The buzz around the St. Croix booth at ICAST was palpable. Here was a company steeped in rod making history launching its first ever reel brand.
Visitors approaching the exhibition centre had already been left in no doubt that St. Croix had something special waiting inside, with giant posters on the north concourse windows announcing the fact that the SEVIIN reel brand had well and truly landed.
Not many would have predicted the Wisconsin company’s radical step into the high-investment, high-risk sector, and the move prompts a flurry of questions. Can it make the transition; can it replicate its reputation for the ‘greatest rods on earth’; how will it do that; where has it sourced the expertise; where will market share come from and, most of all, why take that risk?
Scott Forristall (pictured), a man laden with experience in leading big tackle brands and CEO of St. Croix for the past four years, has all the answers. He chooses to tackle the last question first.
“St. Croix has grown its business 58% since 2019,” he tells Angling International in an exclusive interview. “How have we done that? By sticking to the basics of business and not doing anything stupid. The decision to enter the reels category came after long and hard consideration. We would not have done this unless we were convinced we could do it well.
“Our goal is to double business in the next five years. We have discussed ways to do that and believe having a strong product in the reels market and continued growth in the rods market is the best way. Eight brands own 80% of the reels market. We are not going to compete with Daiwa and Shimano, but the rest of the brands are our competitors. A 2% share is enough to achieve our targets. But we want that to be 20% over time.”
Forristall recalls the very moment in the very meeting that the decision was reached. “We were discussing our strategy to be a bigger player in the bass market. We are doing okay but not making the headway that we wanted. We asked ourselves the question: ‘Is not having reels holding up the opportunity to grow our rods sales.’ The idea accelerated from there. Being connected with elite anglers is very important in the US, but all the pros at the high end are tied up with rod and reel companies. So in the past we have not had the offering to bring those guys on board. We realised we would not deliver our true potential if we did not offer reels.”
The decision made, it was now a case of deciding how best to enter the category. Potential acquisitions were identified but St. Croix found little that was exciting enough to invest in. And those companies potentially available were sourcing product rather than designing their own. Having built its considerable reputation on designing rods that meet anglers needs, St. Croix saw in-house design as a non-negotiable element of the plan.
Wedded to that principle, the company went about building its own dedicated team. Paul Richardson, an award-winning designer well-known to Forristall from his previous companies, Far Bank and Winston, was first through the door. Idea Ranch, an agency with a client list of powerhouse brands, was appointed to help build and develop the brand, with the added bonus that agency director Bob Bagby had spent 30 years with Zebco and was brought on board as a consultant in the design and specifications for the reels. “It was a conscious decision not to appoint the agency we use for rods because we didn’t want them to lose focus and their efforts to be diluted,” explains Forristall.
The newly-formed unit comprising Forristall, Richardson, Bagby, Product Manager Robert Woods, VP Marketing Jesse Simpkins, VP Research and Development Jason Brunner, VP Sales Steve Self, National Sales Manager Dan Johnston and VP Operations Alex Ogurek set about identifying the reels they felt were needed in the range.
“We came up with the specifications for every single part of every single reel we wanted to make,” says Forristall. “We then hired Pacific Products VP Jeremy Nielsen, who has spent considerable time in Weihai, China, to act as the gateway into the factories we wanted to work with.”
Another decision that will surprise and impress customers is that St. Croix is not going to repair reels. It will simply replace them. “The faster we can get a reel back in customers’ hands, the happier they will be. Their satisfaction with our products is our only measure of success as a brand.”
So what is the size of the risk? “We have a number of things going in our favour. First, we have a very good product. Beyond that we are leveraging a 75-year-old brand that is trusted. Our distribution network includes most of the large accounts in the US and we have 782 independent retailers we can call on for product placement. Direct sales is also a part of the strategy, not necessarily for sales but for marketing. And we have a substantial database of consumers that we can talk to directly.”
But what if SEVIIN fails to reach sales targets? It’s an outcome that Forristall doesn’t entertain, apart from saying that St.Croix is not afraid of making tough decision. “We don’t let ego get in the way.”
He estimates it will take two to three years to get a valuable market share among what he calls the St. Croix customer – avid and experienced anglers who value quality and performance. Looking back, Forristall says he would not have done anything differently. “The end goal is to expand our profile in fishing and we have the product to do that. The elite guys will help us grow that business and get us into a broader market.”