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Roger Seiders , The man behind Flex Coat
by Andy Dear

Over the past fifty or so years there have been hundreds of advancements within the world of rodbuilding. There are however a few that have propelled the craft light years into the future literally overnight. Everyone would probably agree that the introduction of fiberglass and later carbon fiber for use in blank construction has been the single most monumental leap forward in rodmaking technology within the last 100 years. These new space age materials have allowed rod builders to do wondrous things with a fishing rod never before thought possible. One could also argue that the use of ceramics for guide ring materials was a major advancement as well, allowing a lighter more durable, better performing fishing rod to be constructed. Without a doubt, though we have to include the formulation and use of two-part epoxy thread coatings as one of the truly outstanding achievements in the industry. For years rodmakers had relied on various types of Varnish as the coating of choice for protecting and securing guide wraps. And although varnish sufficed as a thread coating at the most basic level, it was quickly becoming obsolete as more advanced materials were being used to manufacture fishing rods. Newer more high tech components allowed rodbuilders to construct rods that fished harder, cast further, and would withstand much more abuse than the previous cane models ever would. It was painfully obvious that something better was needed to keep pace with the rapidly changing evolution in blanks, guides and lines, enter Roger Seiders.

Being a Rodbuilder, Roger was well aware of the requirements that were needed in a thread coating. First and foremost it had to do its primary job, which is to protect and secure the guide wraps. It also had to provide superior adhesion to keep the guides from twisting and loosening under the added stress and torque that the newer blanks and lines were capable of tolerating. Finally it had to be user friendly, curing to a clear, hard, level finish with a minimum of coats. Out of this need, Flex Coat was born. Since it's introduction in 1977, Flex Coat has become the standard in the industry for thread coatings. Just about every major rod manufacturer in the world uses Flex Coat in their plant. Flex Coat has also provided the custom builder and hobbyist with a finish that is durable, attractive and relatively painless to mix and apply.

The story behind Flex Coat proves that the old adage of "being at the right place at the right time" can truly make or break a successful business. Fortunately for me, Flex Coat is only 70 miles north of my home in San Antonio. So, one rainy Saturday afternoon my good friend and fellow rodbuilder Gerald McCasland and I decided to take the short drive north to the small town of Driftwood, just south of Austin to hear Rogers story first hand. I think you will find it not only enlightening, but sometimes funny, and inspiring as well.

Andy Dear: First of all, I want to thank you for taking time out of your Saturday morning to speak with me.

Roger Seiders: Oh sure Andy, I am glad to do it.

AD: So tell me the story behind how Flex Coat got started.

Roger: Well, it's a funny story. I was teaching school in Houston at the time, industrial arts woodworking, plastics, crafts, that kind of stuff. We had a period at the end of the year where there was about a month of school left where we had to shut down our woodworking shop. We had already finished all of our projects for all the stuff in industrial arts program, so my principal wanted me to do something a little bit out of the ordinary with that month. So we just started building rods at school. This was in 1969, and I had never built a rod before.

So one day I was fishing on the Flagship Fishing Pier in Galveston Texas, and we saw some guys catching Gafftop Catfish, and they had these big long Calcutta fishing rods. So we asked them "Where did y'all get those rods?" and they said, "well there is a bar in Houston that had some kiln dried Calcutta rod blanks, you know Calcutta cane poles. So my old buddy Bill and I, we went over and brought those Calcutta cane poles and made us some big surf rods that were about 12 feet long. Then we went and brought a Penn Squidder to put on there. We also brought a can of Flecto Urethane. Bill would put a drill on the floor, and I would hold a spool of green thread in my hand. Then I'd say "Hit it Bill!" and he'd start that drill, and I'd just pile that thread on there you know, about three layers deep! (Laughing all around), I'd just pile it on there. I'd just go back and forth. "Man" I said "those guides aren't' going anywhere!" Then we'd take that polyurethane and brush it on there, and then we took some nylon cord and wrapped it around the handle, and we'd made our first rod.

Then I decided to start teaching it in that last month of school. That was my first year teaching school, and it was a big success, everybody went nuts over it! The next year I had like 300 kids sign up for my class out in the shop because they all wanted to build fishing rods! You know, I could only teach 120 kids a day so I couldn't take that many, and it really upset the school that so many kids were signing up for that class because they couldn't please all of them. So the next year we did it again.

