This is a story based in fact but for these purposes is fictionalized. I’ll have some advice after story time.
Battle lines have been drawn. A command has been handed down. I have to comply or be banished. It’s not military combat though. It’s not just a bad dream either. This is the life of a pro staffer caught in a bad enlistment in an imaginary war. How the hell did I get here?
Flashback Six Months
A new company has seen my hard work. I've been blogging, making videos, fishing in tournaments and several of the companies I buy products from have reached out to ask me if I‘d be interested in being on their fishing team. I grew up watching my fishing heroes have strong affiliations. This is kind of like that. Right? Sure. Close enough. I accept. Now this new company is asking too. I tell Misty Kayaks that I am also working with Brand 12, Company 14 and JumpUp Lures. I ask if that’s a problem and they say no. Some of them sent me a document that lists some expectations. Some didn't. Whatever. I just want to fish.
Three months into it things are going well. I've shown lots of people my gear I bought at Company 14. I’ve also helped quite a few people discover JumpUp Lures and Brand 12. Lots of people are buying Misty Kayaks that I’ve recommended. I’m getting phone calls, emails, messages, comments and tons of inquiries about the blogs and videos I’ve been working on. Life is good.
Back to Present Day
Misty Kayaks has a problem. No one is really sure where it came from (or at least fessing up to it) but it has lead to a demand. Anyone associated with Misty Kayaks must terminate any existing relationships with Company 14. Company 14 sells kayaks but not Misty Kayaks. They don’t make kayaks like Misty but this is somehow a problem. You have friends at both places but this decision has to be made. And quickly.
Regardless of my ability to discern what company can best serve the customer, regardless of my tireless work to help both companies, one of them is demanding a decision be made. One of them is happy for me to be me and promote the sport so many love.
I’m beginning to understand why so many people have given up on company affiliations. These imaginary wars that one company wages while the other is content with being inclusive rather than exclusive is mind numbing and universally cyclical. I can hear the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” blaring even though the stereo isn’t even on. Maybe I’ll just quit it all.
How Can You Avoid This?
That works for some people but others like the affiliations, love to promote products they are passionate about and don’t miss an opportunity to tell folks about a product or company doing a good job.
Have Very Clear Conversations and Get it In Writing
Your agreement is only good in court if it’s in writing. With signatures. Gentlemen’s agreements are only good as long as both parties keep the original agreement. And both remain gentlemen. Sometimes that doesn’t work out. When conditions change, you might be put in a bad situation. Be prepared.
Analyze the ROI
Return On Investment is something lots of pro staffers fail to calculate. Think about the time you are investing in blogs, videos, boat shows, speaking and tournaments. Think about the money you spend traveling, eating out and preparing for activities that you are not reimbursed for. Add all that up. Now look at your discount that has been realized. (If you bought $100 worth of stuff for $75, your realized discount is $25).If your expenses are greater than your realized discount, your ROI is negative. That means you are losing money to do all this work. For some folks that’s ok because they are that passionate. The only other way to offset negative ROI is by adding additional income from the company. Even then, it will rarely offset the expenses. Still worth it?
More Than Money Benefits
Some companies can offer something other than money or discounts. They can offer you exposure, a platform and mentoring. To really make a name for yourself you have to treat your name as a brand. You have to grow it the right way, you have to be your biggest critic and biggest advocate at the same time. Having a mentor and a developed, proven platform to work from to build you is important. Ask any company you deal with if they offer any such opportunities.
Interview Potential Suitors
You have a lot to offer. Don’t give it away for free. Get what you feel is a fair return for your work. Ask them lots of questions and ask suitors to be specific and then expect it in writing. Ask what the availability to work on projects you are passionate about is. Ask about any conflict of interest companies. Ask what the possibility of advancement is.
Have an Exit Strategy
If everything goes south, make sure you can walk away. Don’t dump hours investing in a company’s success without developing YOUR brand. Everyone has a brand, most just call it character and reputation. When you look back, is your name yours or are you so entrenched people don’t know the real you. If a company asks you to change who you are yet offers nothing for the change, walk away. Scratch that. Run.
