From the humble origins of a model shop in the West Midlands Norman Fletcher built his first boat to satisfy a boyhood passion for speed and performance. His first boats proved so successful that soon others were asking him to build examples for them.
The time was around the late 1950’s, England was recovering from the austere war years and the swinging 60’s were just around the corner.
Suddenly it was going to get very busy for Norman.
In the next 10 years Fletcher Boats was going to become a global force in the sportsboat market and be the largest producer outside the USA! I never met the man myself but I know a few who have. ‘Firm but fair’ seems to be a reasonable appraisal. Possibly the Alan Sugar of his day? Totally absorbed in his product he was fanatical about producing a quality boat at the right price. He invested in technology and he invested in research and design. Every boat show there was a new Fletcher or a new take on an existing model – and there were literally thousands of people queuing up to buy them. Fletcher was a huge success.
Selling out to the Hornby Group in the late 80’s saw significant changes in the company. Not just the move from Private to Public hands but when Norman left a lot of the passion and drive left with him. The R&D budget was cut and the company diversified into other areas. Fletcher became a significant moulder for the likes of Avon Inflatables and Sunseeker - they also produced thousands of mudguards for ERF Trucks!
On the surface things looked good as the range was expanded and by early 2000 Fletcher produced boats from 14’ – 25’.
However, all was not well in the boat yard. Fletcher was suffering a double blow. Europe was still recovering from a recession and there was a massive increase in cheap imports from the States. Some disastrous Group decisions also served to put pressure on an already stretched company.
In 2002 the administrators were called in.
After the Hornby buyout the company started to look around for ways to streamline costs. One initiative was to outsource non-core activity – typical behaviour of big companies at the time. In Norman’s day they made everything and very little was outsourced. In doing this Norman felt he could control quality and costs, but this was soon to change. Fletcher had their own trailer division and this was obviously a significant part of the supply chain as without a trailer the boats weren’t going anywhere! They were also the largest single boat trailer user in the UK so quite a prize for a manufacturer.
SBS Trailers, down the road in Wolverhampton, started to make approaches in the early nineties and after much persuasion was awarded the exclusive contract to supply trailers to Fletcher. The design and branding remained the same and this heralded the start of a long association between the two companies. SBS was pretty successful in it own right and is probably the largest supplier of boat trailers direct to the trade. Having outgrown its current premises SBS was looking to relocate so when Fletcher got into difficulty SBS approached them with a view to buying them out and combining the operations at the Fletcher site. Their initial attempt failed and the company was bought by someone else who distinguished themselves by going into liquidation barely a year later. Nevertheless, despite the recent bruising SBS made another bid – this time for the Name, IPR and design rights - and managed to secure a deal.
So the next chapter of Fletcher history began. Combining the two business on an already overcrowded site was never going to work so new premises were sought and both business now occupy a significant factory – 70,000square feet – near Junction 2 of the M54. Although under common ownership Fletcher Boats is totally separate from SBS Trailers and is now enjoying something of a revival. The days of mass production are gone and we face a very different market place to the days of Norman. Global competition and currency exchange rates are a fact of life so we are carving a new niche for Fletcher.
We have re-established the existing range and focussed on the quality of build and from the many comments received I think it is fair to say these are the best Fletcher’s ever built. More a ‘Boutique Builder’ than a volume manufacturer Fletcher can now offer a more individual service and tailor the boat to customers requirements – although we did draw the line at a pink hull! Product development is very much a priority and outline plans for new models have been drawn up. We are facing challenging times and a difficult economic climate but we are confident that if we continue to offer the discerning customer a superior product at a realistic price then the future remains positive.