Growing a Business with Grant Koppers, President of LIVETARGET

“Like most avid anglers I was born with fishing in my blood. I’m not sure where it came from but I have been fishing ever since I can remember,” said Grant Koppers. “It is my life-long passion and obsession.”

Koppers, the President of Koppers Fishing and Tackle Corp and the LIVETARGET brand, recently sat down with FTR Senior Editor Ken Cook to wax poetic on what it’s like to grow a guiding company into a major player in the tackle industry. This week, we’re giving you a taste of Cook’s upcoming column in the next issue of Fishing Tackle Retailer along with an inside look at Kopper’s growth from fishing guide to tackle company president.

“My dad introduced me to fishing when I was young,” said Koppers. “I can recall four key periods in my life where I took my understanding of the sport to different levels and grew as an angler: The first was when I became old enough to ride my bike to local waterways. My friends and I fished primarily for bottom feeders (catfish, carp, suckers) after school and on weekends.

When I turned 16, I could drive my car to farther destinations and started targeting game fish (trout, salmon, bass, pike, walleye). Shortly thereafter I bought my first boat, a 12-foot aluminum junker.

In my late 20s I started a part-time guide business and went full-time three years later. In my first year I ran just over 60 trips and by my third year I was running 240-plus trips a year. I learned a lot by being on the water so often. During peak periods I was running two trips per day. That took my fishing to a completely different level. I went from targeting gamefish to following baitfish patterns. Trying to stay on the bite all day, everyday really put things into perspective. Over time I slowly collected valuable insight that helped my understanding of baitfish/gamefish patterns. I also learned a lot by having additional resources at my disposal—multiple boats and a solid inventory of equipment and lures. At times we’d troll up to 13 rods. Having enough equipment meant the difference between a big catch and a mediocre one. I also fished a lot of live bait during my guide days. I love fishing live bait because there is actually a real science to catching more fish on live bait versus artificial. Most people think that you just button a shiner onto a hook and let it swim, but you can fine-tune your pattern to make a significant difference. That’s the beauty of guiding—you do anything to put your clients on fish.

My objective was to always exceed my client’s expectations. I worked hard—harder than most. I loved guiding and was truly fortunate to have the opportunity to do it for 10 years. It was a great time in my life.

I also had a chance to cut my teeth in the tackle trade while working as a pro staffer for several tackle companies. There I saw the hole in our industry. We needed lures with greater anatomical details. Starting a lure business has provided a unique way to understand the sport of fishing. I’ve been traveling to Asia and other lure-producing regions for the past 10 years. In that period I have chalked up more than three and a half years of road time at factories, developing and producing lures. I’ve learned a lot of little secrets about how the lure industry works. Ever wonder why one lure catches more fish than another? Over the years I’ve learned many trade secrets that have helped me understand and apply meaning to my knowledge base. It’s this unique insight that has helped me grow as an angler.”


Getting LIVETARGET off the ground

Angling is one thing, but angling alone—even for a decade— doesn’t automatically translate into business success. Business is a learning game, and the route from guide to president presented more than a few lessons for Koppers. Here are a few tricks that he learned en route to making LIVETARGET a household name:

“Prior to starting the lure company, I had never needed to raise capital, especially to the magnitude required to launch LIVETARGET…What I can tell you is that I started to structure investments during the global economic meltdown period. Actually, some might say that the timing wasn’t ideal because investors were nervous and cautious over a potentially collapsing economy. But I say the economic situation might have worked to my advantage because there we fewer tangible investment opportunities available. Some savvy investors were looking for intelligent investments. LIVETARGET made perfect sense, especially for investors who understood my business model. Almost all of our investors are outdoor enthusiasts to some degree. They understand the vision and see exponential potential.

I started my lure company because I wanted to make a difference. Most people understand that game fish strike on profile, but many lure companies stop short and focus their efforts on just the outer profile. But what about anatomical profile? I never understood why lure makers did not add more anatomy to their lures, especially for clear water patterns. Ultimately, it frustrated me to the point where I decided to start my own company and brand.

I assembled an advisory team and developed a business plan. My wife Susan is my biggest supporter. She helped me build my guide business and has been instrumental in the lure company. I couldn’t have done this without her. I have a few select shareholders who invested in my vision and the company. The first and most notable was Victor Cook from Columbus, Ohio. Vic was a client from my guide business, an avid saltwater angler, and has supported the company selflessly over the years. The saltwater line was Vic’s brainchild.

There are a lot of trends in the lure sector right now; I could talk for days on this subject. I think the most notable is the global shift in production resources. Low margin production is slowly being pushed out of China and into other lower labor cost regions. I think there is a false sense of romanticism with hard lure production; it’s not as easy as it seems. Consumers are aware that the lure categories are becoming more crowed, but I think a lot of the new offerings are very much the same ol’, same ol’. Anglers are looking for proven and tangible results from their favorite brands. Those who cannot deliver proven winners will face even more challenging times when shifting their production outside China where infrastructures are limited and more complex. I think we’ll see more transition over the next three years. Those who have a sound business model will experience growth opportunities.

Our growth to date has been solely achieved organically. Our focus over the next three to five years will shift to strategic growth with a strong concentration on the U.S. and Canada. Soon we will begin to shift efforts and resources to other international markets. Our focus is to continue to build brand equity.”

To see how LIVETARGET is building that equity, check out Ken Cook’s feature in the upcoming July/ICAST issue of Fishing Tackle Retailer.