July 18, 2014
Specialized bass fishing techniques have sparked a renaissance in custom fishing rod building kits.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Tom McNamara got more than he bargained for when searching online for a vintage casting reel at a New Jersey tackle store.
He bought the reel, the store and everything else in it.
McNamara, from Florida, bought Mud Hole Tackle after its owner disclosed his wife’s terminal illness would force him to sell it. Since the 1970s, the store served anglers along the Jersey Shore and was named after a popular offshore fishing area.
“I viewed it as a great opportunity to get into the tackle business,” said McNamara, at the time an electrical engineer from Orlando.
That was in 1999 when the Internet was first evolving as a virtual search tool. McNamara built a web site for the new Mud Hole Tackle after it became clear the store would not be a bricks-and-mortar business.
“The plan was for my wife to run it while I kept a full-time job,” he said. “It didn’t work, nor did the plan to build a big tackle store in a hot market like Orlando.”
That’s due in part to Bass Pro Shops building an Outdoor World there. Undeterred, McNamara quit his job, pressed on and found another means of attracting customers. He created what he believes was the first color catalog directed to do-it-yourself rod builders.
McNamara’s marketing plan directed the catalog to an older age demographic yet to adapt to the Internet. He used the online tool to spread the word about the new company elsewhere.
“The original store had a large inventory of rod building and repair components,” he said. “There wasn’t anywhere else around where you could find those supplies so I reorganized the business to accommodate that market.”
McNamara unloaded the general tackle inventory and pared it back to rod blanks, guides, handles and all of the materials needed to make a complete rod. He ramped up that inventory to make it clear to consumers that Mud Hole Tackle would be a leader in the custom rod-building category.
“We created a niche,” he said of the move in 2003. “Back then, there still was a market for it and I viewed it as a growth area in the tackle industry.”
The decision paid off. Old timers revived a hobby and the virtual store became a go-to resource for everything from wrapping tools to thread. The challenge was bringing new customers into the concept of rod building.
“The market back then was all about affordable, mass produced rods,” he admitted. “It was tough to compete against a factory made, completed rod.”
Specialized bass fishing techniques sparked a renaissance in rod building. As anglers refined their fishing styles and lure companies invented a wide variety of baits, the idea of custom rod building took off. Coincidentally, the move by G. Loomis to stop selling rod blanks helped even more.
Still, a learning curve challenged growth for Mud Hole Tackle.
“You can’t use what we sell because it requires building it,” McNamara said. “The mindset of people these days is they want it now.”
McNamara succeeded in changing that mindset by tugging at the emotions of anglers.
“We promoted the idea of making your own rod as an extension of enjoying the sport,” he said. “It’s nothing different than waxing a boat to show pride in your lifestyle and enjoyment of the sport.”
McNamara’s mission statement for Mud Hole Tackle is simple, and it speaks toward anyone skeptical about building a custom rod.
“I say first and foremost that Mud Hole Tackle is an education company,” he said. “If we can convince someone they can build their own rod then we’ve got them as a customer.”
That’s evident in the print catalog. The first 10 of its 250 pages is devoted to education and the how-to process. A DVD comes with every kit sold.
Mud Hole Tackle also sponsors Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Lester. His boat is wrapped in the company’s logo. Lester also promotes the concept of rod building and Mud Hole Tackle’s business throughout the year at sports shows.
“Once you convince people that building a rod isn’t that difficult they come on board as a customer,” he observed. “We tap into the overall do-it-yourself mentality that consumers already have of doing home repairs and improvement projects.”
A new customer is the growing segment of youth anglers at the high school level. B.A.S.S. is promoting a nationwide high school series and the growth is apparent by the participation at recent events. Mud Hole Tackle is a sponsor of the program.
Mud Hole Tackle also takes its message to high school educators. Throughout the summer MacNamara and his team conduct seminars at conferences. It’s a deliberate move to spread the concept to the masses.
“We started it four years ago after our noticing a spike in our sales to high schools,” he said. “Now we’re going to as many as we can and teaching 30 or more teachers at each conference.”
The plan is working, with some 400 high schools involved spread throughout the U.S., Canada and even South America.
Research indicated that schools bought the rod kits as part of extra curricula activities. In many cases the completed rods were sold as auction items at school fund-raisers.
McNamarra took note and created a syllabus and even tests in a ready-to-use rod building kit for high school students. The curriculum focuses on the topics of business applied to materials costs, engineering and manufacturing related to the rod building process and sales.
The rod building kits supplied to high schools are made of cardboard. QR Codes are printed on the kit so students can watch short videos about each rod-building step.
It’s a win-win all around. The kit costs $2 and a completed rod has $30 or less in materials. Many students wrap rods in their school colors and sell the rods for $100.
“We get feedback all of the time that classes apply the money towards a fishing trip or other related activity for the students,” McNamarra said. “It’s the most rewarding part of this business.”
And business is growing. Not surprisingly the coldest months of the year are the hottest for sales.
McNamara is pleased with the results, considering what led him to Mud Hole Tackle in the first place.
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