Business is Business.
Real friends understand choices have to be made and no one situation fits everyone. Real friends also care more about you than your affiliations. Several of my good fishing friends rep for different companies. It doesn’t matter. It’s about the sport and we each make our own path. Business is business. Real friends understand the choices.
Companies that put tight restrictions on their team are not interested in you growing as much as they are in growing themselves. Find a company that is interested in you the person, the whole package and not just your promotional abilities. Sometimes circumstances change, a company starts a one sided, imaginary war that most people are unaware is even happening and there is fall out. It’s unfortunate but it happens. In those times, you need to have a clear picture of what you want, what your plans are and the best path to get there. Blaze your trail. Some companies will walk with you but none will do it for you. Find a partner, not a boss.
A little over six years ago I was introduced to using braid on spinning reels by Gary Yamamoto. He explained it to me, talked about tying a flouro leader and proceeded to catch a lot of fish with it. I picked his brain a while and decided I needed to make the switch from mono to braid on my spinning rigs.
I loaded up my reels with some 50 pound braid that was on sale and went to the lake. It was a pretty good trip and I gained some confidence that fish weren't as afraid of braid as I thought. After years of being told I needed invisible line I was learning there was more to it than that. I could have both with a leader. I also quickly learned that a leader really only made a difference in clear water.
The first few trips went well and then it got windy. My first experience with wind knots was a bad one. I managed to foul up that cheap braid on two reels. I cursed the whole way home and got out my knife as soon as I took the reels out of the truck. I cut that braid off with a vengeance and swore to never go back.
Fast forward to Spring of 2014.
I had the opportunity to fish a 35 acre lake in Central Texas. I was told most of the fish were small but they would be plentiful. Looking to knock off some winter rust, I took my spinning reels, loaded with mono, as they had been for years to enjoy some quantity fishing. As always happens when I underestimate, I found a wolfpack of fat, hungry female bass and watched four in a row go airborne, bury deep in some grass and break me off. I was toast. Pissed off, disappointed and tired I loaded back up and drove home.
That night I talked with some friends and they recommended braid. The water I fish is mainly clear so I needed to cast for distance and use a leader. That combination meant spinning reels loaded with braid. That evil devil had crept back into my life. I shared my story with them and they laughed. Apparently the brand of discount braid I had used was awful for knots, casting and the like. I buckled down, bought some Power Pro Super 8 Slick and took another bit of advice. I downsized to 10 pound braid, I thought they were crazy but hey, I've already gone back to braid so why not downsize and see if it works? I still had a knife if I needed it.
A couple of weeks later I got my revenge on those fish at the 35 acre lake. Six years later, the wisdom I was given still holds up, as long as I don't go cheap and make sure my gear meets up with the quality of fish and quantity of fish I'm chasing.
For the last decade I’ve been on the search for good fishing sunglasses. They needed to be polarized, help me see fish in shallow or clear water better and not be fatiguing to wear for more than a few hours.
I bought most of the brands that you know and some you might not. In total I tried 12 brands in 10 years. I started fairly cheap ($40) and worked my way up as brand after brand disappointed.
Most polarized glasses reduce glare. Some are comfortable. Only two high end lenses from two different companies ever gave me the “water vision” I wanted.
The Costa 580 lens and the Smith ChromaPop lens are those two. Three years ago I got my first pair of Costa 580G lenses. They gave me the vision I wanted but a problem remained. Of the three frame styles I had, I got fatigue after an hour. The glass lenses were heavy and the frames weren’t kind to my head. The aching above my ears and below my temples was awful.
I met a guy in Austin, Jesse, who talked about and taught about sunglasses for a living. He gave me the run down on several different things to look at. What he explained was exactly why high end glasses were worth the money.
Any $10 pair of sunglasses can be polarized but only the really high end ones have color filters.
In the spectrum of color that the human eye sees, all of those colors are made up from reds, greens and blues. The problem is the colors are blended.
