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In Deep

Why the growth in fishing is fuelling optimism in all parts of the industry

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The prevailing mood in the global angling trade right now is one of cautious optimism. Our snap survey of advertisers from all parts of the world confirms what many of you already know – sales have rebounded beyond all expectations after the complete cessation in March and April. But what next after this surge?

There was optimism before the lockdown

Prior to lockdown and the advent of COVID-19 there is evidence that the trade was set fair for a solid 2020. Suppliers were starting the year full of optimism. Indeed, some were predicting record sales before the world was sent into a tailspin that saw fishing bans and store closures across the globe.
Scott Makway, President of the Can-Am Sales Group, told Angling International: “Prior to COVID-19 we were ramping up to have a very strong year – our distribution and retail partners were well set for a fantastic 2020.”
It was a similar story for Latvian-based Lucky John Europe, which was predicting new records for the company across its European export markets, according to Anda Vaisla.
Fellow eastern European supplier, Favorite, was also looking forward to a successful year. The company’s Export Manager, Sergey Marchenko, says: “Our business was going well and we had good projections for the year. Current partners had added more products to their selections and we had worked hard on new products for presentation at EFTTEX in Prague.”
OEM line producer FirstDart had planned a series of upgrades to its production processes and equipment to cater for the growing demand for its vaue-for-money nylon, monofilament and fly fishing products – all based on a positive business outlook for 2020.
SERT, the French-based manufacturer and owner of top-name brands that include BIWAA, Garbolino and JMC, reported an 8% increase in sales at the end of February compared to 2019. Director General and Managing Director Jerome Mio says: “Our warehouse was full of goods because we anticipated starting deliveries early. The orders were also good and we were confident of reaching our targets. “Then, in February we got some negative signals from Italy and by mid-March we faced lockdown in our home market and almost all of Europe.”

Sales really have rebounded spectacularly after the halt – especially for domestic suppliers

From the doom and gloom of a total lockdown across the globe, no one could have predicted the upturn in trade across the board as seasoned anglers and newcomers to the sport took to the water in unprecedented numbers, injecting a life and vitality into the sport not seen for years. That said, the sudden surge in sales has caused supply issues as manufacturers struggle to cope with an unexpected demand for product from markets across the world.
Scott Makway, President of Can-Am Sales Group, said: “From a selling cycle, it has thrown a big curve. In a normal year, many of our customers would have spring/summer 2021 completed by now. This year many are just starting and are only now in mid-line review. With everyone wanting information at the same time, it creates a bit of a manpower bottleneck. I am sure that late decisions will have an impact on the supply chain pipeline as factories ramp up ’21 production.”
Lucky John, the Latvian supplier, has reported the best selling months ever for the company in May, June and July. While EFTTA Board member Ciro Esposito, of Italian-based manufacturer and wholesaler Europesca, said: “After lockdown – and thanks to pressure on the authorities by the Italian Association of the Fishing Tackle Industry (FIPO) – fishing was one of the first sporting activities to be allowed. This has resulted in a quick pick-up in business and higher tackle sales than the same time in previous seasons. It is difficult to say how long this will last – hopefully the whole season.”
Sandrine Weisse of Delalande Peche, the French tackle supplier, says that her company has experiencedunprecendented sales since May. “We believe the resurgence in sales will really save the season for us,” she adds.
In the U.S. lure supplier Felmlee Lures is reporting a boom in sales. Michael Flanagan, President & CEO, said: “Our lure sales have increased significantly, and our new products are starting to take off which gives us a positive outlook for the remainder of 2020 and 2021. The pandemic has been positive for the fishing industry.”
Jerome Mio, of SERT, says that sales were down by 23% at the end of May compared to 2019. “We had three difficult months and then a terrible April with no business being conducted. But we have had two fantastic months – June and July – since lockdown restrictions were eased and have recovered all the losses. I can only say that it was absolutely unexpected and has not been easy for our supply staff managing such an acceleration in business.”
It has been a similar story for Lotta Olt, the Russian wholesaler of fishing tackle. Gennadi Zharkov, its General Director and owner, said: “We had very slow sales during the quarantine period because of the restrictions imposed on us and our clients. Now, sales activity is good – even better than before the crisis. Because of the slow start to the year many new product introductions have been later in the year and the summer sales season is shorter.”
Yoshi Dohi, of the Japanese hook maker Dohitomi, added: “Sales are about the same as last year. Although they dropped in the first half, they are gradually recovering and we expect that in the remaining five months we will exceed last year’s performance.”

