Why Go It Alone?

Because we can…

There is only one truly large scale event dedicated solely to custom rod building – the International Custom Rod Building Exposition. Let me qualify that statement a bit – by large scale I’m referring to more than a few dozen or even a few hundred attendees. I’m talking about an event whose size is at least on par with the main events for similar crafts as ours, such as wood turning, knife making, etc.

Although we started in conjunction with another event – The Fly Fishing Show, we quickly outgrew that relationship and moved on by ourselves. There was some concern among the industry that first year out on our own. More than a few felt that this craft couldn’t possibly support and sustain a large scale, dedicated rod building event. It had never been done nor even tried. Those fears were allayed, however, about an hour into that first solo event. Since then we’ve enjoyed further growth and success each and every year. So much so that we’re now receiving inquiries from other groups that wish to piggyback on our event!

Thus far I have denied all such requests. Granted, I could double the booth sales and double the gate receipts by adding another event, expanding into fishing tackle or allowing another group to join the Expo. And I could do it for only an additional 20% increase on my end.  Thus it would seem a no-brainer, for my benefit anyway, to go ahead and expand the Expo’s scope. And… if my only concern was myself, I’d do it in an instant. But there are more folks to consider in any such decision.

Almost universally, the vendors who attend and display at the Expo tell me that they like the fact that nearly every single person at the event is a custom rod builder.  When they spend time talking to someone there, they know they’re talking to more than a possible customer – they’re talking to a likely customer.  As soon as I add fishing tackle or another show, the vendors would spend a good deal of time with folks who really aren’t in the market for what they’re selling. Which cuts down on the time they can spend with custom rod builders. We know this to be a fact because it happened every year we were in with The Fly Fishing Show. From the vendors’ standpoint, there is a certain advantage to keeping the Expo entirely dedicated to custom rod building.

There’s yet another reason that I continue to deny requests from other groups to join the Expo. It has to do with the fact that over the last 30 some odd years that various rod building seminars, events, etc., have been taking place, the general consensus among most in the industry and the craft has been that a truly large scale event dedicated solely to custom rod building just can’t be done. It’s impossible. Or so they’ve said. The craft was just too small and too spread out to be able to draw enough builders to support a large group of vendors and activities. To some extent, that line of thinking wasn’t entirely without reason. The demographics involved certainly preclude any limited, regional event from getting very large. And yet I believed that properly and extensively advertised, and with the acceptance of a certain financial risk, a large scale event dedicated solely to custom rod building could draw enough people from enough distant locations to make such a thing a success. I proved it with the Expo. To be honest, there is some satisfaction in proving the experts were wrong and continuing to do exactly what so many said couldn’t be done.  Better than any extra money that would result from diluting the Expo with another event.

The success of the Expo this past decade has spawned other events hoping to achieve a similar success. But none have been able to do it, at least not on the same scale. (Of course, having more rod building events of any kind is a good thing – if you find one in your locale, try to attend and keep it going and growing.)

The bottom line is that it is a feather in the cap of the custom rod building craft to have something of our own that is on par with the main events for other similar crafts. To this day, the Expo remains the only large scale event dedicated solely to custom rod building. You’ve probably heard it said that there is nothing else like the Expo – and the fact is, there isn’t.

Tom Kirkman


See for yourself:    http://www.icrbe.com/id16.html


  1. CCFranklin on August 20, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    I see two sides of a coin here. I attend and have to travel from Michigan. Long trip but always well worth it. But if there was fishing tackle or boating equipment it would mean more for me to see. But on the other side of the coin there are plenty of fishing tackle and boating shows in my area already. Adding them to this show would only crowd the facility that much more and cut down on the quality of the rod building stuff going on. I know I do not get a vote, but if I did I would vote to keep the Expo just like it is.

  2. HDW on August 20, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    I think having a stand alone totally dedicated rod building event is good for our hobby. Everybody there is a rod builder. Your not in middle of a lot of general fishermen or people who are not rod builders. I like it just like it is.

  3. SteelieDan on August 20, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Even though the ICRBE has grown very large and there are a ton of builders there, you still have a feeling of community and camaraderie because we are all custom rod builders! I think adding other interests or groups would ruin the sense of community the show currently has. I hope you never change it. In fact I think this is one of the BEST things about the whole show.

  4. Chuck on August 20, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Part of the success of your event lies in the huge advertising push you do. All the direct mail stuff is what brings the builders in. To many just rely on the internet these days and end up missing the bulk of the rod builders. Most builders are over the age of 50 or 55 and do not really get active on the internet. They never hear about something unless it comes to them in their mailbox or the magazine.

  5. HighlandT on August 20, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    My comment would be that you should never fix something that is not broken. The ICRBE is perfect like it is. Do not mess with it.

  6. Ken Preston on August 21, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    I empathize with the manufacturers, distributors and craftsmen. I’ve participated in other multi-venue shows (hunting/fishing – boating/fishint) both locally and nationally held events. The custom rod builder gets ‘lost in the crush’ of people who are there to buy completed rods on the spot, a pound of rubber worms, two dozen flies, check out new boats, narrow isles, and small children. There are people who are interested – but they are very few. Much time is spent talking with people who have a passing interest but few hard sales result. I have seen people make good sales at these events with “pre-made custom rods” – a rack of nicely done rods & they sell but it’s not my niche. I’m small scale. I prefer working more intimately with one customer at a time.

  7. Stephen on August 23, 2010 at 12:16 am

    The ICRBE is one of a kind. I have a l-o-n-g trip to get there but it is worth the time and travel. Much to learn and much to see. I wish it was three days instead of two.