Archive for the ‘February 2011’ Category

Quacking and Clucking…

Over the years I’ve gotten many requests for Expo booths from folks who aren’t really associated with the custom rod building craft. While booth sale money is always nice, I’ve always preferred to keep the Expo an exclusive rod building event. So, aside from the kayak manufacturer (who provides us with a fishing related grand door prize each year) I’ve politely turned away any exhibitor that is not somehow related to custom rod building. So how did a group selling duck calls wind up at the recent 2011 event?

Last spring I was having some issues with my phone service. The repairman that the local phone company sent out asked about the Expo. He explained his duck call business and asked if he could obtain a booth at the Expo. I explained why I didn’t think it would pan out very well for him, but he wanted to take a shot. He was obviously a craftsman and worked with the same types of wood that so many rod builders do.Because he went above and beyond in getting my phone fixed, I rationalized the connection and allowed him on board.

My mistake, however, was in overlooking the effect that the constant quacking and clucking, sometimes at very high decibels, would have on nearby exhibitors and attendees. Some were not very happy about it and they let me know.

I spoke with the company owner on Sunday morning and he understood and agreed to tone things down for the remainder of the Expo. He was as good as his word.

On the upside, one of the Expo vendors was more than a little happy that Lodge Creek Calls was in attendance. It seems that the guys making the calls were looking for a supplier of quality stabilized wood and Steven Kincaid at had just what he was looking for. The business relationship that was forged between them on Saturday morning boosted Steven’s sales by more than a little.

But, no more non-related rod building exhibitors will be allowed. I’ve already turned down the group that wanted to hawk their custom made digeridoos in 2012.

Tom Kirkman


The Big Picture

There is a common misconception that when you post something on an internet rod building forum you’re reaching the bulk of the custom rod building craft. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, you’re barely covering the tip of the iceberg where the mainstream custom rod building craft is concerned.

I’m a big picture kind of guy. And because I operate the world’s most popular rod building forum and the world’s most popular rod building magazine, I’m in a unique position to see the bigger picture where rod building demographics are concerned. Let’s take a look at some numbers.

Since 2002 when went online, there have been 7,283 registered users. Since 1998 when RodMaker Magazine began publishing, there have been 102,052 subscribers. Currently, RBO has 1,892 active registrants (logged in within the past 6 months). Currently, RodMaker Magazine has 15,486 subscribers. If you want to include all those that have been subscribers in the same 6 month period, that number can be listed as 21,015

Now there are plenty of internet rod building forums. But even if you were to add them all up, many of the users would be duplicates and you still wouldn’t get anywhere close to the magazine numbers. And… the magazine only represents about 5% of the total custom rod building craft.

So where are all these rod builders? Simple – they’re everywhere. But like most everyone else, they’re busy earning a living, taking care of their homes, families, etc. They simply don’t have time to “live” on the internet rod building forums, nor would they even if they did have the time. But they’re out there and they constitute that great silent majority that makes up this craft. (Just another reason why the rod  building component supply dealers who still publish and mail print catalogs do a lot more business than the companies who are solely internet based.)

So the next time you make a statement on an internet rod building forum and get a dozen responses, keep the big picture in mind. For every rod builder who sees your comment on a forum – ten more will never even know it’s there. You can’t reach the bulk of the mainstream rod building craft via the internet – that’s not where it lives. Once you understand this, you open a door that allows you to be far more successful within this craft and industry.

Tom Kirkman


2011 RodMaker Reception

Each year, RodMaker Magazine hosts an informal reception for its subscribers. This event is held in conjunction with the International Custom Rod Building Exposition. This year’s reception will be held on Friday, February 25th, the evening before the Expo kicks off.

This year, the reception will be held at the Centennial Station, a restored freight train depot located at 121 South Centennial Street. This is about 2 blocks east of the Showplace.

