Perspectives From Industry Leaders

 Dec 28th, 2009 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Dec 28th, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Walleye First Article
Tournament Series
Perspectives from Industry Leaders
By Jim Kalkofen

 ‘Tournament Anglers Played a Major Part in our Growth!’

John Peterson, president of Northland Fishing Tackle thinks like a tournament angler because he is one.  He said, “Tournament anglers played a major part in our growth.”

 The Bemidji, Minnesota, based company has seen sales increases of 15 to 25 percent and higher each of the last three years and a tackle line-up stretching across many species. The fact that 75 percent of the management team competes in fishing tournaments is no coincidence.

Nothland Tackle’s John Peterson

“It’s always been a priority to work with tournament trails and pro anglers.  These avid anglers are passionate.  They provide great insight.  They’re on the cutting-edge of techniques and their feedback spawns new products,” Peterson said.  Another advantage to working closely with the anglers is that Northland has been able to create and introduce new products before the rest of the industry.

Part of reason for Northland’s success was knowing tournament fishermen, which proved easier since John and brother Duane, recently retired, were active competitors.  Both have won major events in the bass and walleye worlds.  “Fishing competitively alongside other anglers and being involved gave us a keen viewpoint to what was creating success under various conditions,” he said.

He continued, “Tournament guys gained confidence in us and showed us their secrets and with their good tips, explained the details of why things worked.”  A high percentage of Northland products were developed by pro staffers, or Peterson learned about them while fishing professionally.  If he heard a rumor about something that worked, he tracked it down, modified it, perfected it on tour, and when the pro team reported back, the product often was in the catalog and on shelves the next fishing season.  “Fishing is like NASCAR and other sports; there is a tremendous sharing of information in the trenches,” he said.

These improvements come naturally by being there, and in addition to creating entirely new product categories, Peterson said he was able to make better sales and marketing decisions when the product came to market.  He labeled the tournament trail as the “testing grounds.”  Things start on the water, success occurs at weigh-in, and soon the secrets are out of the bag.  Peterson said, “It’s a mushroom effect, the word gets out and quickly spreads state to state and lake to lake.” 

Some of the most popular “tournament-created” new product introductions have been the Fireball and Thumper jigs, the bait fish floating spins, the bait fish holographic image spinner blades (millions have been sold) and spinner rigs.  “We get dealer calls all the time when they hear about new products from tournaments,” he said.  One of the best examples of a tournament-tested product was when Peterson won the 1996 PWT tournament on Lake of the Woods on a particularly high, muddy river.  It was the 100-year flood, according to locals. 

He developed the first rattling jig as an experiment, feeling that sound would work in the dirty water.  Wanting to attract fish with sound, and knowing there were no rattle jigs or lures for walleyes; he rigged up a lure that came to be known as the Buck Shot Rattle jig.  With it, he caught more walleyes, was able to weed through them, and won the first place money.  Calls came from tackle shops and major retailers right away, and the advent of rattling lures for walleyes throughout the industry was underway.

Pro anglers are a key ingredient to sales success for the company.  He feels these leaders have earned their stripes and are believable, saying, “We will continue to support them and use touring pros in promotions, media, sport shows, ads and catalogs.”

Peterson and his brother started Northland Tackle 37 years ago and recently sold to a group of investors, including Peterson.  “We brought in a great team including former CEO, CFO and experienced marketing folks from leading companies.  We now have three-times the sales staff, and expect to double or triple our sales in the next three to five years,” he said. 

Northland has seen steady growth, and the sales increases of the past three years have been phenomenal, which he attributed to the economy and unemployment.  License sales have also increased in many states.  “People are buying terminal tackle to catch fish.  Bait sales are good.  They may be out of work, but they’re fishing.  With our wide product line-up and distribution network, we were poised to take advantage of the situation,” he said. 

The Northland colors are prominent at most walleye tournaments, because they’re known as one of the top three companies in the walleye world.  The traditional yellow packaging with red letters stands out, and more and more packages are finding their way south, because Northland has one of the most comprehensive spinnerbait and bass jig line-ups in the business.  They also manufacture products for all species including a wide range of lures for ice fishing.  “The goal has always been to give consumers what they need to catch more and bigger fish,” he said.


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