After parting ways with Savage Gear in the USA, Okuma needed a re-think and a quick win. Its solution? To dive headlong into the lures market and to do it with not one, but two, left-field partnerships. The result is Fish Lab, a brand for anglers who want an extra edge.
What at first might seem an unlikely alliance between a US tackle company, a Chinese lure maker and a Japanese designer has spawned a new global brand. Fish Lab, a new name in the lures category, is the result of a partnership between Okuma USA and Fish Inc Lures, with renowned Japanese creative Hide Iwasaki at the heart of product development.
The path to the partnership began when European brand Savage Gear decided on direct involvement with the US market and parted company with its long-time distributor, Okuma. “By that time we had gained a wealth of experience in selling, promoting and most importantly the development process of lures,” explains Okuma’s Director of Product Development, John Bretza. “We soon realised that having lures also made us a stronger partner with all our current customers, so we made the decision to develop our own lures brand, Fish Lab.”
However, the team behind Fish Lab, led by Product Manager Mike Bennett, quickly learned that its knowledge of developing and selling lures wasn’t enough to build and launch a new brand. So Okuma Managing Director Charles Chang approached his long-time friend, Jackie Hsu, owner of Fish Inc., about the opportunity to work together on the project.
“We knew how to develop and sell lures from our experience with Savage Gear, but Jackie Hsu is one of the main reasons we have been able to develop and launch the Fish Lab brand,” says Bennett. “He has tremendous experience in developing lures and working with lure factories, which is exactly what we needed. It allowed us to jump right in and start developing unique lures for the US market. Fish Inc. is the design house for all development and factory coordination.
“The timing for our alignment was perfect. They had just finished developing and testing an entirely new line of saltwater lures, which was going to be our next design step in Fish Lab. We were able to incorporate most of these designs into Fish Lab for US distribution, strengthening our overall offerings for both the freshwater and saltwater markets.”
Another benefit brought to the partnership by Hsu was the prodigious talent of Japanese lure designer Hide Iwasaki. “I cannot say enough about this guy,” says Bretza. “He is truly one of the best people I have worked with in the fishing industry when it comes to overall product development.”
Fish Lab has quickly gained retailer support, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Turner’s Outdoorsman, while distribution has been boosted by Big Rock Sports. Media reviews have been more than favourable, with Tackle Tour’s own ICAST awards naming the Hard Bluegill (main pic) as its Editor’s Choice. Other big product successes include the Mad Eel (below) and the Rattle Toad (above).
Determined to grow the brand, Okuma has made sure it is amply resourced in terms of both numbers and expertise. Fish Lab benefits from Okuma’s well established sales force, comprising nine different rep groups and 50 sales reps driving dealer and distributor business across the US and Canada. An internal sales force run by the experienced Sam Brenner works directly with the network of sales reps, while on the marketing side Fish Lab has joined Okuma and Soft Steel brands under the wing of a full marketing department.
In product development, Bretza and Bennett are assisted by Daniel Ramos in matters related to product launch and testing. “The water is our laboratory for all design and testing, the driving force behind everything we do,” says Bretza, giving an insight into the brand name. “Swim action testing, both in the design phase as well as the production phase, is the most important aspect of Fish Lab.
“We are targeting those anglers who are not satisfied with what is currently available on the market. We are tapping into those anglers who are tweaking existing baits and doing what they can to give themselves a competitive edge.”