The colors blend into each other making many other colors. When you filter the mixed in colors, so you really only see the blues, reds and greens, it is much easier to pick out those colors, contrasts and thus, fish. Costa and Smith are the only two I tried that had the color filtering technology.
Additionally, the really good filtering (at higher wavelengths) are the more expensive lenses.
Not all Costas and Smiths are the same.
So back to my dilemma. Costas hurt. I needed something designed for all day use, color filtering at high wavelengths, and really made those fish standout. Enter Smith Optics.
Smith was one of the two brands Jesse had recommended. I had tried the other. Not sure of my investment dollars, I tried to be a penny pincher and went for a style of lens that wasn’t the ChromaPop.
They were lightweight, durable, did some filtering and I was happy. That is until I tried on a pair of ChromaPops.
Holy cats! You just really don’t know what you are missing until you spot a big fish that swims by that no one else can see because their glasses aren’t up to snuff. It happens all the time. It’s happened to me more than once this month!
I've been buying Smiths for different applications for a little over a year. I have different colors for different situations and demo them with fishermen frequently. Seriously think about what you might not be seeing. If you are just fun fishing, sure the $10 Cheapies will work. If you are tournament fishing, this is an investment you need to make. Not only that, most of the Smith Optics are $200 or less.
My two favorites are the Bronze Mirror ChromaPop lenses paired with the Tenet frame and the Blue Mirror ChromaPop lenses in the Dockside frame. These cover 95% of my fishing and go with me as standard equipment.
For the best fit and to see the difference for yourself, find a local retailer or just find me. These glasses will sell themselves once you put them on.
For you new guys, the lurkers and quizzers, the ones wanting to get into kayak fishing or just kayaking in general, the perfect kayak does not exist.
For you kayak fishing vets, not all of you but some of you, stop telling them Kayak XR34 is the best in the world and you have to have one or you'll be sorry!
I get it. You love your kayak. You think it's the best. And here's the thing: For you it might be!
But let it be said once and for all, there is no perfect kayak for all people in all situations.
People with a bad back will need a lighter kayak or a trailer. People with only $400 to spend can't afford the Hobie Pro Angler 14 so stop suggesting it.
People who want a river boat may not want the Native Mariner. Especially in low water conditions.
I get it. You are loyal to your favorite brand. That's good. Please understand however, not all kayaks fit all people and situations the way it might fit you.
To grow the sport the most important thing we can do is encourage people to demo as many boats as possible. Sure, you might encourage a certain brand. I think we all do but please, whenever possible, don't encourage someone to buy a kayak "dry". If a person has never been in a kayak and you are encouraging them to buy the XR34, you are rushing. Asking lifestyle questions will lead you to only a handful of kayaks to choose from.
Hey, new guy! Does it seem overwhelming picking your first kayak? I've been there. I bought the only one I could afford. It got me on the water and that was good but it could be very frustrating and I almost died once because of a bad choice of a kayak. Please new guy, be patient. We understand you are super excited to try this cool sport out. We love it too but we have all made different mistakes. I made a really bad one that almost pushed me out of kayak fishing all together.
I purchased a kayak, sight unseen, dry with no demo about five years ago. It was such a good deal I couldn't believe it. So I bought it. Later that week I took it for its maiden voyage and almost turtled a dozen times. I hated that kayak. I felt like I was fighting it the whole time. It was awful and I sold it a month later and lost money. Since then I have purchased several kayaks for different purposes. I have a small water/buddy kayak, a big water kayak, and a family kayak (tandem). All three are different brands. I like them all and they have different purposes. For anyone to tell me that I could get all of my wants in one kayak would seem a fairy tale and frankly, unrealistic. I fish a wide variety of situations. Most people do.
If you only fish one set of ponds or one stretch of river, you might could find one kayak that works well and it could be perfect for you. That doesn't make it perfect for your buddy or that new guy on the forum.
