With the industry's biggest trade show coming up this week, I think this is the perfect time to talk about an aspect of a bass pro's career that doesn't get a lot of publicity — working as a liaison between sponsors and retailers.
ICAST is a show for manufacturers, retailers and media in the fishing industry. It takes place every July — either in Las Vegas or Orlando — and it's a big deal because it's when and where manufacturers show off their latest designs in hopes that retailers will want to order them in big numbers and put them on the shelves next year.
ICAST is not a consumer show. You can't buy a ticket or walk in off the street. I won't get to talk with fans and it's unlikely that anyone will ask for my autograph. It's work, but it's something I really enjoy because it's very different from my responsibilities at other times of the year or at other places.
For starters, I have a dog in the hunt with a lot of these new products. I helped my sponsors design them, and I want to see them succeed. I know they'll catch fish or make your on-the-water experience better, but that's not enough at ICAST. At this show I need to be able to communicate my passion and belief in these products to the people who decide what goes on the shelves in your local Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's, Dick's Sporting Good, Gander Mountain or Walmart. If those folks don't like it, it doesn't matter how good it is because you'll never get to see it or use it.
In fact, a lot of the products that pro anglers and their sponsors are excited about now will never get off the drawing board. They exist only as prototypes and will never be made unless the retailers order them.
My part in this process is helping convince the buyers that the products my sponsors are making — and that I've helped design — are better, different or otherwise deserving of space in their stores. If that happens, you'll see them in your favorite tackle shop next year. If it doesn't, it's back to the drawing board and test tank.
As you might imagine, winning the Bassmaster Classic will be a big help to me in this role. I'm not a different fisherman, but I'll be looked at differently and probably listened to more. The spotlight that a Classic champion can give to a product is special and important. It's also a double-edged sword.
Just because it'll be easier for me to get the ear of retailers doesn't mean that I can afford to promote mediocre products. It's quite the opposite, in fact. I'm very aware that I need to use my status as Classic champ carefully. The spotlight's not just on me, but also on what I stand for and what I promote. I want to be the best angler I can be, and I want my sponsors' products to be the best they can be, too. If they're not, then I'm not going to stand behind them.
They say a fishing lure has to catch an angler before it can catch a fish, but what you may not realize is that it has to catch a retailer before it can catch an angler.