ODYSSEY® Batteries: How EnerSys® Employee Innovation Helped Fishermen Catch the Big One
It is our innovative and entrepreneurial people that truly make EnerSys® a unique company. One exceptional example of teamwork, ingenuity and this creative mindset is the story of how the ODYSSEY® Marine Dual Purpose Battery was born.
In the mid-20th century, EnerSys Energy Products Inc. (formerly Hawker Energy Products Inc.) located in Warrensburg, Missouri, was one of the first factories in the nation to develop virtually maintenance-free, sealed lead acid batteries. EnerSys supervisor, Terry Elwell recounted that the batteries he and his colleagues produced were designed for Business-to-Business (B2B) applications, but they believed from their own leisurely pursuits that there was potential for these powerful energy storage products to help a specific type of consumer with whom they were very familiar – those fishing on Missouri's waterways, trolling with hopes of catching the big one.
Trolling is a fishing method that involves covertly entering a fishing spot using the power of the boat’s electric motor– without starting the engine – to avoid scaring away the fish. Since trolling relies on remaining as quiet as possible, the motor and power source used are crucial. The traditional outboard engines on the boats are used for power and speed, but the smaller electric motor provides stealth when needed. The existing battery technology for small fishing boats at the time was not sufficient to support trolling and still have enough power left to restart the engine.
Elwell and his team completed a marketing study that identified a large retail market for a marine battery to support trolling applications.
With room and component supply available at the existing manufacturing facility, the product team set out to develop a battery - which they dubbed “Trolling Thunder” - that would be lightweight for use in boats without sacrificing power, capacity or reliability. The resulting product was a dual-purpose battery pack that could accommodate 12- or 24-volt needs and could be mounted onto boats. The team began designing the batteries specifically to fit fiberglass fishing boats, making them invaluable to fishing enthusiasts.
Beyond the product design, the next major challenge was marketing. When recalling the undertaking of marketing the Trolling Thunder™ battery, Elwell noted, "By trade, I'm a buyer. For Trolling Thunder™ batteries, I had to 'flip my hat' and become a sales guy, and I think it made me both a better person and a better buyer.”
To truly reach the target market, sales representatives got in contact with Bass Pro Shops to get the Trolling Thunder™ battery into stores, and attended countless fishing expos like the Bassmaster Classic to tell the story of their new product.
The team then connected with some of the most well-known competitors in professional fishing, including Gary Klein, Ken Cook and Shaw Grigsby.
Terry Elwell next to an original Trolling Thunder™ battery display at a Bass Pro Shop
As the success of the Trolling Thunder™ batteries grew, so did the excitement of the teams responsible for its inception, production and distribution. "It was great to watch the morale of the people working on the project," Elwell explained. "This was something our people could put their hands on and see their work in stores, and at use in competition, and bringing joy to the average person doing what they love. As outdoor enthusiasts…the team could relate to that. It was a great morale booster – they couldn't wait to get the next build order for the Trolling Thunder."
While the Trolling Thunder™ battery concept originated within the team at the plant in Missouri, the success of the product was bolstered by support from management throughout the plant and from corporate leadership. Elwell especially recalled support from EnerSys CFO Mike Schmidtlein – who, at the time, was the controller at the plant, "We needed the resources to tell this story – it was made possible because we had some great support from Mike Schmidtlein.”
Mike Schmidtlein, also recalled the commercial success of the Trolling Thunder™ battery products and the positive effect the project had on the local team, “It was a great example of the employees of the company seeing an opportunity and the company giving them the chance to run with it. For three or four years, they turned it into a really innovative business. They were out there selling this product and looking for every possible opportunity; it was a testament to their commitment to a great product and the customers we serve. It was an honor to support the team in this endeavor.”
The Trolling Thunder™ battery product sales grew to nearly $5 million in just a few years, catching the attention of major retail stores. Since then, the Trolling ThunderTM battery has matured into the ODYSSEY® battery product portfolio we offer today. The descendants of the Trolling ThunderTM battery initiative are still available in marine battery markets.
Today, EnerSys remains proud of our heritage and the exceptional team members that took the initiative to identify a market segment that benefited from our premium technology and products.