I’m sure that at some point most bass fishermen have walked into a tackle shop and purchased a product because a particular pro angler endorsed it. For some of you, Kevin VanDam holds great influence, for others it might be Skeet Reese or Mike Iaconelli or someone else.
When I started fishing, Bill Dance was the one whose endorsement meant the most to me. I always watched his TV show, and I felt that if a product had his name on it, it was probably pretty good stuff. Most of the time that proved to be the case.
Of course, sometimes an endorsement doesn’t mean anything. There’s always some pro-labeled gear that turns out to be flat-out junk. For example, there was the Helicopter Lure. When I was a kid I’d get up at 5 a.m. before school to watch the Helicopter Lure infomercial over and over and over again. Those monster bass inhaling the bait kept me glued to the TV. Then I’d go to school and dream about it all day. When I finally got the stupid things, I fished them for countless hours and never caught a single bass.
Now that I’m a pro, I try to be sensitive to what putting my name on a product means. Maybe that’s because the transition from starry-eyed purchaser to a pro angler with his own signature products happened so quickly for me. In 2009, I was fishing little tournaments on my local lake out of a 17 foot boat. By 2014, I had my own line of products in Wal-Mart. It's been a very cool experience and the two things I realized in the course of creating my own signature products are:
- 1) It takes a special team of people and a lot of talents to get a marketable product on the shelves; and
- 2) You always need to maintain your integrity because consumers have long memories.
It seemed simple to me at first to create my brand/graphics/products in a week or two and then sit back and watch it sell in stores. While I truly enjoyed the design aspect of it, it took a lot more than I first expected. I went through four or five graphic designers before I finally decided to reach out to a guy from my motocross days who got what I was looking for.
It’s critical to speak up for what you want in a product, but also be willing to listen to the marketing people. They’re experts in their field just like we’re experts on the water. I know that I’m a little bit outrageous and willing to wear some things that the average consumer will find to be too outlandish to purchase. The marketing experts sometimes have to rein me back in until we reach a compromise.
I feel responsibility not only to the people who are putting their corporate resources behind my name but also to the consumers who are purchasing those products. You’ll never hear me say that something is the “absolute best in world,” because that just comes off as unvarnished salesmanship. What I do believe though is that my line of products are the best value, for the best price, you could ask for. Period. And I believe that.
While this plays a major role in how I make a living, I have to say that the most gratifying part of the whole process comes in places other than at the ATM. I walk into Wal-Marts all of the time and make a beeline for the fishing department. I have to admit that when I see an empty peg, I smile a little. Similarly, when I’m at a weigh-in and I look out and see people wearing my glasses, or a co-anglers carrying their gear to the boat in one of my tackle bags, or watching a kid walking through the store to purchase one of my Abu Garcia spinning combos, that’s the most rewarding part, hands down.
The same goes with the positive comments and messages I receive on social media. The best single experiences may have been pulling up to a traffic light next to a FedEx truck and seeing the driver rocking out to AC/DC wearing my glasses. Or seeing guys riding a Harley wearing them. While it may be small, it's cool to think that they we may be reaching a larger demographic of people than just current fishermen, and it may draw a little more attention to the sport.
As I said earlier, my career has moved at warp speed from 2009 until the present. Because of this, it's hard to forget where it all started and where I came from. Certainly there are tournament fishermen out there who have caught more fish and won more tournaments than I have so it’s humbling that I have experienced success on the marketing side of things, and for that I'm truly grateful. I know that the thrill of seeing my own name and picture on a product will never get old, and that I will always remember that my signature is the guardian of my integrity and dreams do come true.