Little Iron Range Fishing Tackle Business Grows
BOVEY – Derek Vekich threw a piece of black plastic “turf” on his office table and smiled.
âThis,â he said, âis the next big thing. “
About 18 inches wide and maybe 30 inches long, with a handle cut off at one end, the indescribable piece of plastic sod resembled a doormat.
âNo, it’s a net board,â Vekich said. The plastic turf firmly holds the fish during knife work. And when you’re done, just water it down and roll it up. Virtually indestructible. “And the plastic turf doesn’t retain any fishy odor.”
The idea came from a small chain of sporting goods stores in Oregon that sold 1,500 before their supplier disappeared. Vekich, co-owner of Bovey-based KMDA Inc., the biggest small tackle company you’ve never heard of, told the retailer he could likely find someone to make them.
Indeed, he did – an Illinois plastic sod company. KMDA will buy them for around $ 5 each, brand them with their Angler’s Choice brand name, and ship them to Gander Mountain, Mills Fleet Farm, L&M Fleet Supply and other retailers for $ 8.99 each. Starting next spring, anglers across the country will be scrambling to buy them for around $ 14.99 or more.
âThat’s the way this business works. Someone has a great idea. And you need someone with the contacts, with access to store shelves, to bring them to market,â Vekich said.
This is where KMDA comes in.
The company operates out of a nondescript pole building on Bovey’s main street (there isn’t even a sign) not far from where Derek, 47, and his brother Mike, 42, grew up.
Derek was a teacher in the Coleraine School District in 2002, and Mike had just graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth when the brothers decided to go into the outdoor sporting goods business together.
It was an entrepreneurial push that seems to have paid off.
The brothers first bought a New Hampshire-based canoe accessories company Colonial Castings, relocated it to the Range, and opened a store in Marble. But that business burned down. They restarted it, sold it, and went into the fishing tackle business – not so much by inventing new products as by buying existing brands and small businesses and then adding products to those brands. proven.
âIt is much easier to access the shelves of Fleet Farm, Gander or Cabela’s by acquiring a line of products that already has a name, a reputation,â said Mike. “You can get the best idea in the world and walk into Cabela’s and, if they don’t know you, they’ll say, ‘Great idea, but sorry, we’re not going to sell it.’ “
Or worse, Derek noted. If the retailer is big enough, they’ll just steal the idea, ordering massive quantities from Chinese factories. Patents are expensive and offer little real protection. And there’s not much that a small business can do with the legal teams of the big guys.
“It’s vicious,” Derek said, mentioning the name of a large national sporting goods retailer that “has no ethics. If they sell 500 of something we make, they’ll keep buying us. . But if they sell 5,000, they do it themselves. “
Buying good small businesses
Over the past 14 years, KMDA has acquired nine fishing tackle companies that make many of the lures and accessories that most Northland residents have in their fishing boats: Inhaler Musk Lures, Dixie Dancer Bass Baits, Vibe blade baits, Opti planers, Great Lakes trolling. tackle, Lakco ice fishing tackle, Croxton and Angler’s Choice ice gear, the brand name on a potpourri of accessories such as shears, jig eye busters, fillet knives, scissors and more. They even market specialized equipment for cleaning lobsters and oysters.
KMDA gear is sold in bait shops and sporting goods stores across the country, including Bass Pro Shops, Scheels, Cabela’s and more. Those ice fishing rod bags that you buy with the Cabela’s or Gander Mountain logo on it? They came from the KMDA.
Some things are made in China, but much of it remains made in the United States, some with parts added or painted in garages and small stores, or packaging made at local nonprofits that employ people with intellectual disability.
Vibe Metal Blade Baits exemplify the ad hoc nature of the petty hardware trade. A large fishing tackle company could just import fully made lures from China, Mike said. But KMDA has the small metal decoys stamped by an Iron Range company. They then send them to a woman in Fargo who adds the lead to her garage. They then travel to not one but two paint shops in Ohio for a base coat and top coat before returning to Bovey, where hooks are added and each bait wrapped and boxed for shipment. at the stores.
âWe would like to add a full line lead casting and paint shop and bring some of those steps back in-house,â Mike said.
On a hot morning in Bovey last week, Joyce, Mike and Derek’s mother, was busy adding the finishing touches to the Inhaler Bucktail lures, twisting the wire that runs from the tail of the garland to the eye to which the fishing line is attached. The decoy was intended for a box of 24 packs destined for L&M. Lures are a favorite with muskellunge and pike anglers for their ability to attract large fish.