The reception is scheduled to begin about 7PM. The doors will open at 6:30PM. Please do not arrive prior to 6:30 or you’ll be waiting in the parking lot – and there is a good chance it’ll be raining this Friday evening. We do not start the door prize drawings until about 7:15, so there is no need to rush and stand in line prior to the 6:30 opening.

Also kindly reserve the few tables and chairs for those subscribers who are aged or infirm. This is a stand-up affair. Thanks.

Remember, the reception is for RodMaker subscribers and their immediate guests, only. Thanks and see you there.

Tom Kirkman


Expo Origins

Most rod builders recognize the International Custom Rod Building Exposition as the world’s largest custom rod building event. What many don’t know, is where it got its start.

While attending Barry Serviente’s 2003 Fly Fishing Show in Charlotte, NC, I approached him about the unused space in the Charlotte Convention Center. Turns out he was paying for more than he could use. A deal was struck to take that unused space and turn it into the 2004 National Rod Builder’s Show.

Looking back at that 2004 event, it seems very small by comparison to today’s “Expo.” But at the time it was by far the largest rod building event ever undertaken. At the time, there were no large scale rod building events held anywhere. Most of the rod building events of that time period were seminar based events where perhaps 25 to 100 or so guys met for a weekend of camaraderie and learning. The National Rod Builders Show took that experience and expanded it beyond what anyone thought possible at that time. The entire concept of bringing together exhibitors, vendors, rod builders and seminars into a single event was new. And it was something that few thought could be done.

The original slate of exhibitors in 2004 included American Tackle, Batson Enterprises, Mud Hole Custom Tackle, Custom Tackle Supply, Trondak U-40, RodMaker Magazine, Mickel’s Custom Rods, REC, Renzetti Inc., Carolina Fish Sticks, Lon Blauvelt Rods, Ken’s Custom Rods and Lamar Reel Seats. That number constitutes barely a fifth the number that display at the Expo these days, but it was still the largest gathering of rod building exhibitors up to that time in history.

The show, which many felt was doomed to failure, not only succeeded but laid the groundwork for what is known as the “Expo” these days. It’s spawned a number of other similar events, although none have managed to keep pace with the Expo. The secret to the success? If I had to list one thing that stands out it would be the fact that the Expo supports the craft and industry, instead of the other way around. And that hasn’t and won’t change as long as I’m involved.

Tom Kirkman


The Past…

A rod builder who is well educated on the history of the craft, is a better rod builder. There are only advantages to knowing about the materials, products and techniques that have custom rod building to where it is today.  For this reason, RodMaker has always carried some amount of historical rod building information. Generally, about one such article per issue.

Early on, Andy Dear held numerous interviews with rod building persons of note and I published those in several issues of RodMaker.  Industry icons like Jimmy Green, Roger Seiders, Dick Kanter and Press Powell to name just a few, have been included.

Beginning with Volume 9, I commissioned Gene Bullard to write a series of articles detailing bits and pieces of custom rod building history. Gene’s involvement with the custom rod building industry had garnered him many friendships with folks who shaped the craft over the past 50 years.

More recently Boyd Pfeiffer has been handling this chore. Boyd is perhaps the most prolific writer of rod building and tackle making articles ever. His many years of research into the history of fishing and fishing tackle in general have given him a unique ability to bring the past history of our craft alive.

Of course, Volume 11 saw the advent of RodMaker’s final page being devoted to brief insights on various components – each one having changed the rod building craft at the time of their introduction.

The more you know about where the craft has been, the better you’ll be able to predict where it’s likely to go. RodMaker will continue to provide a measure of historical information in each and every issue. It’s important.

Tom Kirkman


Wanted – Working Crystal Ball

Five years ago a fishing buddy and I bought identical pairs of Bite Primal Flats Wading Boots. They proved to be exceptional. So much so, that when they recently began showing their age after much frequent and hard use, my buddy began looking for another pair. He found they were no longer in business and asked me what I planned to replace mine with. I told him that I was already covered – when I found out how well my original pair worked, I had immediately bought a second pair and put them back as insurance against this day. How I wish I had done the same with some of the rod building items I’ve used over the years.

