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Rapala CEO: This is why we added Okuma to our group… and what we plan next


Rapala President and CEO Nicolas Warchalowski has spoken to Angling International about the company’s acquisition of Okuma’s businesses in Europe and Russia. “This will move the needle for our entire group,” he says. And, as he explains here, he has not ruled out yet more acquisitions.

Warchakowski: I am so proud of the teams on both sides who have really made this dream deal possible.

The discussions were initiated back in May 2020. The relationship between Charles Chang’s Okuma team and ours dates back all the way to Jorma Kasslin’s time as Rapala CEO. Charles’s insight and vision has been a key driver and resulted in our teams getting closer and closer this time around. Our Taichung sourcing office is located 20 minutes away from Okuma’s global HQ and has certainly been a key enabling factor, as well as having our COO, Lars Ollberg, based in Taichung since August 2020 to oversee these latest discussions. Also, the hugely successful strategic partnership with Yao-I regarding the Sufix brand has certainly been a key enabler. All in all, many fortunate events came together enabled by great teamwork from both parties.

Our intention is to turn Okuma into a leading R&R brand in Europe and to fight for market share in the largest categories against the big three global R&R brands (Shimano, Daiwa and Abu Garcia).

Okuma will remain its own brand. When we announced this cooperation with Okuma to the wider team, I was blown away by the enthusiastic team reaction. They were thrilled with excitement. Following the amicable divorce from the distribution agreement with Shimano, and with 13 Fishing still in ‘incubation mode’, it was made very clear to me that our passionate team members have been waiting to get going on something as big as a pan-European Okuma launch. What a perfect way and timing for our group to now embark on a new growth journey. The Okuma launch will really be able to move the needle for our entire group.

Okuma rods and reels will be the perfect complement to 13 Fishing products, which we are beginning to introduce to Europe.

13F products are seeing a very successful introduction in their core segments, but the brand still has some way to go when it comes to international capabilities and range expansion. We have great belief in 13F and I firmly believe that it has all the potential to become a global megabrand in the industry. Together with 13F, we are now rolling out more global products that carry its modern and young DNA.

With the small entrepreneurial 13F team there are no shortcuts – all products must be properly tested and have enough of the brand’s ‘secret sauce’ applied to achieve that special cool and edgy appeal that young millennials have come to love in the USA.

13F is targeting anglers aged 15-35 behind an innovative, narrower product line-up and edgy, digitally-focused sales and marketing support going up against brands like Savage Gear. Okuma, on the other hand, can compete against the big three global R&R brands (Shimano, Daiwa and Abu Garcia) with a complete and highly-commercial R&R range.

We are now gearing up to commence our Okuma partnership with a ‘big bang’ pan-European/Russian launch for the 2022 season worthy of this flagship brand.

Okuma is on an exciting brand transformation path to becoming a serious contender to the biggest brands in Europe and we hope to greatly accelerate that journey through our new cooperation. With Okuma we are in it for the long run, meaning that we will take no short-cuts and will turn every stone that needs to be turned to get the brand where it should be in consumers’ hearts and on retailers’ shelves across Europe and Russia. From a product development and innovation perspective, the reel range is highly impressive and is already proven in Europe. However, the rods and combos range needs some further joint attention. From a sales and marketing perspective, point-of-sale material and social media presence will get an extra push. Last but not least, the Okuma brand will benefit hugely from applying one consistent sales and marketing strategy along with significantly increased investment across the entire European and Russian markets.

There will be some organisational changes to achieve a flatter reporting structure because I believe this has real benefits for the group.

Historically, Rapala’s country heads in Europe reported directly to former CEO Jorma Kasslin (who, by the way, they loved). It was a very flat, agile organisation and decision-making was fast. To get something to happen took only a quick call to Jorma and the decision was made right there on the spot.

Over the years, and as the business grew, governance, of course, had to be adopted. However, management layer after management layer was added, resulting in Rapala becoming too bureaucratic, slow-moving and, crucially, some of the fun of working together was lost.
In Europe (and across our other business units) we are now removing management layers to get our team members closer to each other, to make us faster, more successful and, most importantly, to enjoy what we do as a team. We are already seeing positive benefits and believe this to be an important element in our new growth journey.

I have always practiced an informal leadership style. I really like to be close to the business and out and about with the team. For me, it all begins and ends with the team, boosting the culture and team spirit. If we can get our people to jump out of bed in the morning, have fun together at work and to feel that, hand-on-heart, they are working in their dream job, all the other matters become so much easier to deal with.

With Okuma having its own rod and reel factories and Rapala owning the full value chain for most of our brands, along with impressive manufacturing capabilities, there are several future acquisitions that could bring additional synergies.

Our new ONE RAPALA VMC business plan is built both on organic growth and mergers and acquisition activities. In rods and reels we could not have dreamed of having a stronger brand portfolio in Europe and Russia than we have now with our group brands, 13F and Okuma. The key focus for us right now is to help the 13F team to expand internationally and to turn the pan-European Okuma launch in 2022 into an overwhelming success. The better we succeed with this the faster we can look at additional acquisitions.

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