Running this website has been a passion of mine since it started back in 2012. I get to spend a lot of time reliving my childhood reading old books, magazines and collecting memorabilia. Recently, I was doing some research in my old magazines and was blown away by the ads from big companies that no longer exist under their parent company. That realization led to today’s article, Acquisitions Good or Bad. In this article, we’re going to look into the never-ending saga of bait companies being bought out by a larger company, usually a large conglomerate.
Over the course of the last the last 40 years, there have been a number of buyouts in the industry. The first major buyout was in 1983 when EBSCO/PRADCO purchased Heddon. That buyout took one of the most revered companies in all of fishing and placed it under a different roof after nearly 100 years in business.
Recently we’ve seen this happen more than once. For example, back about 10 years ago the Mann’s Lure Company bought the rights to make and sell the Alabama Rig from Andy Poss. Another example from the same period is the Chatterbait, designed and built by Rad Lures. It was sold to Z-Man. In both cases a larger company bought a small company, which can be good for the original designer.
Other examples are PRADCO’s purchase of South Bend, Smithwick, Norman, Shakespeare, Cordell, Arbogast, the list goes on. Then there’s GSM’s recent purchase of Gary Yamamoto’s Custom Baits, Bill Lewis Lures and Buckeye Lures just recently.
What has always troubled me, is when one of these companies sells out to a big hitter – especially when the big hitter doing the buying acquires a large number of other companies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m about as conservative as one can be business wise, but when we lose a tackle company that’s been around a long time, we lose its history. Not only that, the new “owner” always seems to change something and that “something” they change always seems to be important.
Back in the dawn of the bass fishing industry, there were a ton of small lure manufacturers, many of which were local bait makers who, by word of mouth and a little advertising, became big. Examples of these companies would be Whopper Stopper (Texas), Arbogast (Ohio), Bomber (Texas), Creek Chub (Indiana), Lazy Ike (Iowa), Smithwick (Louisiana), Cordell (Arkansas) and bass lure powerhouse Heddon of Michigan.
All these companies were strong and provided top-notch baits to the entire country through their own manufacturing. Another company that can’t be left out was the Plastics Research and Development Corporation (PRADCO) who manufactured the Rebel line of lures. They were purchased in 1980 by EBSCO.
I won’t argue that when PRADCO started buying companies like Whopper Stopper and Creek Chub, those companies may have been on their last legs. It may have been good for them to be bought in order to preserve the names. Unfortunately, when they started buying companies like Smithwick and Bomber, they not only discontinued a number of really productive lures, they changed molds and manufacturing techniques and that had an adverse effect on the lures themselves. With respect to Bomber, PRADCO has pretty much turned around and redesigned baits like the Model A and Long A to their original effectiveness.
That can’t be said for the Smithwick Rogue, though. Original Rogues still garner top dollar, when you can find them, because there’s a huge difference in the action between the originals and the new ones. This, even after the redesign following KVD’s win at the Three Rivers Classic in 2005, is why it always scares me when one company buys out another.
Another prime example was Storm Lures selling out to Rapala. Rapala, one of the biggest names in the fishing industry, is known for producing top quality baits. From the days of Lauri Rapala, the company has nearly always hit the mark with lure design. You’d think that a company with so much knowledge of lure design would know what they had with the Wiggle Wart when they assumed the company. Unfortunately, they didn’t.
Rumor has it Rapala looked at the original molds, which were not perfect, and had newer perfect molds made. The imperfection in the molds, which showed up in the lip of the bait when each half was glued together, is what made the Wiggle Wart so productive. That offset lip at the seam is what made that bait hunt, and catch fish.
The other thing that Rapala was rumored to have done was change the original plastic. That coupled with the new molds made a bait that wasn’t anywhere close to being as effective as the original Wiggle Wart. Whatever the truth is, Rapala, with their R&D abilities, should have been able to figure out the differences and manufactured an identical lure. Until they do, we’re going to see original Wiggle Warts selling on eBay for $100 each while the new stock rots on the pegs at your local tackle shop.
