Behind the Scenes with PRADCO Fishing

PRADCO Fishing Executive Director of Sales and Marketing Chris Gulstad explains the challenges and rewards of managing 20 iconic lure brands.

Behind the Scenes with PRADCO Fishing

Chris Gulstad, center, believes PRADCO’s long-tenured associates have pride in creating high-quality lures to help anglers have better fishing experiences.

A lure company in Fort Smith, Arkansas, that launched nearly 60 years ago with a single brand and a humble but incredibly successful minnow-body hardbait, now orchestrates the manufacture, marketing and sales of 20 iconic lure brands under the PRADCO Fishing umbrella. Executive Director of Sales and Marketing Chris Gulstad, an 18-year veteran with the company, knows well the challenges faced and rewards gained in managing multiple brands.

Bait & Tackle Business recently spoke with Gulstad about that, and other things.

BTB: PRADCO Fishing owns Arbogast, Bandit, Bobby Garland, Bomber, BOOYAH, Cotton Cordell, Crappie Pro, Creek Chub, Gene Larew, Heddon, Lindy, Little Joe, Norman, Rebel, Smithwick, Thill, War Eagle and YUM. With so many legendary brands to manage, how do you stay on top of them all?

Gulstad: It’s a bit like how I imagine John Walton must have felt trying to manage his household on the television classic “Walton’s Mountain.”  You love each and every one in the house individually and separately, no matter their personality. But, it’s a handful to watch over! It’s much the same for our brands. Each has a separate identity, equity and personality, and I love them all.

In terms of practicality, I learned early on that each brand must have an internal champion or manager in order to prosper. It’s a tad trite, but either you’re green and growing or brown and dying. There is no in-between. This certainly applies to our brands. Each brand must have someone putting energy into it to make sure it’s green and growing.

 

BTB: What should tackle retailers know about PRADCO Fishing?

Gulstad: We are a true slice of Americana. We still manufacture and operate in the same building and location where the company first produced the Rebel Minnow in 1962. All YUM soft plastics and Thill balsa floats are manufactured in Fort Smith. We also mold hardbaits here. But, it’s much more than American manufacturing — it’s our spirit and culture that sets us apart.

There really is no secret to our secret sauce. It’s the people; a big, happy work family. I cannot tell you how many big shots, consultants and captains of industry have rolled through our place through the years to exit with marvel. They universally remark about the strength of our culture and collective can-do attitude.

And, we have fun! We get to manufacture and sell fishing tackle lures for a living! Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a business. But it’s a business where we sell fun for a living. Because of this, we have a long-tenured work force, and have been celebrating our long-term employees with an ad campaign for the past two years. Our latest feature, Barbara Christy, started here in 1974. She is a paint technician. It’s hard to imagine how many fantastic fishing memories she’s created with her paint brush.

 

BTB: Several of PRADCO Fishing’s brands are historic; at least a couple of them are more than 100 years old. How do they compete in a fast-paced, new-is-better world?

Gulstad: I just got back from a fishing trip on the California Delta with one of the most accomplished anglers on that body of water. He knows I won’t use a competitor’s lure and pre-rigged a Heddon Super Spook and Bomber Model 7A for me, while he threw the kitchen sink including the latest “hot” baits. I ended up having a fantastic day with two iconic lures. During the course of it, he waxed poetic about how great they were, particularly his 7A that had the paint chewed off it.

That trip is a snippet of our core competitive advantage. All lures are not created equal. A knock-off kicked out the back door of a Chinese factory won’t bring the same catch ratio as a proven standard, no matter the brand. It’s just not the same as a legendary original. Think Arbogast Jitterbug, Hula Popper, Bandit 100, 200, 300, Bomber Model As, Bobby Garland Baby Shad, Cotton Cordell Big O and Pencil Popper, Gene Larew Salt Craw, Heddon Zara Spooks and Torpedoes, Lindy Rigs, Little Joe Red Devil Spinners, Norman DD22, Rebel Pop-R and Crawfish, Smithwick Rogues, Thill Floats, War Eagle Spinnerbaits, YUM Dingers … we own so many iconic lures that simply catch more fish than other lures … there’s a reason that chewed up Bomber 7A stays prominent in a fisherman’s tackle box.