The Fuji LSH/USH spinning rod handles remain my favorite. Had I been thinking ahead I’d have bought  many dozens of them when they were still in production. I still find one occasionally, but they’re getting rare as hen’s teeth. Same with the old Mildrum “Hi-Rollers.” They’re still my preference for the really big rods. I think I have one left, but there’s not much you can do with just one. The G. Loomis IGFA glass offshore trolling rods were the best I’ve ever used. And so, too, were their “Hybrid” stand-up rod blanks.  I should have bought more when I could have.

When Bullard Int. foundered in 1987, Diamond II epoxy disappeared.  Fast forward to 2005. I asked Gene if  he could bring back the original product. He said the man that made it for him had died and the company was long gone. So Gene sourced an off the shelf product to sell under the original namesake, but lamented that it did not come close to the original. Epoxy doesn’t go bad – anybody could have laid in a large stock while it was still available, but didn’t. I do still have an original, unopened bottle of CPX color preserver, however.

I never used any of the Clemens Apogee rod blanks. These had a solid glass tip fused to a tubular lower section. They retain a cult following. I’ll bet the cult wishes they had stocked up on a few more of these back in the day. Same with the guys who would still give their last nickel for a Fenwick Boron X rod blank.

How many builders wish they had stockpiled a bit more quality cork back when it wasn’t quite so hard to find, and much less expensive. Or perhaps a few sets of the old Aetna Foulproof guides which may still not have an equal on ultra-light rods. We like to think that the products we love and use will always be available. Deep down we know they won’t be, but time slips by so quickly.

Of course, there’s always the possiblity of stocking up on something only to have a new technology make that stockpile obsolete. It would be nice if crystal balls actually worked like they do in fairly tales.

Tom Kirkman


For RodMaker Subscribers

This morning I completed the arrangements for the 2011 RodMaker Magazine Reception. This event has become a much anticipated evening for magazine subscribers and their guests.

The first reception was held inside the Charlotte Convention Center in 2004 during the National Rod Builders’ Show. By the 3rd year in that location, we were close to being in violation of the local fire code for occupancy.

2005 RodMaker Reception

In 2007 the reception moved along with the International Custom Rod Building Exposition to High Point, NC to the Showplace Center. We narrowly averted a disaster that year when the escalator taking folks up to the second floor reception location started before the doors to the reception hall opened!  The escalator brought up more people than then foyer could hold and even when we got the doors open it was feeding them in faster than the double doors could receive them. Luckily, all turned out well.

For the next 3 years the reception was held in the ballroom of the Radisson Hotel, just across the street from the Showplace. But space was tight. With nearly 400 people crowding in, we were forced to make a change for 2011.

2009 RodMaker Reception
This year, we’re moving about 2 blocks east of the Showplace to the Centennial Station, a renovated freight train depot (former Haley Box Car Company) that’s used these days for events of all kinds. It’s just a tad larger than the hotel ballroom but offers a bit more in the way of flexible amenities.

No major changes are expected. We’ll still give away more than 100 free door prizes. We’ll still provide some light snacks and iced tea (beer and wine are on you). And we’ll all have a great time.

One small change is in store, however. Unlike the hotel ballroom where you could come down early and wait in line in a nice, heated hallway – if you arrive early to the Centennial Station, you’ll be waiting outside in the parking lot. Late February in North Carolina tends to be cold and unpredictable. It could be 10 degrees, or it could be 40 degrees. So please arrive no earlier than 6:30 PM.  You’ll have plenty of time to get in and have some food before we begin the drawings at about 7:15.

One last thing – your admission ticket/s will be in the Volume 14 #1 issue of RodMaker which is on the way to you now. You should receive it early next week. See you there.

Tom Kirkman


The Morning’s Mail…

I was told it would take four years. As it turns out, it only took two and a half.