A couple of years went by and we were still using varnishes. One of the kids came walking up one day with a little can of Varnish that he pointed at, kind of like it was a secret you know. The can said "High Build". That was just a buzzword they used on the label, but that was where the term High Build came from. I think I was the first one to use it as far as rod finishes were concerned. A few more years went by, and we kept building rods in my class, and it got to be a real success. I got frustrated though, because we had started experimenting with epoxies, but we just couldn't find anything good to work on the rods. I had traveled to Florida two years in a row, and visited with everybody down in the keys and all over Miami. There was a lot of rodbuilding going on down there. I ran into some people that had epoxy finishes, but nobody had any kind of brand name, and they really had problems with those finishes as well. So I went back to Houston, and I said to myself " I am going to quit rodbuilding, I can't find a good finish. All my finish cracks and I just can't find anything good". So I quit for about six weeks you know, then I started building rods again! (Laughter). This was in the mid 70's. So I decided to start working hard to find a good finish, and I was really just looking for myself. So I started going in all the craft stores and different places buying epoxies and playing around with them. Then I had heard about this guy who owned a chemical company that made real clear epoxies. So I wrote the number down and contacted them and asked them if they could make a rod wrapping finish. They said, "Yeah we can do that, but you'd have to buy 100 gallons". Which at the time that was a lot for me to buy, because I couldn't use up an eight-ounce kit in a year myself you know? (Laughs). But I went ahead and brought it. And, I don't know where the name Flex Coat came from but it just sounded like a good name.

AD: Did you come up with the name?

RS: Yeah that's right. So I got in the 100 gallons of finish. I had already brought me some one-ounce bottles, so that night and I just started pouring these bottles together. I had a little quick print label I had made up that I put on there. Then I went into a sporting goods store in Houston called Sporting Goods Inc. Sporting Goods Inc. was a big deal you know. They sold all the shotgun shells in South Texas, they had a city block of downtown Houston. I knew the buyer because I hung out at the store. He was really rough.... Henry Redding was his name. I was scared to talk to him because he was such a rough old guy you know. So I was talking to one of the salesman, Walter Roam, and he says "Hey Roger, what are you up to?" I said, "Well, I was thinking about asking' Henry to buy some rod finish" So Walter, says "Hey Henry, Roger wants to show you something" So I showed him a real pretty fishing rod that I had coated with this stuff, and I showed him a little bottle of finish. He looked at it just for a second and said, "Yeah, give me twelve dozen". I said, "Well Henry all I have is 30 bottles." He said " well give me what you got and bring the rest later" So I was standing there with Walter and he says, "Roger, you got an invoice?" I said, "No I don't have an invoice" (laughter). So he took an invoice and struck through the Sporting Goods Inc. logo and wrote Flex Coat on the top of it. He said, "How much are those?" I said " Two dollars a piece...sixty bucks" Then he handed me the invoice, and I said, " What do I do with this?" He said, " See that lady over in that window? Go give it to her" So I went over and handed it to her, and she handed me a check back for sixty dollars. And I went wwhhooaaaa!, and that was my first sale. I never really dreamed that I would ever sell it anywhere.

So, I stayed up all night packaging finish. The next day I came back in there after school around 3:00 in the afternoon with the rest of that order. They said, "Roger, where have you been?" I said, "Well I got down here as soon as I could". They said "Man we sold out of that stuff by 9:30"

AD: Really?

RS: Yeah! So that right there was a clue, but I didn't know what it meant. It took me a couple of years to figure out what that meant. You know most of the time when you start new products, they don't take off like a rocket. But really basically the whole world was looking for rod finish, and it just so happened that I had it. There were a few other guys trying the same thing I was, but I made some lucky steps. It wasn't' that I knew what I was doing, I just made some lucky steps. So a guy from Florida that I knew named Ned Seager that owned a company called Rodmakers Supply called me and said "Hey Roger, I had a buddy that came through Houston the other day and brought a bottle of your Rod finish, we want to buy some. Are you going to be at the AFTMA show here in about three weeks?" I said yeah, I'll probably be there" And he said, "Well I'll see you there". So I called Walter back at Sporting Goods Inc. and said, " Walter, what is the AFTMA show?" (Laughter) Walter said, "That is the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Show, you ought to go to that, it's in Dallas." I said, "Well I told the guy I was going to be there, so I guess I will". So I signed up for it, but I didn't realize it was going to cost me five thousand bucks to be in the show. I was already selling a few more stores in Houston. So I went to that show, and man I was scared to death, because all I had was one little bottle of rod finish with a quick copy label. The guys next to me had spent fifty thousand dollars decorating their booth, and I didn't know what I was doing. I had rented a table for seventy bucks and I thought I had bought it! I didn't know you rented tables for seventy bucks! I was so scared I didn't sleep at all that night! Then Ken know him?

