This week, AFTCO announced their arrival into the freshwater market. And with a newly christened pro staff featuring household names like Jason Christie, Todd Faircloth and Scott Martin, the California-based saltwater titan is poised to make serious noise. To find out why, after six decades in saltwater, one of the biggest brands in fishing is finally making the move to freshwater, we sat down with AFTCO V.P. of Sales & Marketing Casey Shedd.
FTR: Let’s talk about timing. Why the bass market? Why now?
Shedd: A few reasons. Honestly, a lot of the right things all came together at once. We are a very conservative company, so we approach entering a new market carefully. AFTCO has been an established name in saltwater for the last 60 years, and we hope to become an established name in freshwater for the next 60.
First, our core AFTCO Clothing business has experienced five consecutive years of 30 percent-plus year-over-year growth. A lot has been driven by the younger demographic on the saltwater side, and with the growth of the youth fishing movement in bass, we feel there is a lot of natural crossover there.
Bass fishing was my first introduction to fishing, with a small plastic boat I kept at the local lake as kid, and bass is a passion for a lot of the 90-plus employees and staff that are a part of the AFTCO family. Internally, we’ve been dipping our toes in the freshwater market for about three years now—since we first started working with Jared Lintner. He played a big role in helping us understand the needs of the bass angler. The timing felt right after our Florida rep, Luis Perez, introduced us to Mike Valster of Outdoor Brand Team. Mike has been a guiding light in working with us on a marketing approach that honors our heritage and brand identity.
Lastly, with a growing fishing clothing market overall, we feel very good about bringing our family-run, small-business-first approach to the market. Our last major undertaking of this nature was in 2004 when we took on the master license for Guy Harvey. We successfully grew that business by over 400 percent during that time, and are now very much looking forward to taking on the challenge of servicing the needs of AFTCO freshwater anglers, in a responsible, conservation-first way.
FTR: You mention conservation first. Will AFTCO be extending its legacy of conservation to freshwater fisheries?
Shedd: Yes, 100 percent. Our approach to marketing has always been conservation first, and with freshwater our plans are no different. We’re working on a few projects that we plan to announce in the coming months, including 10 conservation-focused tournaments and an ability for freshwater groups to apply for conservation grants online. We contribute more than 10 percent of annual profits to conservation. In 2017, that meant $510,000 went to mostly saltwater-focused groups, but going forward we will begin to put the 10 percent pledge to use within the freshwater market.
FTR: What has the early reception from retailers been like so far?
Shedd: Overall, it’s been very refreshing and overwhelmingly positive — but then again, I’m sure everyone says that. For a few years now, we’ve had the benefit of working with a small number of key freshwater accounts. Folks like Woods & Waters in Tuscaloosa are in the heart of our core market and have had good success with the product. We’ve been working with Tackle Warehouse for a few years now and have had some initial positive results there, and more importantly, we’ve learned a lot about market needs in the process. We have just started to open retailers in Minnesota, Michigan, Arizona and other places that are completely new markets for us.
FTR: How can retailers reach out to you to try the new freshwater gear out in their store?
Shedd: Simple. Just email email@example.com and ask for contact information for a sales rep in their area.