BEMIDJI, MN – Supply chain. A term that was largely foreign to the public is now dinner table conversation. In the simplest terms, supply chain is the sequence of events that moves product from the manufacturer to the consumer. And like industries worldwide, fishing has been whacked by supply chain challenges, as evidenced by empty peg hooks in the stores and out-of-stocks online.
Even during less problematic economic conditions, the goal is to keep peg hooks full. Fail to fill the pegs and your products are rapidly replaced by the competition. It’s with that core premise in mind that Northland sought the business operations excellence of Rick Billings, naming him VP of Operations. Already known for its exceptional “fill rates,” and with substantial growth on the horizon, Northland wanted to solidify its industry status.
Go to Billings’ LinkedIn profile and his skillset reads: “Operations professional with expertise leading distribution, supply chain, and manufacturing organizations. Experience includes P&L accountability, strategy development and implementation, personnel development, and customer/supplier relationship management.” A perfect fit for Northland’s growing business.
Northland CEO Gregg Wollner has firsthand experience to back Billings’ claims. “I have known Rick for 30 years and I worked with him for 14 years at Rapala. I’ve seen firsthand the impact he can make on a business, and I am thrilled to add him to our team.”
Born, raised, and residing in Rochester, Minnesota, Billings is a lifelong angler and hunter. Billings’ father “fueled his passion” not only at a local level, but on annual fishing adventures to Canada. But, to this day, the Upper Mississippi River remains the apple of his eye. A self-proclaimed river rat, Billings says the fishing quality, atmosphere and views are incomparable.
Like all good Minnesotans, Billings grew up stalking walleyes and northern pike. But then in his 20’s, Billings was introduced to bass fishing. “I was a little reluctant at first,” said Billings. “But after hooking that first smallmouth bass on the Mississippi, I never looked back.” Billings now has 25 years of competitive bass fishing under his belt, being part of both state and national teams. And now? He fishes tournaments for fun with his 8- and 16-year-olds, supported by his wife of 19-years.
On the career front, Billings started at IBM working in manufacturing, engineering, production, and optimization roles, where his passion for the business of operations and manufacturing developed. But Billings wanted more, so he traveled west and knocked out a master’s in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from Stanford University.
Billings then had the great fortune of returning home and merging his polished skills with love for the sport, banking 15-years with Rapala as VP of Operations and Product Development.
Now in his new role at Northland, Billings will employ Northland’s “clear vision and strategy” to a couple key areas:
Billings will center on inventory management and related customer service. “Everyone has been hit with supply chain issues,” said Billings. “You need the right inventory, and you need to ship quickly.” The industry veteran’s second area of responsibility will be lure development and manufacturing of Northland’s new hardbait category. Right out of the box, Billings will hone existing relationships, including those with legendary lure designers to expand both Northland’s and Bagley’s hardbait collections.
Billings journey with Northland and Bagley begins this week, and the trail ahead is clear.
In 1975, a young Northwoods fishing guide named John Peterson started pouring jigs and tying tackle for his clients in a small remote cabin in northern Minnesota. The lures were innovative, made with high quality components, and most importantly, were catching fish when no other baits were working! Word spread like wildfire, the phone started ringing… and the Northland Fishing Tackle® brand was in hot demand! For 40 years now, John and the Northland® team have been designing, testing and perfecting an exclusive line of products that catch fish like no other brand on the market today. Manufactured in the heart of Minnesota’s finest fishing waters, Northland® is one of the country’s leading producers of premium quality jigs, live bait rigs, spinnerbaits and spoons for crappies, bluegills, perch, walleyes, bass, trout, northern pike and muskies.
ABOUT Bagley Bait Company
The personality of any company comes from its founder. Jim Bagley was an inventive, fun-loving, passionate fisherman who became one the most respected legends in the fishing tackle industry. In late 2010, Jarmo Rapala and a group of investors bought Bagley Bait Company. As an admirer of Jim Bagley for his attention to quality and of his product ingenuity and innovation, Jarmo initiated significant changes in operations, enhanced production processes and quality control. Now in 2020, Northland® Fishing Tackle, along with Jarmo as its Chief Lure Designer, maintain the legacy of creating premium balsa crankbaits and topwater lures, as well as jigs and spoons for both freshwater and saltwater anglers.