Exclusive interview: What next for Rapala and Okuma after ‘rollercoaster’ first year
Talking exclusively, Rapala’s Head of Global Rods, Reels and Lines, Enrico Ravenni, and Senior Manager of Product Development Jari Kokkonen explain what’s next for Okuma in Europe.
It has been a year since Rapala took on Okuma. Was it the right move?
ER: Absolutely. We are all convinced within the Group that we made the right move. We are super happy with the purchase. When we divorced from Shimano in Europe, we needed another strong rod and reel brand. Instead of creating our own, we first decided to acquire 13 Fishing which is a young and fast-growing predator brand in the USA, but then we felt the need for a brand able to compete with the two large Japanese brands. Okuma was the natural choice.
What is the strategy for the brand?
JK: We have a massive plan to introduce close to one thousand rods and reels for spinning, carp and coarse fishing. A range of combos too. The Okuma approach is not to focus on one particular segment of anglers. It is about ‘everything for everyone’. This strategy will take several years to complete, probably five or six, and for two good reasons. First, we inherited a brand which was all over the place. There was no clear focus. And second, you can’t make too many changes all at once. Consumers can not adjust that quickly plus there is simply not enough retail space available.
And how has the first year played out?
ER: Well, 2022 has been a rollercoaster, starting strong, falling down and picking up again, and with plenty of products in the pipeline from previous distribution arrangements. But still, we exceeded our 2022 goals and closed the year positively.
Can you explain more about Okuma’s historic lack of focus?
JK: The Okuma brand in Europe has been distributed by several different companies, all with different interests. They had their own in-house brands for rods and/or reels. This resulted in a very wide and scattered product portfolio for Okuma. Okuma has many great products and good sellers but mostly as individual items and not as successful series. Our plan is to change most parts of the product portfolio in the next 4-5 years. Additionally, Okuma produced rods as an OEM manufacturer which were sold under different brands in Europe. We have changed that now and we’ve made the Okuma brand the full focus of attention.
And what about the perception of Okuma in the market?
ER: Okuma has high quality, super reliable products, but in the eyes of consumers, it is seen as a grade below Shimano and Daiwa and somehow also Pure Fishing’s brands. Our goal is to change this mindset by focusing on increasing brand awareness in Europe. In 3-5 years we want to bring Okuma sales up to what we were doing with Shimano before we separated.
How does it work in practice between Rapala and Okuma?
JK: Basically, when it comes to product development, Rapala decides what it wants to sell and in the case of reels, they are designed by the brilliant Okuma design team. In the case of rods, Rapala has a great design department and so we carry that out ourselves. It has been a very successful arrangement. The spirit of the Okuma team is something I have never seen before. They don’t just listen and focus – they get things done. We work together with Okuma factories and distribution units in the USA and Japan. Communication is first class and the speed of delivering samples is fantastic. Naturally, range of rods need a much more regional focus, but we find synergies for names, designs and materials.
How have your trade customers responded?
ER: Very positively, even when the market has been difficult. We know 2023 will also be difficult because there is too much stock in warehouses and too many rebates, discounts and special offers. At Okuma we are trying to keep the price level stable.
And what is being worked on now, for 2024?
JK: We are working on hundreds of new rods and at least a dozen new reel models. We can’t say too much yet, but European anglers can expect several very cool looking spinning and feeder reels plus some conventional reel models. Our offering for the summer season of 2023 is strong and exciting (see following pages). It will see us through the turbulent season ahead.
New for 2023 from Okuma
Jari Kokkonen’s guide to three reels and a rod range that exemplify the new partnership between Rapala and Okuma.
“Immediately when getting together with Okuma in Europe we started a project to build a totally new reel platform with the most up-to-date features, materials and cosmetics. The same platform can be adapted for different sectors, just with slightly different specs and materials. The target audience are serious anglers who demand a lot from their gear, so there is no room for mistakes or compromises. The carp reel launched from this process is called Obsidian, named after volcanic rock and perfect for something which is dark, light but very strong.”
Flite Surf reel
“One of our focus areas now is surfcasting rods. We have had a very strong distribution company in Spain for ages and they know how the surfcasting market is changing. We are also well connected with top pro-staff. It is great fun to work with the best local anglers with the objective of making the very best rods. Alongside the rods, we have just launched a new Flite Surf reel to give anglers a great and reliable reel at a reasonable price. The name evokes lightness, which is one of its key features.”
Ceymar HD reel
“We just started delivering the new generation Ceymar spinning reel called Ceymar HD (High Definition). Ceymar has been a large volume reel globally. We want to keep its reputation high and fit it out with the latest tech, so this reel has the maximum amount of features that you can pack onto a volume priced reel. The goal is to grow Ceymar sales to a new record high.”
Guide Select rods
“When it came to rods, our priority was to focus on predator fishing in Europe. The existing range at Okuma had several good rods, but they were scattered across too many different series and price points. So we built Guide Select to cover at least 80% of the needs in the market. It’s named after the Fishing Guide Team with whom we built and tested each rod in detail. The Guide Select range has over 50 rods designed for specific styles or techniques. Anglers who are ready to invest a bit more in their gear can basically – and easily – find everything they need. It’s also convenient for retail to present and sell.”
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