Lots of places around the country have kayak dealers who specialize in kayaks, not just a bait store or grocery store that sells them. Ask them for a demo. Most of these places have people on staff who specialize in kayak fishing and who have paddled all the different brands they carry.Take a look around and see what you can find. If you still don't see a dealer in site, ask on the local fishing forum. Lots of people would be happy to let you try their kayak. I take new people out all the time just to share the kayaking experience with them.
So new guys, demo, demo, demo. Only you can choose for you.
Kayak addicts, encourage them to demo. Don't just be a boat pusher.
Labor Day marks the end of summer for most folks. It's back to school time for the kids. Businesses are starting a new fiscal year soon and the holidays are within sight. What Labor Day also marks is the beginning of sale season for kayaks.
Kayaks, both used and new are at the end of their cycle for the year. Dealers are reducing old inventory for the winter months, increasing new year models, doing some trade-ins, selling off the rental fleet and clearancing out. They know the pattern. It's their business. Craigslist will be flooded with people needing to sell a kayak for this or that. There are nomadic, seasonal kayakers who often sell a boat just to make a lease payment for deer season. Then there is dad, who thought he could convince the family to kayak with him, who instead is needing to sell a tandem to get a solo kayak. It takes all kinds. Often it works out for both parties. Everybody gets what they want and the cycle continues into next year.
Commonly thought of as a summer time hobby or sport, kayaking enjoys a bolus of participants between May and September. The crowds on local lakes start to thin more and more as the weather becomes more tolerable. Hunting season has started and for some that means dove hunting and then deer hunting. For me it's always DEAL hunting.
Over the last several years I have used fall and winter as a time to upgrade. Often, there are folks looking for a boat I have, rigged and ready to fish and are willing to pay a fair amount for it as is. I'd then turn that money into a better deal for me by finding great deals. Here are a few tips to help you find a great deal:
1. Look at Buy/Sell/Trade Sections on Your Local Forums
Chances are you belong to a local forum or six. Kayaks can often show up here for not a lot of money. Make sure you do your research though. A few unrealistic (or opportunistic) folks will try to get you to pay retail prices for a used kayak. Don't want to risk getting swindled? Check out the next tip.
2. Call a Kayak Dealer or Two
Dealers can't advertise their best prices. The kayak market for the most part has fixed pricing. If you can go in store it is even better but sometimes a phone call works if you are far away. This time of year it is very important to move inventory from the previous year. Brand new kayaks needing new homes can be had at better than used pricing very often. Don't believe me? Call HOOK 1 at (866) 486-8412 and ask if they have any deals. Tell them Chris sent you.
3. Don't Forget Craigslist
Depending on where you live, CL can be filled with kayaks. In Texas, especially Dallas, Austin and San Antonio options abound. Just please, reread #1 and do some homework. Some sellers will try to take advantage or just really have no clue that a kayak depreciates. Take a buddy, meet at a place where you can demo the kayak. Speaking of demos.
4. Demo, Demo, Demo
Don't be a knucklehead like me and buy a kayak you've never paddled. It's exciting and sometimes the deals are great but what if you drop $500 or $1,000 on something that you hate. Good luck reselling for the same price. Demo at least the model if at all possible. It doesn't have to be the exact kayak but at least a very similar one.
My Thoughts:Trolling Motors in Kayak Tourneys
It's time I weighed in.
Last week was fun. Watching the discussions take place, civility prevailing in most instances and people sharing their thoughts. That was the ultimate goal. Decisions were being made in future tournaments without a large group of people being talked to about it. That gave me pause and I wanted to know, not just have a gut feeling, what the majority would like to see in tournaments.
A few caveats before I weigh in. I am just one guy. This is just my opinion. If you keep reading and you get a little angry, please take a deep breath and realize the world keeps turning if we disagree. I don't run tournaments so you are in no danger of me fouling up what you are doing or may want to do in the future. I've thought a lot about this. I know there will always be outlying situations, exceptions made and that's good. We should never be too rigid so when circumstances out of the norm arise we can be inclusionary rather than exclusionary. This opinion is based on most of the people in most of the tournaments most of the time and my experiences over the last decade. Mine. Yours may have been different. Mine.
