Steve Parton: Goodbye and Good Riddance

At a recent extraordinary meeting of the AFTMA one of the most senior executives present made the remarkable statement that " My company hates Lifetime Guarantees but the Customers love them - " Talk about the blindingly obvious - I'm hugging myself with delight - the penny's finally dropped in the Good Ol' USA!

But more seriously, from your point of view, Sage has recently bought Redington and I have to assume that the recent Extraordinary Meeting of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association is the first serious step towards most sensible Manufacturers / Distributors ditching unconditional lifetime warranties with the utmost speed possible.

Me, a small time Rod Manufacturer with but 35 years business experience and only the two business degrees, I smelt a big fat rat the first time I heard that such nonsense was being used as a means to sell fishing rods. The implications had never been remotely thought through. The entire concept was typically short term Marketing Department driven  - a half-smart, half baked idea to give the first company that went for it a major but short lived advantage over their competitors.

I had a meeting with one of the reps initially concerned in the UK and he told me proudly that less than 8% of fishermen would make use of the guarantee system in the entire lifetime of a rod and only a 10% price inflation would overrecover all costs involved. This was about 3 months in. Sensibly, he doesn't work for them any more!

I immediately had the feeling that someone had blundered and they had never had first hand experience of just what fly fishermen do and are capable of doing. I've been making and selling my own rods for over 20 years and in that time most of the rods I made and sold grew old and died. Mine and everybody else's are made of hollow thin walled fragile graphite. We do it so they are nice and light and pleasant to fish with. We do it in the full and certain knowledge that the inherent structural fragility is a necessary evil and in the full and certain knowledge that any impact event dooms the section affected. There are very few Graphite rods around over 15 years old (unless they lie unused in lofts somewhere.)

And there are a few, a very few, rogue fly fishermen about and most of them probably live in the USA. Some years ago in Alaska I bust a rod breaking a salmon off because a rather large Grizzly Bear was coming along and taking altogether too much interest in it. The Guide was concerned and then startled because I told him the insurance company would pay off without worrying about it (and they did!). The Guide ventured the opinion that there wasn't tackle insurance in the USA due to the likelihood of anybody with it deciding that their rod was a bit old and having a nice new one after applying their knee and hands to it - don't do this by the way - one of my customers injured himself with an Abu Solid Glassfibre Spinning Rod he decided to have replaced in exactly the same way - it took the A&E Doctor over 2 hours to remove the splinters from his leg!

And then a few years later along came American Rod Insurance in the form of a Lifetime Free Replacement Guarantee and well, put it like this, the initial premise of 8% replacement appears to have been somewhat of a low estimate.

I think it was Orvis who started it off with maybe an honest 25-year guarantee and thereafter Mr Redington sprang onto the scene with a Lifetime's Worth and the rest of them basically got suckered in because Sales were going the way of the Guarantors.

Me, the main rat I smelt involved American-made prices being charged to customers for what were fairly obviously non-American sourced products. Now I have worked for those very honest operators Shakespeare's, as a consultant, for just on 20 years and I am more than familiar with offshore sourcing and know exactly how much product costs and at which quality levels from the Far East. I also know all about making the blanks in one country and having them finished inordinately cheaply in another.  Even a fool like me can understand that such covert practises can generate seriously large profits and certainly enough slack money to operate a ' Lifetime Guarantee Policy.'

Naturally a western-based Manufacturer with western costs cannot sensibly afford to play this game - it is potentially a very lethally expensive undertaking. 

For good or ill, I formed the opinion that all parties initially involved in the Lifetime Guarantee Racket were either desperate or involved in the business of passing off Oriental production as American production in whole or in part. I saw no other way that the cost absorption could be achieved.

Shakespeare's and I, although operating under radically different constraints operate in the same way - we both seek to deliver maximum quality for minimum costs, they operate on Worldwide Sourcing and I am a Little Englander. They work the mass market and I work the specialist. They turn over £12,000,000 in the UK and I turn over a tiny percentage of that, we are very different in terms of size and I am perfectly happy selling their rods because I know that the pricing is fair and the value for money to the customer is excellent. But costs are tight and the competition is hard and neither of us offer lifetime guarantees - doing it honestly, I'd certainly price myself out of my market altogether. Apart from which many of my British customers carry excellent tackle insurance anyway - so it would probably be a pointless and wholly disastrous exercise in any event. Interestingly, Shakespeare's and myself both undertake repair and replacement work at very customer advantageous rates.

I have to take off my hat to the other bigger high level US operators like Gary Loomis who has always refused to get drawn in to the Guarantee Syndrome. He obviously thinks much the same way that I do. There is no such thing as a free lunch - you've either already paid for it one way or the other - or you're just about to!

And the companies who did get suckered in - well, I thought we might well see a series of organised bankruptcies / phoenixes arising from the flames as they took the final way out of their potentially ruinous long term obligations. But maybe now they're going to ring themselves up and put an end to the nonsense quickly and sensibly and legally too, one hopes they're in time to save themselves.

If I have any serious advice to offer you it is to get ready for the rush as customers may just make the fullest use possible of those guarantees on their rods because the window of opportunity for a free upgrade may well be closing at flank speed!

Take care
Steve P

Further reading: The lifetime guarantee and this topic on The Board.

Steve Parton needs no introduction to the UK readers. Midlands reservoir angler, obsessional float tuber, author and "in the trade", Steve owns Sparton Fishing Tackle (drop by for a visit!) and is well known in the UK for his in-depth flyfishing knowledge.

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