“New” may drive sales temporarily, but fish-catching lures, those with special intrinsic value, drive sales consistently. I’ve always felt a strong combination of those lures – ours and others – on the shelves is the best bet for a core assortment.

 

BTB: What’s the biggest challenge facing tackle manufacturers and retailers today?

Gulstad: I believe there is a seismic shift occurring in our space. Manufacturers and retailers alike must adjust to new consumer behaviors. Most glaringly, in my mind, is that we can no longer trait our service level and performance against peers. We must trait ourselves against the service level of Amazon.com and Netflix, as examples, because that is what our consumer is doing.

 

BTB: Please explain.

Gulstad: OK, nobody in our industry is going to be delivering fishing lures to private homes with drones any time soon. However, we can meet the new standard of expectation in terms of service. With solid customer service, we can be the experts anglers talk to at the retail and/or manufacturer level. My point is that we need to able to match or exceed the expertise and expediency consumers now demand. 

 

BTB: Can you comment on the diversity across all PRADCO Fishing’s brands?

Gulstad: Each brand has a unique identity in terms of positioning and product set. We did an extensive consumer segmentation project that helped align our brands to specific consumer segments. Without giving away trade secrets, an example is the aggressive nature of BOOYAH compared to Arbogast.

We also now have even greater diversity in product type and geographic relevance, with local relevance for every area of North America. Well, better said, the world. Several of our products have international prominence, such as Bomber Long As for barramundi in Australia.

 

BTB: How do PRADCO Fishing’s newest brands fit into the mix?

Gulstad: We’re very excited about our latest acquisition of Gene Larew, Bobby Garland and Crappie Pro. Gene Larew and Bobby Garland supplement our bass soft plastics selection while Crappie Pro greatly strengthen our product portfolio and presence in the crappie segment.

Chris Gulstad and the team at PRADCO have added Gene Larew, Bobby Garland and Crappie Pro lures to an already diverse offering covering multiple species.
Chris Gulstad and the team at PRADCO have added Gene Larew, Bobby Garland and Crappie Pro lures to an already diverse offering covering multiple species.

BTB: Which of PRADCO Fishing’s lure introductions or upgrades for 2020 do you think will have the most significant impact on tackle retailers and anglers?

Gulstad: We’ve been pleased with the reception of Lindy’s Glow Spoon and Glow Streak. These two lures incorporate a glow stick inside a decorated polycarbonate plastic shell. The resulting effect is a glow lure with the nuances of high-end color schemes. Most importantly, the Glow Spoon, the first to market, caught the fool out of fish. Word of mouth quickly spread that this new glow technique was incredibly effective in low-light conditions.

Bandit Generators, Walleye Deep diving lures with glow-stick technology, are the next generation in this bait category. The early results from anglers have been universally positive. The lures are very effective on cloudy days and in muddy water where other lures aren’t as visible to fish.

We sold every Lindy Glow Spoon we could manufacture last year. Most importantly, they sold off the shelf. We expect the same trend to occur this winter with the Glow Streak, as well as with the Generator next spring when more anglers are trolling open water again.

 

BTB: What was the most interesting take-away from the 2019 ICAST in Orlando?

Gulstad: I attended the Outdoor Retailer show in Denver just prior to going to ICAST. The lack of female representation at ICAST was particularly striking after being at the Outdoor Retailer show. It’s just an eyeball estimate, but my guess was about a 40 percent female representation at the Outdoor Retailer show. That’s just a guess, but whatever the number is, I can say with confidence that ICAST was far less than that. Our inclusion efforts need to be much more intentional than they’ve been so far.

 

BTB: Any thoughts on how to make that happen?

Gulstad: I have four females on my staff who had little to no fishing experience prior to PRADCO. All four have developed into incredible performers for us. Fishing experience is not a requisite. The desire to be great is. It’s been invaluable watching the perspective of new anglers learn and enjoy the sport. Anyone who wants to be great will dive into their job. In our profession, that means learning how to fish and how the industry works. I am always coy about what we do, but in this case I’m being transparent because it will help advance our industry. The right person is the right person. Fishing is not exclusive, it’s inclusive. The right person will own it and teach the “experts” along the journey of discovery.  

 

For more information on PRADCO Fishing, visit www.pradcooutdoorbrands.com.



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