This issue has two pretty well defined lines that ultimately helped me make my decision (opinion). The first is kayak propulsion. The second is state regulations.
Kayak propulsion can be divided into two distinct categories: human propelled and not human propelled. Whether you move the kayak through the water with your arms or legs, the human body exerts energy to make the kayak move. Sometimes that uses pedals. Sometimes that uses a paddle. Either way, without an exertion from kinetic motion from a human body, the kayak doesn't go. Sails are a different discussion for a different day. The question is trolling motors.
A trolling motor on a kayak is not human propelled. Little to no exertion is needed to move from one place to another. To me, that is a defining line.
State regulations are another. Though some states differ, the prevailing law is that a water vessel with a motor, electric or gas, must be registered, classifying it as a motor powered vessel. That's a pretty big line. The state of Texas obviously feels there is a significant difference between a kayak and a kayak with a trolling motor. Different rules apply.
Many have cited, well what about a wounded veteran, who is an amputee and can't but wants to compete? These would be exceptions that would have to be granted by the tourney directors and written into the bi-laws. It should also state that in very specific language. That is part of the flexibility I talked about earlier. I do have one friend who has no legs and loves to fish. I visited with him about the question at hand. He stated it would become problematic if there were lots of wind because he would not be able to brace against anything going into the wind. It makes sense and was something I had not thought about. That would be an obvious exception that could be made.
Age has also been thrown around as a line but that supposed line is very blurry. I fish with several guys over 60 who can paddle circles around others. Should we assume that all people 60 and older are frail, can't keep up and should be coddled in their own division or allowed other means like a trolling motor? I know my friends would not and do not want to be treated differently. They also constantly put the whoop down on the younger guys.
So enough circling. Prepare the hate mail if you wish. Here is how I see it.
Trolling motors should not be allowed under normal circumstances in kayak tournaments. At that point, it's a boat tournament, not a kayak tournament. Should there be rare exceptions? Sure, as left up to the tournament directors discretion there should be. It should be rare though.
If you advertise yourself as a kayak tournament, no trolling motors. If you are a fishing tournament, have divisions or whatever you want. Be clear with what your goals are, what your participants can expect and do not hide it in the fine print. Be up front.
Should Trolling Motors Be Allowed in Kayak Tourneys?
ICAST and Outdoor Retailer showed us what the kayak industry is moving to: motorized kayaks.
At least that's what it feels like. So how long will it be until they are allowed to fish along side human powered kayaks in tournaments?
Wilderness Systems is working on the ATAK kayak, Old Town has the Predator XL, Ocean Kayak has made the Torque for several years and more companies are joining the fold every year. Some companies like NuCanoe design their kayaks with the idea you might mount a trolling motor on it.
In the kayak tournament scene, very few tourneys allow kayaks that have trolling motors. It is thought by most to provide a distinct advantage because the angler doesn't tire from propelling the kayak. The ban is often also applied to sailboats and catamaran style kayaks like the Hobie Adventure Island as well.
Should trolling motors be allowed?
The people for inclusion claim this would allow seniors and people with disabilities to participate which could continue the growth of the sport. With more models of electric motor kayaks becoming available, inclusion would be the natural thought. More people competing means larger purses, more sponsorship which also mean larger purses and wider reach to continue to grow kayak fishing and its eventual national tournament trails.
That sounds good. In theory.
The people against it claim it is a distinct advantage. Fatigue sets in faster when your body is having to propel the kayak. The advantage grows even greater in adverse conditions like high winds. The motor powered kayak would have the ability to cover more water, make more casts and fish longer throughout the day.
That also makes sense.
In cases where the entry fee is fairly benign (think $25 or less) and the winnings aren't much over a couple of hundred dollars, I can see people being a little more lenient. Let's talk big for a minute.
