In March, Ontario, California-based Okuma Fishing USA battened down the hatches. Like the rest of the sportfishing industry, they were unsure what new challenges COVID-19 would bring for their brand. Would they ride the tide successfully? Or would a temporary shutdown cause lasting damage to their bottom-line?

More than six months after shutting down almost completely, Okuma is outperforming most of their forecasts for the year. This week, FTR sat down with Okuma Marketing Specialist’s Dave Brown and Jonathan Gaytan to discover tips and tricks they used that can help your store’s bottom-line. 

Joe Sills: Tell us about the initial challenges you faced as the pandemic hit.

Dave Brown: When the pandemic began to hit, we were coming to the end of show season. On the consumer side, we were asking ourselves whether we should go forward with shows. We have to decide if we would or would not have employees attend trade shows and tournaments in addition to those consumer shows. The Fred Hall Show in Long Beach was our last show, and most of us haven’t traveled since mid-February.

As things escalated, we decided to implement new cleaning protocols and then completely close for a week in March. By early April, the sales just weren’t coming in because retailers around the country were closing, too. In response, we were forced to lay off personnel. I myself was furloughed. Positions were downsized. It was a very difficult time for Okuma.

Joe Sills: Were there any operations that you did maintain as the low point of this early tide hit?

Dave Brown: Marketing didn’t stop. The whole time, we were running social media campaigns, trying to stay top-of-mind for consumers. And by mid-April, orders started to come in again. Consumers were starting to fish.

New Okuma Products for 2021

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Joe Sills: How important were your marketing campaigns in driving a bounce back in sales?

Dave Brown: I would say marketing helped quite a bit. It kept us top of mind. We are still getting inquiries and people hitting us up via messaging. We notice on the social marketing side, people are reaching out and looking for how to video content. New anglers want to know how to tie a hook, how to do basic things. They want to know what they need to just go fishing.

Because of our social efforts, we realized that pretty fast and we introduced Tune-Up Tuesday, where we release how-to videos and blogs that are super basic.

Jonathan Gaytan: Tune up Tuesday has also helped drive a lot of traffic to our website and social channels. At one point, we were up over 1,000%. Everybody is at home. Everybody is looking for something on YouTube or Instagram. We also started a program called Okuma: Let’s Get Reel on Instagram Live. On that, we have a weekly guest from around the country, whether it’s a celebrity or a pro-staffer or a guide, and we chat for about 45 minutes, just talking about the state of what’s happening, the Coastal Conservation Association, whatever.

Jonathan Gaytan: We want people to feel like they are not being excluded. They see pros who can’t go fishing, just like they can’t go fishing. For that, we strictly use Instagram Live where we and guests log in with our phone to discuss various topics and engage in FAQ with our viewers.

Joe Sills: Has your focus on new anglers been successful?

Dave Brown: Mid-range combos are rolling right now. We are selling a lot of entry-level gear to people getting into the sport. These buyers are moms and dads who want to take their sons and daughters out fishing, because parks are closed, and many beaches are as well. They want to get out to the local pond or river and head to an open beach to engage in recreation with their children as they are able to.

The new entry category has been a gigantic spike for Okuma. Luckily, we front loaded a lot of product knowing that we were going to take a large tariff spike this year, and in that sense, we got pretty lucky. As orders have been rolling in, we have been able to fill them and keep retailers rolling.

Joe Sills: How can retailers participate online with you?

Dave Brown: If a retailer tags us and I see it, I will share their post if its relevant. I try to check everyone who tags us. So, let’s say a bait and tackle shop is posting and they have some new Fishlab baits in stock, or a new Serrano low profile reel. I am happy to reach out and share those posts on our feed.

Joe Sills: Do you see support being thrown at local tackle shops now that, frankly, Amazon is getting some backlash?

Dave Brown: I do see that more. The local support in communities has increased. People are going into the local tackle shops or they’re doing curbside pickup. Some stores are completely open, which is wonderful; but supporting local mom and pop shops is phenomenal and the relationships that you build in those stores are something you have for years in your life. I still visit tackle shops locally that I have gone to since I was a kid.

Jonathan Gaytan: I think people feel very vulnerable right now, in the state that we are in. People are more empathetic, and, in that state, they want to help each other. Fishing is a tight-knit community. People want to reach out to local shops and help them stay afloat. I think that’s a big element of what we see going on right now.

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Joe Sills: How important is it for people to have a place to go and place orders online?

Dave Brown: If you are in any form of retail, that’s the way of the future. If you have an online segment of your business, people can use the resources that we put together. We talk about products all of the time, and once a retailer has a way to support that message with an order, customers can make that purchase.

You don’t have to be entirely online focused, but if you have an online capability it’s a huge leap towards going forward.

Jonathan Gaytan: I feel that people are still learning to navigate and come to terms with the realities brought on by this pandemic, for many reasons. COVID-19 is really transforming the e-commerce landscape and business owners are trying shift how they operate to support their customer’s needs. At the end of the day, you know your customers best and if providing them with an online outlet is beneficial for them and you, it’s worth considering.

Joe Sills: What tips would you share with retailers who want to increase their online presence right now?

Dave Brown: Dip your toe into things like social media, if you haven’t done it yet. There are a lot of older retailers that may have a niece or a nephew at home at the moment. They can help you, if you need it. The worst thing that can happen is you have more people looking at your stuff. It’s not like you will lose business. You will just have more reach. Manufacturers will help you promote your business online.

Jonathan Gaytan: People think social media needs to be over-the-top with overly polished photos, but that’s not always true. You can snap and post a quick picture with your phone of the retail space, whether you have new rods or baits or whatever. In our current state, it’s more about consistency with content. The more content you put out there, the better. I think customers want to check-in with you and find something useful. Right now, more than ever, customers need information and resources that you can provide. It doesn’t need to be complicated either, even short videos about the difference between a J-hook and a circle hook, how to tie a dropper loop, etc are valuable in increasing your online presence. These are super basic items that the everyday angler may not feel comfortable walking into a store to ask.