Which brings to mind the new acquisitions of Yamamoto and Bill Lewis by GSM. When the Yamamoto brand was purchased, everyone was in an uproar on social media about the sale. Would the Senko be as effective as the original going forth? GSM got online and guaranteed the audience that nothing is going to change with the plastic formula as long as they owned GYCB.
But we’ve seen this before and it always comes down to one common denominator – the bean counter. Bean counters, who generally know nothing about fishing and little about bottom line, sway a company to increase their profits by using less expensive materials. The bean counter has no clue that by saving $2.35 per gallon on plastic will cost them dearly when the Senko doesn’t fish the way it used to. The bean counter is the hero the first year when profits soar, but within two years, word’s out that the bait isn’t what it used to be and sales go flat or decrease.
Please don’t read into my example that this is what GSM is going to do to GYCB. It’s just an example that has happened time and time again.
In any event, there’s no stopping business and the buying and selling of tackle companies. We can only hope that when one of our favorite lure companies does get bought, the new owners treat the manufacture of their newly purchased lures the way the original companies did.
That sets up my main question to all companies who buy out another tackle company. If you buy a successful company, I assume with the intent to make money, why ruin your sales and profits by changing anything that has to do with the manufacture of that bait?
For people who design and make lures it’s a passion while for big corporations the passion is making money . If you cut corners to lower production costs and increase profits that is the name of the game in big business .
I was at lake Shasta years ago at a FLW Pro Am and while waiting close to the ramp to meet the pro I drew for that day there was a very successful Japanese co-angler waiting for his partner as well (who just happened to also be a lure designer for a big name maker of soft plastics) . He was involved in a very heated debate with someone on his cell phone and appeared quite agitated. I found out later what the call had been about . It seems production of the tournament winning worm he had designed had been moved out of the US and they had increased the salt content to the point that his life like action of this worm he created was destroyed after all of the time and effort he had put into designing and testing it . I guess salt must cost less than plastisol ? In the end he got his way and they reduced the salt content back to normal in later batches .
I think it all boils down to this classic battle in the end , the passion of those who create things versus the passion of those to make profits
Ken, from a business standpoint, this doesn’t make sense. You change the bait so it no longer works, your profits tank. So, in the thought of “making more money,” they shoot themselves in the foot and lose money in the end and what they bought ends up costing them money.
Your last sentence says it all. Why change anything that originally made a lure successful? It’s frustrating and infuriating that this happens time and time again. Saw the same thing happen, on a larger, store-wide scale, with Cabela’s when Bass Pro purchased them. Up here in the north Cabela’s ruled and was a go-to destination for sportsmen. Once they were bought out something changed (for one thing, they got rid of the Bargain Cave) and they just weren’t the same store. I used to love going to Cabela’s. Now, not so much.
David, That was one of the saddest days of my life when the buyout happened. I loved both places. I bought different things from each. Now the stuff I used to buy from Cabela’s I can no longer buy from BPS.
Great article and very informative. I collect Arbogast lures from the hey day. Very shocking to see the lures Pradco still makes when you look at the earlier lineups Arbogast offered even up to the 1980s. Happened to all of the other companies as well. I get lure trends change and some lures are lesd desirable, but most newer offerings from the classic companies are just cheap remnants of the originals. Also, you mention Bayou Boogies. These were originally designed by Anthony D’Anna in Louisiana and made by D’Annas Lure Shop. The original bait was a wood Runt style lure. D’Anna changed the style to a lipless crankbait after seeing the sucess of the PICO Perch in Texas. He also changed his company name to A.D. Manufacturing. A and D standing for Anthony D’Anna. He went on to sell to Hawk Lure Company in St. Louis when money was short. Hawk sold to Whopper Stopper. Ironically, D’Anna was not out of the lure game – he went on to start Tru Shad Lure Company in the early 1960s.
Travis, thank you for the comment as well as the education. Yes, the companies that PRADCO has bought are shells of themselves today. It’s a sad situation considering all the great baits that were made by all.
I have often wondered about AD MFG and who owned them. I have also been looking for information on AD MFG as well as Hawk Lure Company. It’s very difficult to find info on these companies. I’m going to hit you up on some info about these companies.