Large trails are popping up as large events have been attracting more attention and it is only a matter of time before purses of $5,000+ are available. If you pay $100 to enter, $250 on gas and lodging, $100 in food, do you want to compete against someone who can cover three or four times the water as you, make more casts than you and fish more spots because wind and waves effect them less? You have $400-$500 on the line to win $5,000. Are you ok with that knowing you are at a disadvantage?
I'm very curious to see what the kayak community has to say. We are on the precipice and this issue is being decided. It would be nice to have some input. Please comment, share and discuss this so your voice can be heard. Now is the time to speak up and state your case. For or against, help the trails deciding these things know what you think.
Thinking About a Small Business? Start Here.
You probably know a small business owner. Heck, you may know several. According to the Small Business Association, America is experiencing a significant rise in small business, cottage industry startups. Unlike the dotcom boom of the 1990s to early 2000s, these are typically not money grab startups. Most of the small businesses that are cropping up are about passion. Whether it's a rod making business, shirt printer, custom lures or fishing accessories, new businesses enter the marketplace everyday. You've probably been asked to "Like" a Facebook page for some of them. You've probably bought some of their stuff because it's a new twist on a technique or look. Not all will succeed however.
Lots of these companies start as or maybe still are garage start-ups. All the money they make is poured back into the business and sometimes the owners work another job to supplement it. They believe in their idea that much. They like to have quality control close at hand because the name on the package is a direct reflection on them. But passion is not enough. Lots of passionate people fail.
A good business plan will go a long way. After successfully selling a couple of products, a savvy owner will do a return on investment calculation (and many already have done a predictive ROI before the first sell). If it takes 10 hours and $24 worth of materials to make a rod and you sell it for $44 you may be "making" $20 but you are also only paying yourself $2 an hour. If you are after money, you can make almost four times that working a side job at the minimum wage. If it's a hobby and the money isn't important that might work. Just breaking even is enough for some folks. Only you can decide. If you are looking at expanding past a hobby business where you are the only labor cost, this model will fail.
Price point is another make or break. Entering the marketplace at the right tier level can set you up for success or failure. Have some outside sources, not your best friends and fishing buddies, give you a valuation. How much would they pay for this new bait? What companies would they compare it to? You need to know your competition. If I pour a plastic worm that looks like a Yamamoto Senko and sell it for the same price, will people buy it? Doubtful. Why not by the proven bait at that price. If it cost half, then you might get some looks. Even Yamamoto does this. He has his signature GYCB at the $6-8 price point and then the Kinami line that is a couple of dollars cheaper. He is offering product at different price points.
Volume is also important. If you sell expensive items, you'll move fewer but will have more money per transaction. Basically, you may only have to sell a couple of products to collect $1,000. If you sell $3 crankbaits, you may sell lots of them but you will need to sell over 300 to hit the $1,000 mark. It just depends on the product.
Understanding the customer is perhaps the least known entity in business today. Just because you cater to fishermen does not mean they are all the same. More specifically, it doesn't mean they all purchase products the same. The market is made up of three different types of customers. I won't go into great detail here but I'll give you some high level info.
Let's start with Bobby. Bobby is a young guy, usually between 18-29, single with some disposable income. He likes new things.
Next is Joe. Joe is the most common customer. He is 25-55, usually married and middle class. Joe works hard for his money. He likes new things but does his research, sometimes to his detriment, on new products.
Last is Terry. Terry is 30-65, married or single, but makes his own money decisions. If he wants to make a purchase, he does so without asking anyone else. Terry is typically middle to upper middle class if not wealthy.
All three of these customers can overlap in some areas. Some Terry customers will be a little older. Some Bobby customers will be older as well. Joe, however, is pretty standard across the board. In most markets across the US, Joe will be 65% of your purchases (once he finally decides to buy).
As a small business owner, you should know how to sell, market and advertise to these different customers. All three of these types have female counterparts too (Ashley, Mary and Karen respectively). The same strategy rarely works for all 3 (or 6) customers. Knowing how to present your product to each one, differently, will allow you to close more purchases.
Not all small businesses will make it but if you know and execute these strategies, you'll have a much better chance.
Knowing Your Customer.
Do you know/have all of them?