AD: Sure Ken Wiebe from Wiebe handles and such right?

RS: Yeah, well Ken Wiebe was there with me.

AD: In your booth?

RS: Yeah he was my rep. So he was there with me, and me we didn't know what to think. I had only been in business about a year, and had only met Ken a few weeks before. He had found a bottle of my finish somewhere, and said "I'd like to be a rep for you in California". I said, well I am going to the AFTMA show in a few weeks, and he said, "Well, I'll come down for that". So the next morning there were people standing all around where our booth was, and we didn't know what was going on! Fuji was right across the way from me. They had a booth that was a big as this building. I think it was Lew Childre's way back then. Anyhow, when we got down to our booth, and there were a lot of manufacturers waiting around for me to get there. I still didn't know quite what that meant, but what it meant, was that the whole world was looking for rod finish. The show started at about 9:00 am. Well ten minutes after the show started, a guy from Australia bought seven thousand dollars worth. Then as the day went on, a guy from Japan ordered 1700 gallons. I sold $87,000.00 at that show! The whole world was looking for rod finish, and I just happened to show up with it. It could have been anybody that showed up at the same time and they could have done exactly the same thing.

I actually met Gary Loomis at that show. That was when he was with Loomis Composite. He had just left Lamiglas and started his own company. So after that show I came home, and had to go back to teaching school. I went to school, and there was so many phone calls coming into my house that I had to go home and take care of all the calls. The second day of that, I quit teaching right there, two days before school started. It scared me but I went ahead and quit. I liked teaching school, and I already had three kids, so it was scary to quit. I had never quit anything in my life. So that first year with Flex Coat, I sold $200,000.00 out of my garage in Houston. I started selling to most of the rod manufacturers right off the bat. Gary Loomis, he was a good guy to get to know, he was my rep in Washington and Oregon. I started repping for Loomis rods here in Texas. Merrick Tackle started buying from me, Ken Wiebe did a great job in California. Do you know who Gene Bullard is?

AD: Sure, I think he and Gerald were real good friends.

RS: I started selling Flex Coat to Gene, but you know Gene had his own finish called Diamond Coat I, which was a great finish. The difference was that I went to the show and I was not a retailer, I was a manufacturer and Gene was considered a competitor to everyone else since he was a retailer, so no one wanted to buy finish from Gene. He could have shut his business down, not that he would have wanted to, since they were making a lot of money, but he could have taken the same spot that I did. And you know Dale Clemens had something, a lot of people had their own brand name stuff. Eventually Gene Bullard started selling Flex Coat as well. He had to because people were asking for it. Then Gene and I got to be big buddies, and he forced me to start making all of this equipment like the rod wrappers and stuff. Gene would buy five or six power rod wrappers a week. He could sell the heck out of those things. Since then Flex Coat has grown every year for twenty five years.

AD: How much interaction do you get to have with the major manufacturers as far as showing them the ropes on finishing? Do they have people that they teach, or do you go in and work with them one on one?

RS: Well, I have worked with several manufacturers showing them how they can increase the number of rods they finish without increasing their number of employees. For example, finishing a rod with two coats is a lot quicker than finishing a rod with one coat. If you put finish on a rod with one coat, that's fine but it will take you twenty minutes or so to get it on with complete coverage. If you put it on with two coats, you can put the first coat on in one minute or so and let it soak in. Then the second coat only takes five minutes or so, because you don't have to wait for it to soak in.

Sometimes I have people come in from different rod companies, and they'll stay for two or three days. We'll set up a machine back here in the back, and go through mixing, application etc...I let them stay in the house next door here, and that way there is no reason for me to go to them, because I have everything here. I don't have to drag a bunch of equipment to their factory. As far as manufacturers and finishes go, the best thing I can tell you is that the best surprise is no surprise. They want things to always be very consistent. They don't want anything new or unexpected popping up.

AD: The designing and manufacturing of the rod wrappers and cork lathes, was that just a natural progression from the finishing business?

RS: Well, I was a shop teacher and a woodworker, and I have always liked to design gadgets. I'll tell you, when I first started Flex Coat, I would get up and go play racquetball every morning from 7:00 - 8:30. Then I would come home and watch Donahue. Then I would start packaging rod finish from 10:00- 1:30, then I was through. Man, it was a good life you know! (Laughter all around) Since the kids didn't get home from school until 3:00 pm, I started designing stuff because I had a lot more time on my hands. All of the wrappers are built here in a little shop out back. Then I started adding stuff like Guide foot adhesive, 5-minute epoxy, brushes, reamer materials, fly turners, drying motors etc...