Inhaler decoys were originally made by a guy in his garage in Rochester, Minn., Before KMDA bought the company. They remain among KMDA’s most popular products, but new lures and equipment arrive each season – with around 400 products now – and sales for many are booming, including new lines of hunting products such as detectors. game and portable gun holders.
âOpti planer boards are huge for us. They’re selling like crazy. It’s probably the fastest growing technique in freshwater fishing right now,â Mike said, noting that anglers to the walleye buy them quickly. The boards attach to a fisherman’s fishing line and “swim” well over the side of the boat, allowing lures to cover water that is not directly behind the boat. “We have guys in Arkansas who use them for shit too.”
New expansion, more growth
This year, KMDA took its biggest leap forward and bought Hershey, Pa., Fishing company Baker Precision Fishing Tools. They move the small business to Bovey. The addition will force KMDA to move to a brand new 13,000 square foot warehouse, which will be built later this summer across from its existing 7,000 square foot building.
The $ 1.6 million expansion represents a risk to KMDA and its lenders. But they say adding the Baker line of products alongside Angler’s Choice will give them a strong grip on the fishing accessories market in the United States and expand their reach to more stores in more states.
Baker’s products will bring KMDA into Dick’s Sporting Goods and Wal-Mart and approximately 70 other new retailers in addition to their 200 existing customers.
âIt’s a big step for us. But it makes sense,â said Mike.
The move will add two or three employees to their existing seven full-time workers (including Mike and Derek). But it will also add nearly $ 1 million in sales to the $ 1.8 million they made last year.
With Baker added, “we hope to increase by over $ 3 million next year” with a long-term goal of over $ 5 million within five years.
The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board offered a loan of $ 455,000 for the expansion and acquisition, and the local Woodland Bank also loaned $ 455,000 to the KMDA. The Arrowhead Regional Development Commission has contributed $ 150,000 and the KMDA will provide $ 500,000 to top up the funding.
âWe’re not a taconite factory with hundreds of employees. But we’re having a pretty big impact on this small town,â Derek said. âI used to apologize for our small size. But I got over it. I don’t think a lot of people realize how important it is to have small businesses like this in a community.”
Derek said the success of their product lines makes it a bit easier for the brothers to sleep now. They still don’t use their products often enough on the water – they are busy with their families and running the business. But they are convinced that they have built a good business base.
âYou never really know with these fishing tips. You can be a good idea of ââsuccess or a bad idea of ââfailure. You never know what’s going to take off until it does,â said Mike, who takes care of the warehouse, shipping and receiving. while Derek takes care of customer relations, phones, internet and IT work.
âIt works well. We have different strengths,â Derek said. “We still get along.”
âIn the first few years there were probably 15 times I thought we weren’t going to make it,â Derek added. âNow I think we will. But it’s a lot more work than people realize. We don’t fish a lot. “
To view more outdoor products from KMDA, go to attacking the exterior.com.
Buy American? Not always
Fishermen choose cheaper ice skimmers made in China
When Iron Range-based KMDA Inc. purchased Lakco Quality Tackle in Isle, Minnesota a few years ago, they acquired the company’s line of ice scoops and skimmers – the tools that Ice fishermen use it to extract slush from their fishing holes.
For years, they sold a model skimmer to dozens of retailers nationwide, who in turn sold them to fishermen for $ 4.99.
âIt was a great product and a huge success, and it was made in the United States, in Minnesota,â said Derek Vekich, president of KMDA.
Then a competitor, Wisconsin-based HT Enterprises, began making ice skimmers in China and selling them to the same tackle retailers for $ 2.99 each.
Sales of Lakco skimmers by KMDA collapsed.
âWe were given our buttocks. We had our eyes wide open to what can happen when China comes into the picture, âVekich said.
Vekich has been warned by retailers to lower its wholesale price or stores will stop carrying Lakco products. KMDA therefore decided to start manufacturing some of its products in China.
âNow we can match their price (HT) on ice skimmers and our sales have increased,â Vekich said.
It’s a sad but true example of what happened to manufacturing in the United States, Vekich said. And he puts the blame on all of us American consumers.
âPeople say they want to buy American, but they really want to buy cheap,â Vekich said.
When sales of Lakco’s Minnesota-made ice skimmers slumped, âwe even doubled the size of the ‘Made in USA’ stickers on them, hoping that would help. It didn’t help a bit, âhe said. âThe consumer wants it cheap. They don’t care where it’s made. It’s sad, but that’s how it is.