Digital marketing has added a new dimension – and shows will need a stronger sales pitch in the future

There is no doubt that the advent of COVID-19 has changed the way the world does business, and the tackle trade has not been immune to the challenges presented in promoting products to customers. Digital marketing has now come to the fore like never before and those companies that already had alternative ways of catering for the needs of their customers were better placed to take advantage of the switch to online business than others.
The cancellation of all the major trade shows, including ICAST, EFTTEX and China Fish, prevented manufacturers and brands from showcasing their new product launches as they have done in the past, and challenged companies to be more innovative and embrace technology to get their message across and keep up contact with their business partners.
Sergey Marchenko, Export Manager at Favorite, said: “We expected to make new product presentations at EFTTEX and ICAST as well as meet our partners and dealers. However, we did not feel it was a big loss as nowadays everything can be carried out online. Presentations via YouTube and conversations on Zoom and other social media came to the fore. Digitalisation is what has come through as a winner of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Ken Harada, (left) General Manager at Japanese line maker Momoi, agreed. He said: “We lost the oppportunity to show off our new products at EFTTEX to our customers face-to-face. However, we are now utilising online meeting software where we can do the same.”

Sandy Ogata, of Singapore-based OEM line maker FirstDart, added: “We miss the physical interaction and camaraderie of the trade shows. However, we are grateful for the exisiting virtual tools and are embracing the digital world on many fronts – online communication with customers, social media, virtual trade shows and B2B marketplaces among others.”
Eli G. Rosenberg, Director PR & Media, Catch Co, added: “There is nothing we value more than our relationship with consumers and new product launches are a great opportunity to pull them even closer to our company and brands. When we develop new products there is a tremendous amount of market research, advanced R&D and extensive testing involved to ensure we bring only the best products to market. While much of that work has happened behind the scenes in the past, we are excited to share more of that with consumers going forward.
“We are using the launch of our new Googan Squad x Catch Co. fishing rods as an opportunity to give everyone a behind-the-scenes look into how this line-up was developed. We are developing a broad range of engaging content that will be shared across web, email and social media with the millions of consumers that are fans of the Googan Squad and our Catch Co. brands. By further amplifying that reach through key influencer partners we feel the message around this exciting launch will be heard far and wide.”
Francesco Di Bene, Design Director of Italian rod maker Airrus, said: “We have noticed an increase in business with stores and retailers that have a strong online presence and good e-commerce platforms, but a decrease with more traditional retailers. It is the way the industry is moving.”
Mike Brooks of US-based Ardent Tackle, says that his company’s customers are fully adapting to new procedures to accomplish business results. “We are not allowing the cancellation of shows to impede our progress.”
Delalande Pêche has also sought other ways to reach its customers. Sandrine Weisse said: “The cancellation of EFTTEX did not hamper us too much this year as we used social media to launch our line-up of 2021 new products.”

But how to find new customers? It seems shows may still have the edge when it comes to new markets

Trade shows still have a role to play in attracting new customers. The value of face-to-face communication should not be underestimated, say regular exhibitors to events across the world. Anda Vaisla of Lucky John said: “Of course, we miss real meetings with our business partners and maybe opening new markets will take more effort and time. However we hope this will not last for years and soon we will be able to travel and exhibit again. We still feel shows are a useful tool in attracting new customers.”
Ken Harada, General Manager at Momoi Fishing, added: “We are able to discuss business matters with customers online, but it is difficult getting to know new customers that way. Trade shows give us that opportunity. “In addition, new customers have a real chance to see and feel the products with the people who made them.”

Is this the death of the big new product launch?

R&D and supply challenges will make launches harder to schedule – but had that trend already begun?

Planned and orchestrated product launches – the staple diet of fishing tackle trade shows across the globe – were put on hold by many companies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While ICAST persevered with its show in a digital format, the cancellation of EFTTEX and China Fish left a large hole in the plans of many companies who traditionally use the events as platforms for product introductions. New ways have been devised to get product in front of dealers, raising a question mark over the future of stage-managed product launches based around the trade show calendar.

Taking a lead in a new approach to launches is Chicago-based Catch Co. The company’s Eli G. Rosenberg says: “We continue to take a different approach from many others in how we phase product launches. Because of our diverse commerce portfolio spanning direct-to-consumer and in-store retail, we are able to take a continuous rolling approach to launches.
“What that means is instead of ‘holding’ new launches to coincide with holiday periods or store merchandising resets, we are able to consistently launch new items throughout the year. We feel this is best for consumers as it eliminates new launch ‘dead zones’ and gives them an opportunity to discover new products all-year round.”

Could it be the future? Or is that future already here? Mark Hamnett, MD of UK-based Fishing Matters, owner of the Partridge and Cox & Rawle brands, says: “From a marketing perspective, I don’t rely on a big sales force like some companies and I don’t launch at shows, so their cancellation didn’t affect me. “We have developed new product and launched it as soon as we have got it by going direct to shops via social media and through our MailChimp database. As a result of our actions we have not had to make any changes to our new product schedule.” Tom Gahan, Chief Marketing Officer, of e-commerce brand KastKing, adds: “Our new product cycle hasn’t changed because it is driven by the consumer, not our own timeline. But like everyone in the industry, we have faced challenges getting enough of both new and legacy products to meet the demand.”