U.S. Copyright Registration VA1-754-316

When I created and published the International Symbol for Custom Rod Building, it was automatically copyrighted under the Berne Convention of which the United States is a participating member. Copyright is automatic under the Berne Convention, although the United States requires copyright registration in order to legally recoup damages or fees related to copyright infringement. Thus I filed an official registration application with the United States Copyright Office at the time of the symbol’s creation in June of 2008.

Per the copyright office’s normal time frame for processing such applications, I fully expected it would take the full 4 years in order to receive the copyright registration.  I’d pretty much put it out of my mind until this morning when I got the morning’s mail – it included a letter and Certificate of Registration from the U.S. Copyright Office. The International Symbol for Custom Rod Building, already recognized as copyrighted by international law, has now been officially recorded in the U.S. Copyright Office Records.

Tom Kirkman


Thread Wars

The biggest problem facing the rod building industry today is duplication and over-saturation of product. There simply aren’t enough rod builders out there to buy all the product currently being manufactured and offered, and thus not enough business exists to profitably support every rod building manufacturer and dealer out there.

Of course, a handful of companies are doing well, but these are the few that have managed to reach the mainstream craft. The majority of companies, however, have pulled back into wholly internet based enterprises and thus are competing with too many others for what constitutes only a tiny percentage of the market. But that’s another story which we’ll save for later…

The latest example of product duplication and over-saturation regards rod winding thread. When it appeared that Gudebrod was leaving the market, several folks decided that they could cash in on the rod building thread business. What they failed to realize, is that the thread market had never been a lucrative one to begin with. And even with Gudebrod seemingly out of the picture, there were no less than 4 other specialty rod winding thread manufacturers still in place. Add in the plethora of sewing threads being utilized by rod builders and an additional 3 or 4 new thread suppliers and you again have more product than the rod building market can possibly absorb.

I spoke to one dealer just this past week who said that he’d had no less than 6 companies call and ask him to stock their thread. According to him, he’s got enough Gudebrod left in the popular colors to last him another 2 years. I’ve heard similar stories from a half dozen other dealers as well. Frankly, it’s gotten a little humorous lately watching a half dozen thread suppliers fighting with each other in order to sell a few spools of thread to a handful of rod builders. You have to wonder when sound market research prior to introducing product went out of fashion.

Where’s there’s a need, somebody will rush to fill it. The problem is when too many rush to fill it. At that point the pie is cut into so many pieces, that the slices become too tiny for anybody to sustain themselves on.

Tom Kirkman


The Secret Behind the Expo…

I was asked today why the Expo stands as the most successful custom rod building event of all time. I gave the reason in an instant – I would have thought it was obvious.

Granted, success is usually multifaceted and this holds true with the Expo as well. The geographic location certainly plays a big role. 70% of the U.S. population, and therefore 70% of the Nation’s rod builders, are within less than a single day’s drive of the event.

The extensive, and expensive, direct mail advertising plays a huge role. You can’t reach the bulk of the world’s custom rod builders via the internet – not even close. They’re just not there. You have to spend the money to mail tends of thousands of announcement cards if you’re really serious about reaching the mainstream rod building craft. So we do.

No doubt the educational opportunities the Expo offers is a major factor in the large attendance each year. Aside from the seminars and ongoing demonstrations, just putting 2000+ rod builders under one roof for a single weekend ensures that a ton of sharing and learning is going to take place.

But the one overwhelming factor that I believe has had more to do with the success of the Expo, lies in the fact that the Expo was the first, and really the only event, that supports the industry instead relying on the industry to support it.

At the end of the day, the companies that manufacture and sell the products we use are in business to make money. Sure, they’re run by great people who are passionate about this business and craft. But to be in this business, they have to make money. The Expo helps them do just that. The 2010 Expo generated sales of over $250,000 in a single weekend, and likely several times over that in residual sales during the next few months afterwards.

The key to a truly successful event lies in the value it provides. The Expo provides an unmatched value not only for the rod builders, but for the exhibitors as well. And that’s the biggest reason it continues to succeed.

Tom Kirkman