AD: Do you sell epoxies to any other industries besides rodbuilding?

RS: You know a guy could probably go out and hustle that business in other industries, but I like to stay with what I know which is rodbuilding. I am a rodbuilder first and foremost. Besides we are shipping 100-200 gallons of finish a week. I am just trying to handle what I got here. We ship a lot overseas as well. Japan, England, Germany, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Mexico. Almost half of our epoxy business goes out of the country.

AD: Lets change the subject a little bit and talk about your experience as an educator in terms of Rodbuilding.

RS: Well you know, I have taught thousands of people how to build rods. I taught school for ten years, with 120 kids in my class every year, and every year I taught a rodbuilding class. I have also taught lots and lots of people how to teach rodbuilding. I have teachers that call me all the time. When a teacher calls here and says they are going to teach rodbuilding, man I just wear them out with information about how I believe it should be taught. One of the big things I like to do is have kids sell their first rod. I could teach 120 kids to build a rod and go sell it, and 115 of them will come back with enough money to pay for their first rod. They have to sell it to someone other than an immediate family member though. You have to sell it for the cost of the parts, that way the buyer is paying for your education. Then the second rod you build, you can keep it if you want to. With the boy scouts, I let them keep the first one if they want to. Some kids will build a rod every two or three days! Over at Hays High School, all of the local Bass fisherman stop by the school with their boat behind the truck to talk to the kids about having another rod built! They'll say, "Hey listen I need another rod I am on my way to a Bass Tournament". Boy that really fires the kids up and puts the pressure on them! The other kids that can't sell their rods, I send them rods down the coach's office and they buy the last of them. I like to start them off with a little ultra-lite spinning rod because it's so simple. It's five feet long, simple to wrap, very little decoration, just keep it simple. The kids even get to shape a handle on the cork lathe. The parts for the rod only cost about twenty five bucks, that way schools can do it real easily. It ships all over the country very easily. Then if you start a kid off with an ultr- light like that, you can put a little Shimano Spinning reel on it with 4lb line and a Rooster Tail. They can go down here to the local creek and catch twenty-five fish right off the bat with it. It starts them off right.

You know, I have seen kids that can wrap a spinning rod in fifteen minutes complete. We also teach them how finish rods using our little motor set up. They could go to work for a manufacturer and finish 60 rods an hour.

AD: Have you ever taught rodbuilding classes outside of public schools or boy scouts?

RS: Not really, no, I haven't taught just small groups of adults. I never really got into anything organized like that. Everything I have done, I just have done on my own. I just don't have a lot of time to spend on that any more.

AD: You know in San Antonio we have some continuing education classes that are offered through the local school districts in the evenings. They offer classes on everything from Computer Repair, to Music to Yoga. I have always thought that this would be a great avenue for someone to organize a rodbuilding class.

RS: Oh sure, but you know, I want to get the schools involved at the level where they have a paid teacher that can teach rodbuilding, because Rodbuilding can fit into the curriculum. I call it "make it and sell it." It teaches them how to make something, market it and sell it, like a small business class. That is what I would like to do is to create a class that would fit right into the school system. And if you have them sell their first rod, well that is good for everybody. I used to have some kids from my class come walking in to the room with a Gene Bullard wholesale catalog. These guys would start a little business, buy wholesale, and make $20.00 or $30.00 a week building rods. That's how you could tell the smart ones!

AD: Can we expect anything new from Flex Coat in the near future?

RS: Well right now we are working on a video that details all of our equipment, as well as specific rodbuilding techniques including our finishes and how to use them. We have invested a lot of money in cameras and computer software to really do this thing right. I think it will be real helpful to everybody out there who has specific questions about finish application, or just basic rodbuilding in general.

AD: Well I have to say, you were definitely at the right place at the right time, with a great product and great service. And you know, it's obvious that you still have a great passion for this craft.

RS: Andy you know what? I am just ate up with this stuff, I just love it. There are nights that I wake up thinking about how to design something new or make something better. I have always considered myself a Rodbuilder first, it's what I am good at. I still love to take calls from customers everyday and talk rodbuilding as much as I ever did.

AD: Roger, on behalf of myself and the readers of Rodmaker Magazine, thanks so much for taking the time to share your story.

RS: It was my pleasure Andy, y'all come back anytime.


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