Capt. Jonathan Wright knows what it’s like to work at a mom and pop tackle shop. For years, the Blackfin Rods General Manager manned the aisles and the register at his own store in Stuart, Florida—one of the world’s premier destinations for snook and redfish. He also knows the corporate side of retail, having managed an East Coast West Marine location for years.
But today, Wright is on a different path—he’s helping to steer Blackfin Rods through uncharted waters in the seas of COVID-19.
At first, Wright says those waters were murky. During the opening weeks of the pandemic, Blackfin shuttered its 7,000 square foot manufacturing facility in South Florida. A production line that was geared up for the Spring 2020 fishing season suddenly fell silent as employees creating blanks and assembling, wrapping, coating, shipping and receiving rods were sent home.
“Our governor issued stay-at-home orders,” tells Wright. “So we paid our employees and applied for federal paycheck protection loans. We weren’t sure where we were going to wind up when the dust settled.”
But three months into the COVID-19 crisis, Blackfin’s American made rods have brought unexpected growth to this homegrown company. Employees have been socially distanced into split shifts and are cranking away on new models to feed the insatiable appetite of American anglers taking advantage of one of the few socially responsible, distant activities in today’s times.
To date, Blackfin has brought on five new dealers with eight locations since the beginning of the crisis—all dealers who, struggling to fill inventory amidst increased demand and supply chain delays overseas—are looking to a handful of rod makers who still build their rods from blanks made in the United States.
“We got a call from the buyer at Bass Pro Shops” adds Wright. “They told us they needed rods now and we said we could deliver them.”
Prior to the pandemic, Blackfin was already white labeling rods for dealers like Bass Pro Shops and West Marine, and while their ability to fulfill orders with U.S.-based manufacturing is strengthening those ties, it’s growth among independent dealers like the ones where Wright got his start that is reaping new rewards. Places like Carl’s Bait and Tackle in For Lauderdale or Sportsman’s Wholesale in Morehead, City North Carolina have recently signed up for Blackfin Rods. And they’re stocking rods for just about every saltwater species imaginable—swordfish, king fish, marlin, mahi mahi, tarpon and snook.
“Dealers are making the decision to invest in our high quality, highly coveted rods,” explains Martin. “These are rods built with a quality, detailed focus. For us, it’s all about the little things like using a better epoxy so the rod doesn’t yellow and using higher end components from Fuji, Winthrop, Penn and AFTCO, while steering away from lower quality components. It’s about customizing rods to match the color of your boat and matching the wraps with the lettering on it.”
Because Blackfin Rods are handmade in America, their retail price is targeted to anglers who are dedicated to their craft. Inshore models like their Carbon E-Series, for instance, range from $199 to $699; but cover the gamut of species with rods made from the highest quality components available. It’s a company-wide attention to detail that, according to Wright, transitions from the sales floor to sales meetings. “Relationships are everything in the business and I pride myself on being friends with buyers and creating friendships with those guys.”
Relationships like that are what put Blackfin on the short list for orders when overseas supply chains began to quiver under the pandemic. And Wright believes the rods placed on store shelves during these uncertain times will allow those relationships to flourish going forward, while Blackfin looks to grow from a stellar saltwater brand into a full-fledged rod builder that caters to the salmon, walleye and bass markets as well—their new freshwater series is due out in August.
To that end, the company has stepped up to increase dealer support on its website, integrated Google Maps with its dealer listing page to provide potential consumer customers with a roadmap to the dealers stocking inventory on their shelves.
Now, Blackfin has an idea of where they will be when the dust of COVID-19 settles. “We’re going to be right there,” says Wright.