MELROSE, Minn. – Prize money totaled $27,000 in last year’s David A. Andersen Memorial Walleye Shootout on Lake of the Woods.
Of the 45 teams competing, 15 shared in the purse. The weird thing? Every contestant fished out of a Minnesota-made Warrior boat.
Warrior President Chuck Barth says the annual tournament is a “family” thing — an annual get-together of brand loyalists, dedicated employees and dealers.
And as his independent company prepares this week to unveil its first new model in three years, Barth credits that kinship — including friendly ties to other Minnesota boat manufacturers — for Warrior’s newfound success.
“We’re competitors, but at the same time we’re together,” Barth said this week at Warrior’s manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Melrose. “I’m good friends with some of them, and I’ve asked for their advice. They are more of an ally than anything.”
The Northwest Sportshow, opening Thursday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, will be another chance for industry insiders to catch up.
Larson Boats of Little Falls moved to Wisconsin in 2017, but Minnesota is still home to Lund and Crestliner in New York Mills, Alumacraft in St. Peter, Premier Pontoons in Wyoming and more than a smattering of parts suppliers big and small.
Warrior’s story reflects Minnesota’s intrastate boat building connections as well as any. Owned by a trio of passionate walleye fishermen, the company previously bought its trailers from a nearby manufacturer in Freeport.
A separate outfit in Little Falls makes Warrior’s boat covers while Carstens Industries of Melrose provides all of the boat maker’s fiberglass hulls and caps.
Warrior specializes in premium, high-powered, deep-hulled boats that excel on big lakes. They are favored by walleye anglers, including a fair share of professionals.
The company’s family tree is rooted in Maple Lake, where Tom and Marge Latour started Sun Patio pontoon boats in 1985. Warrior was an offshoot, carefully crafted by the Latours to critical acclaim in the Upper Midwest. Financially, however, the operation didn’t survive the Great Recession.
“They knew boats,” Barth said. “They had very good ideas, and we couldn’t let it all go by the wayside.”
Barth was a walleye tournament angler and a Warrior loyalist. He teamed up with three like-minded friends, and they resurrected Warrior in Melrose. Bankers owned the defunct Warrior name, manufacturing molds and tools. Barth’s group purchased the assets and reintroduced the Warrior line in 2011.
David A. Andersen was one of the partners. He was close to Barth, helping out in sales until he died in 2016 of a heart attack. Andersen’s son, Kent, is now the company’s national sales manager. Barth, Pat Brockshaw of Hager City, Wis., and Al Leinen of Melrose are the remaining owners.
Warrior Assistant Manager Dave Klassen said the company eased into production with about 65 boats a year and gradually ramped up its output. Last year’s sales added up to 135 units, and company officials are forecasting a substantial sales increase for 2019. Barth once said the founders dream about selling 600 boats a year.
“We’ll probably be building an addition to give us more room,” Klassen said.
Top-of-the-line boat, motor and trailer packages sell at Warrior for more than $115,000. But Klassen said the new model — to be unveiled Thursday morning at the Sportshow — is medium-sized and aimed at families who are serious about fishing but also keen on other water sports.
As a smaller manufacturer, Warrior doesn’t get the best pricing on parts and tools. But the strategy since 2011 has been to keep tight reins on inventory and emphasize pride and excellence in manufacturing. Turnover among the plant’s 20 workers is near zero.
“Warrior has a pretty tight family,” Klassen said. “We have a bunch of employees who really love what they do.”