing a teenager wants to do more on the weekend but sleep in. I couldn’t because your grandfather and dad were always out in the yard working on motors every Saturday at 8 a.m. in a 55-gallon drum.’”
As the ‘40s closed out, Otto opened Greene’s Outboard Motor and Boat Company in Spindale, NC with a few motor parts, one motor and $100.
“Dad worked for Pop (Otto’s nickname with the family) until he went into the Army,” Andy said. “After the Army he went to Clemson to play football under Frank Howard. Shortly after he got there he messed up his knee and left Clemson. If he couldn’t play football, he wanted to fish and work on motors.
“The first shop they opened was an old full-service gas station,” he said. “They worked on motors of all types and soon after that started selling boats. A few years later they outgrew the original building and moved down the street into another building and over the years they added on a steel building to that. These were the shops on Main Street and the problem wasn’t just space, they basically had to shut down Main Street when they received shipments of boats or motors.”
Bass and Bass Boats
By the ‘60s, things were starting to change. Bass boats were starting to take their shape in the industry and being bass fishermen, these new boats were a good fit for Greene’s Outboard Motor and Boats.
“They were one of the first Ranger dealers there was,” Andy said. “I think they started selling them around 1969. Before that they also sold Terry Bass Boats and Boston Whaler.”
Over the years Greene’s sold not only the brands mentioned above but also MonArk, Bass Cat, Gambler, Dixie, Glastron, Sprint, Stryker and others.
Hubert Greene wasn’t just a mechanic, though. A lifelong bass fisherman and Charter Member of B.A.S.S., he participated in many of the early bass tournaments. He not only knew boats and motors, he knew what the angler needed in a boat.
“Dad was well known on the Bassmaster Trail,” Andy said. “It may not look like he did much but the payouts weren’t what they are today. He’d go to the events and people knew him. They knew he was a good fisherman and knew boats – so they trusted him. It’s not easy for a bass fisherman to buy a boat from someone who doesn’t fish. That’s a big reason so many anglers came to him to buy boats.”
Although Hubert was never able to fish an entire season to become a household name on the national trail, his name was becoming big within the bass boat industry.
“We had people coming from everywhere to buy boats from us,” Rose said. “We were the top-rated Ranger and Gambler dealer for many years. We had good prices, great service and we treated people very well.
“Back then it wasn’t like it is today,” she said. “Back then you had to build the boats – they didn’t come factory-rigged. We had to stock motors, electronics, gauges, even trailers and then have the staff rig everything. Our service department was always busy either rigging new boats or fixing boats.
“We had five riggers on staff at all times. One guy hung the motor, one was at the console rigging the dash and others were rigging electronics and other stuff. A customer could literally come in and watch his boat be built from the ground up the way he wanted it.
“Our goal was to find out what the customer wanted, get his wife involved and find affordable financing for them. We never pushed a customer to buy something they didn’t want. That’s why we were so successful.”
Greene’s was also arguably one of the first dealerships to begin working with banks for financing.
“I think we were the first dealership to start working with the banks to get affordable financing for our customers,” Rose said. “I would convince the banks to make loans for 36, 48 and 60 months. That was unheard of back then. They finally agreed to this when they asked, ‘how many loans could you bring us a year?’ I told them 100. That first year we started financing like that we sold over 100 Rangers alone.”
Clear Water, Blue Skies, a Ranger and You
One person usually isn’t behind a successful company and this was the case with Greene’s. Rose worked in the background making sure previous customers received semi-annual flyers, known as the Boat Trader, to keep them up to date on what was new. She did all the type-setting and printing for the flyer and made sure they were sent out. She also watched the shop when Hubert was off at a tournament, which leads to a funny story of how she got into sales.
“Hubert was off at a tournament one weekend and I had a couple from Tennessee come in to look at a MonArk,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about selling boats but I put together a package for them and they bought it.
“When Hubert came home I told him I sold a boat and he said, ‘What? You don’t know anything about boat sales.’
“I said, ‘Well, here’s the worksheet and here’s this and that,’ and he looked at it. A little while later he came back in with a customer and said, ‘Rose, this is so-and-so and he wants to buy a boat. Sell him a boat.’ I guess I did okay with that MonArk.
“I really liked selling boats,” she said. “It wasn’t a boat I was selling, it was a dream. Every bass fisherman wanted to be like the pros. I was selling that dream to them. It was personal for me.
“One of the first ads I made was a picture of a Ranger boat floating in clear water with a beautiful blue sky. The slogan I used for that ad was, ‘Let us Make Your Dream Come True; Clear Water, Blue Skies, a Ranger and You.’
“We sold 220 Rangers that year.”
Their national marketing ads would also spread their name but it was word-of-mouth that really cemented their place in boat dealership history.
“We had ads in all the national magazines,” Rose said. “We had customers from every state except Hawaii. It got to the point we would go out into the parking lot and take pictures of the license tags on cars and send them in to Forrest (Wood). He loved it and was so supportive of us.
“These customers would then go home and tell their friends about us and we’d get two or three more customers from that sale. It didn’t matter how far away they were, they’d still come.
Rose wasn’t the only family member to become part of the legacy, though. Daughter Sandi also stepped into her mom’s shoes and became an integral part of the company in the ‘80s.
[Editor’s Note: In Part Two the Greenes talk about the move to the location they’ve been at since 1986, a duck named Fudgy, tough times and the reopening of a family legacy. We hope you’ll come back for the rest of the story.]