This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

June 2nd, 2003

A Dream Becomes A Nightmare

That's the title of an article in the May/June issue of the Fishing Tackle Retailer, by Tom Meade. I asked permission to reprint the article, and was told "it's against our policy" - so I'll paraphrase it to the best of my ability.

For a little background on this story, you should read an article I wrote back in 1997: Missed The Turn. It is about the Bullet-Proof Guarantee. I was against it then, and still am. The reasons stated in that prior article are as true today as they were then.

Now some of the rod manufacturers have figured out the guarantees don't work. Duh.

According to the Fishing Tackle Retailer article, "The dream has become a nightmare, free of accountability and rife with abuse." The author quotes retailer Lance Kaufmann, (of Kaufmann's mail-order and three retail stores) saying they receive between 245 and 275 rods back for full replacement per YEAR with a retail value between $135,000 and $190,000.

"It's become an animal for our industry," according to Jeff Schluter of St. Croix.

Everyone wanted to jump on the band wagon when Orvis announced its unconditional warranty, (which was later changed to a 25 year warranty.) But no other fly rod manufacturer was set up to sell retail at that time like Orvis was. The playing field was never level.

In the end, who paid for the warranty? You and I did. Sure it cost the manufacturers, but the price of rods rose to cover the rod replacements. Worse, abuse of the system by the scam artists in the fly fishing world sky rocketed. Why be careful, or take care of a rod. 'They' will replace it. The big one? The sale of rods slowed down. (Except on Ebay where a lot of "new" or slightly used rods went up dramatically.)

Quoting Lance Kaufmann again, "Every rod maker I talk to says he wants to get rid of the unconditional warranties, but they don't talk to each other about it because that would be collusion. If one of them goes, the others will follow, but no one wants to be the first to jump in the pit."

According to one of my industry friends, a couple of major rod companies are really struggling to stay afloat. One of them, (according to the Fishing Tackle Retailer article) St. Criox's Schluter says, "but we're going to do it. It may be this year, or maybe next year. Unconditional warranties are bad for our business. They're bad for our dealers business. With the economy tightening, dealers need every rod sale they can get."

That's not the end of the story. Think it through. You bought a rod with an unconditional warranty - now the company drops it. Do you get a refund? Will the company honor guarantees on rods purchased before a specific date? And how will they/you know when the rod was purchased?

Some companies have numbered their rods, so they would know when it was made or sold. (And that little additional step cost too - plus keeping the records.)

And what happens to those companies who drop the warrantee if the rest don't? Or the company who tries to hold out a little too long? Will the retail store end up being the rod police? That would be great fun wouldn't it? Tick off most of your customers?

"Hey Buddy, sorry about this, but the warrantee is no longer good on this rod. Really sorry you broke it."

A friend who is a professional business consultant told me once when negotiating a contract, make sure you also have a way out. Think it through.

Those manufacturers who fell for the perceived increased sales with the warrantee didn't think it through. Many of them were of our generation when people took care of their stuff and valued their fishing gear. They never expected the kind of returns they got - nor the abuse. And, perhaps worse, they were willing to go for the warrantee because they felt they could not compete in the marketplace without it. That's blackmail!

Here we are at what may be a cross-road for rod manufacturers. Maybe this time they won't Miss The Turn! ~ The LadyFisher

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