Starcraft

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Arthur Schrock founded Star Tank Company in 1903 in Goshen, Indiana. The company manufactured metal feeding and watering tanks for livestock. The product line was expanded in the 1920's to include galvanized steel fishing boats. Star Tank was renamed Star Tank and Boat to reflect this expansion. After World War II aluminum boats were introduced and in the 1950's fiberglass boats. In 1956 Starcraft incorporated with 575 employees. Already well established in the boating industry the company entered the recreational vehicle industry with a line of pop-up campers in 1964 under the trade name Starcraft.

Starcraft came on strong in the industry. In fact it can be argued that Starcraft's Starmaster trailer of 1965 greatly influenced the larger manufacturers move to hardtop campers. It was the modern pop-up camper. The Starmaster featured a hardtop, pull-out beds on the front and back of the trailer, aluminum screen door and a patented crank-up lifter mechanism. The patented lifter mechanism is attributed by many as the reason Starcraft rapidly gained market share. While this certainly is true other factors played a part as well. One only needs to carefully compare the available hardtop campers of 1965 to see the whole story.

The concept of a crank-up lifter mechanism had been developed prior to 1964 in trailers like the 1954 Ranger manufactured by Hille Engineering but was not commonly found on pop-up campers. Frequently these systems proved expensive and unreliable. Also up to 1964 the majority of pop-up campers sold were tent-tops which opened by flipping the beds. Lloyd J. Bontrager, an employee of Star Tank and Boat Company, applied for a patent for his lifter mechanism invention on February 18, 1965 and was granted US Patent 3,314,715 on April 18, 1967 with Star Tank and Boat Company as the assignor. The telescoping lifter system was well designed and reliable. Lloyd J. Bontrager left Star Tank and Boat Company late in 1967 and started Jayco Inc., which in a twist of irony, now owns Starcraft RV. He made other important contributions to Starcraft's manufacturing processes before his departure. You can read much more about Lloyd J. Bontrager in the Jayco section.

In 1966 Arthur Schrock, founder, died at the age of 85. His son, Harold Schrock, and the Schrock Family sold the Star Tank and Boat Company to a conglomerate, Bangor Punta, finalizing the deal in 1967. Starcraft was purchased for $17,692,300 in cash and stock. Appearantly Harold Schrock had attempted to sell the company to Chris Craft in 1958 but the deal fell through when Chris Craft's written offer was less than what was verbally agreed upon. Instead 20% of the company's stock was offered publicly which resulted in raising $3,000,000, twice that of Chris Craft's offer. Harold Schrock continued as president of Starcraft from 1966 to 1969, at which time he left to form Sylvan Marine. Starcraft was now part of Bangor Punta's Liesure Time Group. Additional common stock of Starcraft Corporation was acquired in March 1968, increasing Bangor Punta's ownership interest to 96%.

Under Bangor Punta's leadership Starcraft continued as before, a company with a diversified product line. It survived the 1973 gasoline shortage crisis created by OPEC to punish America. Like other manufacturers who survived the crisis they adapted their product line with smaller and lighter campers. In 1977 they expanded into van conversions and customizations targeting middle to upper middle income earners. This new line of business continue to grow well into the 1980's.

In February/March of 1984 Bangor Punta was acquired by Lear Siegler, Inc., the makers of the Lear Jet. Lear Siegler's main interest in acquiring Bangor Punta was for its general aviation aircraft business. In December 1986, leveraged buyout specialist Forstmann Little & Company led a group that took Lear Siegler private with a new holding company created called Lear Siegler Holdings Corporation. The new holding company quickly sought to sell off noncore assets to pay down the debt incurred in the buyout.  Among these noncore assets was Smith and Wesson, Starcraft Recreational Products, and others. Not included was the Piper Aircraft business. It was during this time, 1987, that Starcraft management team acquired the company in an expensive leveraged buyout that left them $78 million in debt. In 1988 the company's boat-building business, Starcraft Power Boats, was sold off to Brunswick Corporation for $40 million. An interesting side note here, in 1996 Brunswick Corporation decided to divest itself of Starcraft. Doug Schrock, the son of Harold Schrock who sold Starcraft, puchased Starcraft Boats.

Even with the sale of the boat business the financial situation did not change and Starcraft filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 1990. The company was auctioned by the bankruptcy court. Kelly Rose, cofounder of an electronics supply business in Elkhart that catered to the van conversion industry, and his partner Stephen Kash purchased Starcraft on January 18, 1991. Simultaneously Starcraft's recreation vehicle business was sold to Jayco, who still owns them as of 2009. Starcarft again flourished under Kelly's dynamic leadership.

Unlike most acquisitions Jayco never merged Starcraft into their own operations and continue to this day to operate them independent of each other.

<Pending Starcraft's story under Jayco's leadership>

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