Ladyfisher

This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm
April 28th, 2008

Missed the Turn


There must have been a fork in the road I didn't take. Either that or I missed something. At any rate, I'm having difficulty figuring out what happened.

My husband says it's because we were raised during the "war" years. That is the second world war, not Vietnam. Times were different then. We had shortages of almost everything in America. Still, we were very grateful they were not fighting the war here.

We rationed lots of things. They distributed booklets of stamps to American families. Stamps for meat, sugar, butter, gasoline, tires - and something else we take for granted - shoes. If your allotted stamps for the month were gone, you couldn't buy anything requiring stamps!

We saved string. We saved tin foil. Lucky folks, who even had bacon, saved the rendered fat and turned it in for use in the war effort. Anyone who could raised their own veggies. They called those gardens "Victory Gardens."

Growing up in that era, people took care of whatever they owned. Because frankly, no one knew when you might have another. If ever.

That attitude of taking care of one's 'stuff' was (and still is) ingrained in those of us who experienced it. Pride and tradition ran strong in America, but the time we lived in and through added a special embroidery.

Here is an example. Back then, if you bought a bamboo fly rod it came with two tip sections. Why? Because it was likely that a person might break a tip. The other tip was the spare. What happened? If you broke one, you probably figured out how you did it and avoided doing it again. (Just in case you wondered, I still see very old fly rods that have both tips. Sometimes one tip is a little shorter 'tho.)

Oops!

No intelligent, reasonable fisherman would expect the rod maker to give out a new rod because you broke yours. When a person bought a bamboo rod, the purchase price included both tips.

So what happened? Have we become (or at least some of us) a throw-away society? Are we all so wealthy we can afford to treat our stuff like junk? Has our upbringing changed so much we do not value things we spent hard-earned money to buy? Has someone sold us a bill of goods? If so, who is the culprit?

Remember the first time you saw an advert for a "guaranteed" fly rod? Did it have a photo of a guilty-looking puppy sitting by a chewed grip of a fly rod? Maybe it was a paragraph or two in a catalogue from a prominent fly rod company?

Leaving out brand names, here is the story. A "back-east" company, whose major sales were via catalogues, offered a free replacement for your broken rod. For your lifetime.

The CEO of the company made the decision. All of his staff advised against it. He informed them it was his company, and he would do what he wanted. Did this executive install this guarantee for the great and noble good of his customers? Nope. His company was aware of the inroads some of his west coast competitors were making on his rod sales.

It was a sales gimmick.

How It Worked

How could he afford to offer "free replacements?" First, most of his customers were people who had not only lived through the second world war, but through the first world war as well. Second, most of the company's sales were from their wonderful catalogue. They made the total retail profit.

So what happened? For several years, nothing bad! Their sales increased. Percentage wise, the number of rods that came back for replacements were no higher than the old number sent back for repair. Sometimes the replacement cost was less than the cost of skilled labor required to repair the rod.

Now Leap Forward A Few Years

More and more rod manufacturers are on the scene. Some with very excellent products, innovative technology and improvement in materials that greatly affect the action and castability of the rods.

A couple of the new rod manufacturers used the improved technology, although they had no part in the development costs. Then to compete with the marketing and sales of the big 'back-east' company, they offered a bulletproof guarantee. Bust a rod, run over it, slam the trunk lid on it, whatever, you get a new one free.

One after another, rod manufactures fell for the marketing hype running through the industry. One holdout has now offered, for a modest fee, to "register" a rod purchased before 1996 or 1997 You then get a guarantee.

What You Really Get

The bulletproof guarantee has done more to devalue the previously cherished fly rod (and fly fishing) than all the anti-fishing folks in PETA could possibly have hoped. Instead of fly rods being cleaned, polished, and treasured, it is just chuck it anywhere. What the heck, it if breaks, no sweat. Get a new one FREE. Magic word that is, FREE!

What most companies did to cover the replacement of the trashed rods was to raise the price of new fly rods. About 20%. Put plainly, you pay for a new replacement rod when you buy a rod. Even if you never use the guarantee.

Manufacturers did not, however, count on the magic word, FREE. Nor did they expect the number of broken rods they are getting back. Rumor is that more than one company is in financial shock because of the unexpected return volume. Maybe the people that bought their rods weren't alive during the war years.

So in this condition, how much innovating will they do? How many new rods will they unveil? Will they work at making the rods lighter, stronger, with better action? Don't count on it. Instead the emphasis is on adding more fiberglass to rods to reduce breakage. Who cares if the rod is heavier and less powerful?

So You Pay Your Money and Make Your Choice

A few rod companies decided not to offer unconditional guarantees. These companies felt the buyers will suffer in the long term. They also know it will cost them, not in money for replacements, but in devaluation of their product if they went to the bulletproof guarantee. If that isn't enough, they don't want to take a chance of losing the focus on producing the very best product they can.

If you love a particular action of a rod, fish it, and do break it, any reputable manufacturer will repair the rod for a minimal (if any) charge. Who pays for someone else's carelessness if the rod you buy is one of the bulletproof ones? You do - in advance.

But then I don't buy service contracts on appliances either. Somewhere in this country is an old Westinghouse frig with the round thing on top, still running. They built in the quality. They didn't need a bulletproof guarantee. ~ The LadyFisher

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