Pure Fishing CEO: ‘There will still be more people fishing than before’
Harlan Kent has the look of a man on the winning side. And who can blame him? The previous night the CEO of Pure Fishing had watched his brands capture nine of the world’s most fiercely fought-over product awards at the ICAST trade show in Orlando.
Just weeks earlier Kent had also sealed the deal to acquire premier European tackle company Svendsen Sport, a coup that followed the acquisitions of Plano Molding, Hooker Electric, Fin-Nor and Van Staal in the previous 30 months. These new additions to the Pure Fishing fold bring the group’s burgeoning portfolio to 20-plus… and counting. With the backing of owner, Sycamore Partners, a private equity group, it seems unlikely that Kent has closed the book on possible acquisitions. Yet, speaking in the Pure Fishing booth in the Orange County Convention Center, Kent has an air of restrained optimism. The market, he says, is in for a tough year. Participation and the economy are both headed in the wrong direction.
“The high levels of engagement with fishing that we saw last year have subsided, and if you didn’t know the recession started six weeks ago you are in trouble,” he warns.
But the man who has been at the helm of the industry’s biggest producer of fishing tackle since January 2019 insists there are still reasons to be cheerful.
“We are not going back to where we were before COVID,” he says. “We believe the number of people fishing in North America has almost doubled and that growth is very healthy and very diverse in terms of gender, urban, rural, ethnicity and age.
“The recession is likely to reach into the middle of next year, but in a recession people don’t stop wanting to go outdoors. Yes, people will start doing other pursuits again, but many of those that didn’t fish at all will still fish. It’s a very social activity. The net result is positive. There will still be more people fishing for more hours, so what we do with that is on us. Of course, in this economic climate, the better capitalised and better organised businesses will have the advantage.”
Kent recognises that the amount of tackle that has flooded into the market in the last two years could be a problem for the industry. “There is a lot of inventory out there that has to be flushed through the system. There is a smart way to do that and a highly disruptive way,” he says.
Pure Fishing’s acquisition of Svendsen Sport in June was a reminder, if needed, of Sycamore’s mission to continuing growing the company. But what lured it into the transaction and what are its plans for the new brands it has added to its business? While some Pure Fishing acquisitions have flourished in the past, others have received less investment and focus. “Svendsen is a unique business and we will keep it separate so that we realise its full potential,” assures Kent.
“We believed there was an opportunity for our European business to be more efficient if it were bigger. Scale was what we were looking for,” he explains, adding that Svendsen will come under the wing of EMEA Managing Director Kjell Clefjord.
“Why Svendsen? There are not many large companies in Europe so we saw this as a unique moment to substantially grow our business there, an opportunity to increase investment in the teams and in new product and distribution.
“The Svendsen culture is built on a lot of passion for building brands, which we love. We also found some very good people. In particular, they have a great sales team that is always hustling. Svendsen is creative and competitive and we learned a lot from that culture and the way they do business.
“We also found brands that definitely have legs and which we will invest in. Savage Gear is the primary one we will focus on going forward. It has done a wonderful job with the brand in Europe. It is still fairly small in the US because Svendsen has not been able to invest in it significantly and position it in the market, but we will capitalise on it. We believe DAM also has greater potential and that positioning Prologic above but complementary to our existing carp brand, JRC, is something we can make work.”
So what next for Pure Fishing? “The focus now is on how we develop these wonderful brands,” says Kent. “But it is never over. If the right opportunities come along, we would
certainly consider them. We still consider ourselves to be a new business.”