The litmus test

In a few days, the sportfishing industry will get an up-close look at what the upcoming tackle sales season will look like as manufacturers and dealers pile into Raleigh, N.C., for one of the country's largest trade shows.

I've long said that Big Rock East Dealer Show, held in January of each year, is the litmus test for how healthy tackle sales will be in the months ahead.

As one of the largest distributors in the country, their show attracts hundreds of tackle manufacturers plus independent retailers from throughout the Northeast and South.

They all come to purchase the must-have products for the upcoming fishing season. From what I've seen in the previous five years, this is a make-or-break event for the industry. If retailers at the show are enthusiastic, snapping up new products and feeling good about the sales mood back home, it bodes well for manufacturers and consumers.

It's good for manufacturers because the retailers will purchase more of their wares. It's good for consumers because it ensures they get to see a much wider selection of products than they might normally see in a down year. When sales are slow (as they have been for a few years now), manufacturers rein in spending and cut back on product innovation and selection.

It's why, for the last several years, we've seen fewer companies take risks or push the envelope with anything more than extensions of existing product lines. That could change, and it could happen soon. I'm convinced that any number of companies are ready and willing to open their pocketbooks to create the next Senko or Sweet Beaver, but it cannot happen without the demand to support it.

Of all the companies I've talked to, 90 percent admit to having cut as much as they can, whether in staff or production and labor costs. "Now," said an official at one major tackle manufacturer, "we're at the point of having to start thinking about growing. We've chopped all we can. We just need the consumer to come back first."

Well, in mid-January, we'll all find out if the consumer has indeed come back. Keep your fingers crossed. I'll give you a report next week from the show floor in Raleigh.

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