How Custom-Painted Lures Can Ring the Register

Air-brushed creations for fishing would surely be snubbed by art connoisseurs, but anglers flock to tackle stores to buy custom-painted lures.

How Custom-Painted Lures Can Ring the Register

Large swimbaits such as this Fish Arrow jointed swimbait have immediate appeal thanks to sharp, detailed paint schemes.

Tackle store owners know that the work of air brush painters who spray lures is coveted by serious anglers, so they carry custom-painted lures to increase sales. Selling custom-painted lures also gives the stores an advantage over the competition by providing a product unavailable in big box stores.

The Sportsman’s Factory Outlet in Springfield, Missouri, caters to the serious angler by selling bass lures painted by a local air brush artist.

“Our particular store has kind of evolved over the last nine years as a tournament angler’s shop,” said Jim Lovan, the store’s manager. “We are known for having stuff a lot of people in the area don’t have. It is kind of a niche we have kind of carved out for ourselves.”

A wide variety of hard plastic lures are customized by air brush painters and sold at tackle shops throughout North America. Here are three stores selling custom-painted lures for bass, walleye and muskie anglers.

Serious anglers will patronize stores offering custom-painted lures because they believe the unique paint jobs on these baits catch more fish.
Serious anglers will patronize stores offering custom-painted lures because they believe the unique paint jobs on these baits catch more fish.

Sportsman’s Factory Outlet 

Lovan has learned tournament bass fishermen prefer lures in colors that are unique, effective and limited in availability. He also stocks the store with custom-painted lures featuring an “Ozarks flair” for catching bass from nearby lakes such as Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Lake of the Ozarks. “As a result, we try to offer that to those guys who aren’t afraid to invest in a little bit more money to get things they know might work,” Lovan said.

The store sits in the region where Table Rock Lake guide Tim Hughes started the air brush painting craze with custom colors on suspending stickbaits. Hughes created the Table Rock shad color (purple back with chartreuse sides), which has become a standard color offered by many suspending stickbait manufacturers. Lovan’s store sells Fallcreek Lures, the custom-painted bass lures created by Rob McGilvry of Republic, Missouri. “He does a lot of stuff for the touring pros around the county that you don’t hear about,” Lovan said.

Lovan claims the custom-painted lures are just another option for his customers looking for that tournament-winning bait. “It is just an additional item we use for incremental sales,” he said. “It is not something we make a ton of money on.” He believes offering custom-painted lures also drives sales for other products when customers looking for that specially painted bait visit and look around the store.

The tackle shop also offers customers the opportunity to buy lures for McGilvry to paint. “They will buy baits and then they will leave them with us to give to him,” Lovan said. “Then he picks them up, paints them and brings them back.”

With this service the customer can order the paint scheme they want on their lures. “From a percentage basis, we actually come out a little bit better that way than we do just offering custom-painted lures,” Lovan said. “It’s just another way to bring people into the store.”

As a tournament competitor himself, Lovan found out about McGilvry’s reputation for lure painting. “He was painting lures for me before we ever brought them in the store,” Lovan said. “It started as a friendship and has evolved into something mutually beneficial. I offer his stuff throughout the store to help him out, and it has turned into an opportunity for our customers, and whatever is good for them I try to offer. It has worked out well for us, the customers, and for McGilvry.” Lovan notes the store also gets some traffic from McGilvry when he posts on his Facebook page that his lures are available at Sportsman’s Factory Outlet.

The store sells most of McGilvry’s custom-painted lures on a consignment basis and compensates him at the end of the month. “We make a little bit from his lures, but not nearly as much as we probably should,” Lovan said. The store and McGilvry have a contractual agreement stating he is the exclusive air brush painter for Sportsman’s, and his lures are stocked in a special display case in the shop.

Lovan suggests custom-painted lures require certain qualities to attract buyers. “The colors have to be appealing,” he said, “and with Rob’s stuff, he is really known not only for that, but the finish he provides is better than any manufactured item we offer in the store. It holds up very, very well.” The store manager also stated the obvious: Custom-painted lures have to catch fish.

