World Hovercraft Championship events begin Sunday
Promoter gives tips, demo to marketing group
Sept. 12, 2002
By Lori Henson
|Chris Fitzgerald promotes a cool
His hovercraft speeds and maneuvers -- sometimes wildly -- across
water and land on a cushion of air. His beloved vehicle is even
featured this fall with James Bond at the controls.
But despite its inherent coolness, marketing the hovercraft and
its showcase event, the World Hovercraft Championship, for which
kickoff events begin Sunday in Terre Haute, isn't always easy.
Fitzgerald shared some of his obstacles and advice -- and a trip
around the Wabash River -- Wednesday with members of the local
chapter of the American Marketing Association.
Fitzgerald said the difficulty in marketing a new form of transportation
is finding an audience to listen.
"I've had to spend my life finding ways to create a market," said
Fitzgerald, chairman and president of Neoteric Hovercraft Inc.
of Terre Haute. "You don't have a clue who the customers are,
and they're very hard to find."
He said he's taken tips from the early automotive and aircraft
"[Charles] Lindbergh's flight put the aircraft industry
on the map," Fitzgerald said. And he credited Henry Ford's
auto racing support with speeding the adoption of automobiles.
"It's a way of getting the concept into the public view
without a lot of money," Fitzgerald told the group.
Of course, aircraft also was helped along by its heroic performance
in two World Wars.
The hovercraft's popularity would soar, Fitzgerald joked, "if
we could have a huge war in a swamp somewhere. So, I'm looking
for that right now." Fitzgerald doesn't need a war to popularize
the hovercraft with his natural salesmanship, said Michelle Engle,
manager of music entertainment for Sony Disc Manufacturing in Terre
Haute and president of the Marketing Association.
"A circus manager is really what I am," Fitzgerald
said. "You hope the tent is going to be there. It's a big
The ringmaster even made a show out of his talk, taking Karen
Landsaw, a marketing assistant at Westminster Village, for a spin
in the Official Pace Craft for the World Hovercraft Championship.
"I won't be afraid," Landsaw said, and climbed into
the craft in pumps and a long red skirt for a trip around the river
near the Fairbanks Park boat ramp.
"It's really smooth," she said afterward. "He's
a very good driver!"
Engle said she hoped members took away some good ideas from Fitzgerald's
talk. But she said his speech, preceded by a moment of silence,
was also a chance to celebrate a premier event in Terre Haute on
an otherwise sad day, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"This is a day of remembrance," she said. "We're
so excited to have something positive to focus on in our community."