- By Ken Perrotte
Siegler Reels - Small Company Showing Grit in Saltwater Fishing Reel Market
It’s no secret that big corporations in the outdoors industry are always on the lookout for any upstarts trying to gain some of their market share. Sometimes they buy out the newcomers. Other times they fight in the marketplace. Sometimes, they fight in the courts, using their greater resources to legally bog down and financially challenge the small companies. Such legal fights can be expensive and time-consuming – even if the small company thinks it might ultimately win.
Virginia entrepreneur Wes Seigler is a good example. A few years ago, Siegler was just building a company he called “Release Reels” and busy moving manufacturing back to the United States from China.
Seigler grew up in Virginia and he wanted to establish his manufacturing base here. He settled on Burgess, at the end of the Northern Neck in Northumberland County.The company was basically doing “mom and pop” manufacturing, making and selling a couple hundred reels a month and employing a few people in a non-descript metal building just off the highway. Except for a booth at the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show and another smaller trade show, they were largely flying under the radar.
Still, a company that made fighting chairs and other accessories for sportfishing boats challenged Seigler’s use of the word “release” in the company name. It was time and money the fledgling firm could ill afford. Seigler changed the named to “Truth Reels.” Things looked okay for a couple years until a big corporation that owns a brand of game calls and a video series with the word “truth” in it challenged. Seigler decided the fight wasn’t worth spending precious cash. Truth Reels became Seigler Reels.
“One of the guys in the shop said he really liked the way I signed things, so the suggestion was made to just use the signature and my last name. They can’t sue you if the company is your name,” Seigler explained.
Rebranding also takes resources, but the eight-person company, with a supporting board of directors and investors, seems to have weathered the challenges. Today, Seigler Reels is at a pivot point. A growing reputation for delivering a quality product, made entirely in the USA, has served them well. A lifetime warranty burnishes that respect.
“We always tell the mom and pop sellers at these trade shows that we’re a mom and pop manufacturer. Big box stores aren’t our model. If you need something, call us and we’ll get it out to you as fast as we can -- the same way a mom and pop would take care of you. If you need something blue, with a red handle, we can make that for you,” Seigler said.
Orders are up. The company has grown from making about 150 reels monthly to a 450-500 range today.
“We’re really strong in the Northeast. Florida, we’re just starting to touch and grow. We probably need to double production, just to provide the product to the customers,” Seigler said.
Increasing his manufacturing footprint and investing in newer machining technology will require change. The facility has a small reception area that gives way to a production room where a couple assemblers build the reels. The back of the building is where the steel and aluminum gets cut, using an array of aging computer numerical control (CNC) machines, milling devices that make industrial components such as fishing reel parts. It’s not that they don’t turn out a quality product; it’s that they’re old and slow, and most steps require some sort of human handling and intervention.
“They run on 3.5-inch floppy disks,” he laughed, adding the newer, faster machines require people who are more like programmers. Once the product is in the machine, the machine handles the transitions until a finished product emerges. Upgrades in equipment would allow for more resources to be applied to assembling, marketing and managing.
On the Fly
In contrast to the design labs and other accoutrements big companies enjoy, Seigler’s lab is his office.
His latest project, a large saltwater fly fishing reel, sits in various pieces on the desk. The reel, with its lever drag, generated a buzz at ICAST and Seigler is busy finishing several reels for some of the world’s top saltwater fly specialists, including the Holeman brothers, Travis and Bryan or “Bear,” of Key West Angling, and Tim Richardson, whom Seigler called “one of the best billfishing captains there is on fly.”
“It’s amazing those are the people coming to us on this project. It’s a whole different approach for us. We’re starting at the top end. Fly fishermen go to remote locations and appreciate simplicity,” he said, pointing out his reel has only eight parts. Other reels have nearly 60 machined parts in them.
Seigler likes the fly reel’s elegance, noting the large aluminum billet is cut away into a product that is almost a skeleton compared to beefier offshore levelwinds.
The top seller remains the original SG (small game) model great for inshore fishing or moderate deep-drop fishing. “It’s just a proven reel for catching big and little fish,” he said. The new SG Narrow has a slimmer profile. Seigler says people are realizing they often don’t need as much line as they thought they did. This lighter reel offers ample capacity for most expeditions.
Seigler said the future looks good. “We’ve gotten over some major hurdles and settled on a name we’re going to stick with, at least until I’m gone,” he said with a laugh. “We’re really working on our sales and manufacturing volume. We want to be a top-shelf brand in the United States, making top-shelf products that catch any kind of fish you want to catch. And, we’re looking at international distribution channels again.” For more see www.seigler.fish.
A modified version of this article appeared in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. Click here to see it.