Cooperation vs Competition

Custom rod builders often look at each other as competitors. Which, of course, they often are. When builders are located in close proximity this can sometimes result in less than friendly relations. It shouldn’t.

I began selling rods to the public in the early 1980’s.  Very shortly afterwards I met several other area rod builders who were also selling rods in roughly the same market that I was.  And yet for the most part, there was never any animosity between us.

Among the first builders I encountered were those who worked for or hung around at P&M Bait & Tackle in Winston-Salem, NC.  Bobby Smith was the resident builder.  Bobby was a first class guy and P&M enjoyed a tremendous custom surf rod business.  It was there that I also met local builders Jim Reid, David Covington and Mike Bolt. In fact, I installed the grips on the first surf rods that Mike ever built. Mike, along with his dad JC, eventually went on to operate a highly successful rod building and tackle repair business for several years.  It was at P&M that I  also made the acquaintance of a rod builder who would become a very dear friend – Veque Sprinkle.

In time, I ended up doing all the repair work and most of the custom rod building work for P&M. Had I originally seen them as competitors to be reckoned with, that might never have happened.

Over towards Greensboro I found Buddy Owens, a good friend and outstanding rod builder to this day.  Bill Poe had been building rods down in Staley, NC since the mid-1970’s. Perhaps even a little earlier. Bill is one of the nicest builders you’ll ever meet. I ran into Don Hanner, another Greensboro area rod builder, just last week. We’ve always been on good terms even though we sometimes competed for the same customers.

There are other builders that don’t come to mind at the moment. I wish I could remember them all.  My point here is that in many cases, we developed friendships that allowed us to call upon each other when in a pinch for a spool of thread, a particular guide or even an idea.  While we sometimes competed for the same customers, there was never any animosity nor professional jealousy among any of us. In the long term, our friendly relationships allowed us to do more than any of us could have done separately.

I launched RodMaker in the Spring of 1998 as the first rod building publication available by subscription and outside of an organization. At that time the now defunct RodCrafters Association had the only rod building publication in existence. Rather than compete, I offered to cooperate.  One afternoon I called Cam Clark, the editor of the RodCrafters Journal, and told him that I thought we could both do well and even land many of the same members/subscribers.  It was my thinking that builders would enjoy having more information, rather than less.  I suggested that we keep in touch and try not to duplicate material – which would result in builders not wanting both publications. I even went so far as to publish a complete listing of all the upcoming RodCrafter seminars in my Volume 1 #5 issue.

In the summer of 1998, rod builder Richard Sacco had submitted “All Purpose Bass Rod – A Different Twist” to both publications. Cam called and said he really wanted to run it in the Journal and would appreciate it if I’d stand down and let him have it. He said he needed time to prepare it and was worried I’d beat him to the punch and run it first. I told him to go ahead and run it in his publication and assured him that I wouldn’t publish it. I kept my word. Cam eventually published the article in the July/August/September 1999 edition of his publication.

Looking back, I have to believe that where cooperation has existed the parties involved have fared better than they might otherwise have done. This has been my personal experience and I suspect that if more rod builders would acquaint themselves with other builders in their area and operate on a friendly basis, they might be surprised at the outcome.

Tom Kirkman



  1. RKuhne on August 19, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    Very enjoyable and very true from what I have observed with most custom rod builders. Two heads are better than one.

  2. Ken Preston on August 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Two other custom rod builders live within 2 miles of me. Each of us has our own “specialty” and customer base. One gentleman has chosen to focus on “perch jerkers” – 4.5 – 5′ light rods primarily fiberglass. He and I are not so close as he is more ‘protective’ about sharing information. The second rod builder and I have a very warm, cordial relationship. Morning coffees, dinner out with our wives, visiting each others shops, working through new techniques and swapping/borrowing parts as necessary. “People are people”. Some are simply rooted in what I see as the dark ages of rod building. I remember when I started – there was little information on rod building and it was nearly impossible to find another builder to learn from. IO have chosen to open my shop to anyone who wants to come play with my tools and learn. Quite often they have brought in their own new ideas – some work and some do not but as we try them we both learn