The best-selling custom-painted lures depend on the season. During winter and early spring, suspended stickbaits in custom colors are the best sellers for the store. Lovan ranks the SPRO RkCrawlers and Storm Lures Wiggle Warts crankbaits as the store’s top sellers most of the time. McGilvry earned his reputation as an air brush master for his work on Wiggle Warts, so his best-selling colors at the store are his crawfish patterns.

The store has also sold many of McGilvry’s custom-painted crawfish imitator, the Roman Craw. “We get calls from all over the Midwest from people wanting them,” Lovan said.

The work of air brush painters are being sold by tackle shops to increase traffic at the stores.
The work of air brush painters are being sold by tackle shops to increase traffic at the stores.

Clear H2O Tackle

Custom-painted crankbaits for walleyes are best sellers for this retail store in Edwardsburg, Michigan, according to Clear H2O Tackle Owner Darrin Schaap. The store also sells salmon and steelhead lures painted by local air brush painters, and Schaap orders lures from manufacturers in special color schemes such as pink crankbaits for Lake Erie anglers.

“Custom-painted lures are good moneymakers when they are selling,” Schaap said. “The bad part is when they aren’t selling; you have to charge more for them because you paid someone to paint them, and if that color scheme isn’t popular, you are trying to get $5 more than a regular bait that works fine. So they can sit on the shelf for a while.”

Offering custom-painted lures also moves product for Schaap because the air brush painters typically buy the baits from his store that they plan to paint. “They usually don’t have their own tackle account, so they can’t buy direct from whomever,” Schaap said. “A lot of times, I supply baits to them and then we can work out some sort of trade or whatever the case might be.”

Local painters allow Schaap to stock his store with lures painted in whatever colors are hot for a particular season. The store also receives numerous special orders, such as the regular customer who ordered 15 custom-painted lures for a walleye tournament he was fishing at Devil’s Lake in North Dakota.

Customers who own scratched-up or discontinued lures, or some lures in the wrong color scheme can get a new lure finish by bringing them to Schaap, who will send them to his painters for a fresh look. “I usually charge a small commission just for brokering the deal,” Schaap said. “If the customer is doing that, he is probably a pretty good customer, and I’m going to do him a solid. I’ll let the painter make the money, and maybe I’ll get a couple of painted baits out of it.”

Schaap mainly orders his custom-colored lures from two air brush painters — a woman in Wisconsin and a man in Ohio — and occasionally sells some specially-painted baits from customers who have started air brush painting.

He also sells some lures with special paint jobs from two lure manufacturers in Michigan. “A lot of times I try to have those be pre-orders,” Schaap said. “I know which new lures are getting launched, and there are only going to be a few exclusive custom colors from some manufacturers, so then I will take the plunge.”

Hard baits such as these crankbaits are the easiest to customize with paint schemes to mimic baitfish or for specific water clarity.
Hard baits such as these crankbaits are the easiest to customize with paint schemes to mimic baitfish or for specific water clarity.

Rollie & Helen’s Musky Shop

Touted as the “World’s Largest Musky Shop” on its website, this Wisconsin store offers custom-colored lures from air brush painters to give their patrons better customer service and access to  product not available at big box stores.

Owner Jim Stewart rates Rapala Super Shads, Grandmas and Jakes as the store’s best-selling crankbaits in custom paint jobs. Firetiger, perch and flashy scale patterns are the most popular color schemes on the custom-painted baits sold by the store. “We think of the custom colors on our own and come up with the paint schemes, then give them to the painter who goes from there,” Stewart said.

The price for each custom-painted lure is determined by the painter and the store. Stewart said the painter charges the store for his work, then the store places a markup on the lure to sell it. Some of the lures are stocked on the shelves in original packaging, or hung loosely throughout the store if the original packaging is unavailable.

Although Stewart suggests his air brush painters’ unique lures are not big moneymakers, he does think the lures drive sales for the store by bringing customers in, which is always good for business.


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