Steve Parton: Graphite Rods - the true costs

Cards on the table - I make specialist flyrods and I have done for around 30 years and for the last 20 as a professional. And I have been UK Shakespeare's Game Fishing consultant for the last 20 years as well - so I know all about Oriental Manufacturing as well as Developed Economy operations. And I have but 2 Degrees in assorted aspects of Manufacturing plus an awful lot of experience. In other words rods and fly fishing is my way of life and I understand it from most angles  - I started as a fly fisherman at the age of 7 and I'm 56 next.

It is fairly obvious that most fly fishermen have less than a clue when it comes to an understanding of what is actually involved in making a flyrod. I see too many gormless comments on bulletin boards around the sites for it to be otherwise. It is beginning to annoy me. And I don't mind sharing what I know with everybody - I have done for years, the sad bit for me is that most of them either didn't listen or chose not to believe.

The important part of any fly rod is the blank - everything that hangs on it is secondary or straight cosmetic or house style in the case of most bigger makers.

In the UK you need around £150,000 to buy the basic plant to roll blanks. And then you need time and money to make the experiments and the mistakes. A year and £20,000 and you should be pretty adequate. It took Harrison and Norwich around those costs and time frames to get going in the last decade. But they are both pretty smart and it might take you rather longer but it is no big deal - maybe 2 years and £40,000 will see you well away.

I don't make blanks; I just commission them from specialist manufacturers. It has never taken any of them more than 3 stabs to get the blanks I wanted. And that includes most of the work I've done with Shakespeare's using Far Eastern sources at very long ranges indeed. But I do know almost exactly how to vary actions and therefore fairly precisely how to alter specifications with composites, flag cuts and varied mandrels - that's why I am a professional consultant - and there aren't that many of us around. After that it is down to costs because when you have finished the development every flyrod blank I ever saw took less than an hour to make and less than £5 in the most advanced composites currently available.

In the UK any manufacturer can knock out excellent 2 piece 10' blanks for £15:00p at base cost. And if you understand Production you will not be surprised to realise that to make a sensible profit and pay for the plant, capital and expertise the base price gets tripled so that blank will get sold on at around £45:00p. Any more than that and somebody is pulling somebody else's leg rather - or costs are catastrophically out of control - which can and does happen and then they wonder why they went bankrupt! You can cut the cost of blanks in two ways - if you buy a lot or make a lot the same then there are some production economies and the more you buy the cheaper they will get.

The other way of cutting the costs is to proceed to the Far East where the poor sods work for a lot less and when I tell you that I can buy perfectly adequate 10' AFTM 7/8, 2 and 3 piece fully finished flyrods for just less than £5:00p each from China you will understand just how deadly is cheap labour competition these days. Take a 1,000 set and the blanks I can buy for less than £2:50p - and if I specify the finishes in a corrupt forger's manner and spend an extra £1:00p per unit I will willingly bet you couldn't tell the things from most American or European Manufacturing Sources  - which is why most of what you think is American or European Made isn't at all.

When you have the blank in your hands it takes well under an hour and a half to fully build and varnish it. And if you are working bulks - the hang on componentry will cost less than £15:00p per rod including handle, reelseat , and rings. Unsurprisingly Snake rings cost a fair bit less than ceramic centred ones - you can save a couple of quid a rod fitting these substandard items at all times - as most Americans do!

And yes you do have to use a multiplier of factor three to stay in business.

At my level of painfully slow hand operation this whole lot basically puts a fully finished rod in my rack for around £90. And I sell it on for £150 but have to manufacture a rodbag and a Cordura tube inside those costs and I can and do do it. It may seem a lot of markup but let me assure you that if you don't mark up 43% you are going to go bankrupt - and if you are paying London or other Inner City costs for your retail premises it'd better be nearer 80%!

Were I selling into the Retail Trade the rod would get marked up a further 50% to £225 before it reached a customer. And if I sold it to a Wholesaler who sold it to a Retailer then you could add yet another 50% and take the price up to £337:50p. And of course if I sold it into the USA then there'd be yet another level of distribution and that's yet another 50% plus the costs of Transportation and maybe even Import Duty which'd take the price up to around £500.

If you can do sums and think a bit you should by now be fully aware exactly what you are paying for a flyrod, bag and tube and why.  Given that less than 3 hours of actual direct labour and probably less than £25:00p in input materials have been used in overall manufacturing it may seem an awful lot - especially if that labour has been employed somewhere where they pay around £1:25p per 10 hour day.

Being very simplistic about things I think I would DEFINITELY HAVE BEEN STUFFED if I paid more than £25 for a Sage/ Hardy Build Quality of 10' flyrod from the Far East.

Most of the cost you have paid has been about levels of distribution / importation / marketing / transportation. Very little has been about Manufacturing/ Research / Expert Input.

Frankly there are very few actual fly fishermen involved in manufacturing, development and design these days. Most manufacturers routinely buy the best rods they can find by recommendation and it doesn't exactly take them a hell of a long time to drop a couple of different mandrels down the insides which coupled with using a micrometer on the outsides teaches them precisely what somebody else did - I'd guess at less than half an hour with a specialist. And it takes very much less of a specialist to copy the hang on componentry precisely. This is why you can wander into a (say) Korean Rod Maker with whatever you want copied and have an actual sample in your hands within a day!

Me, I don't worry any more, I can't get more efficient than by selling direct off the factory bench with middlemen out of the equation altogether.

But I do get nettled when I know that my customers are being bullshitted into parting with £500 for a Far Easterner that has been transhipped into another country and then into the UK and then moved on down the line with the user price inflating like an automatic lifejacket being fired off.

Little better are the Home Grown bullshitters who overcharge for Far Eastern. But it has to be said that the established professionals at bringing in direct from the Far East do offer far the best value for money because they are in vicious competition with each other.

The writing is probably on the wall for the few of us left who still make in the UK  - I expect to be the last man standing fairly soon - just the same as Vince Green at Sprite - the one and only hookmaker left in this pathetic country of ours!

Now you know exactly what is involved - you can make your own mind up about what you are going to buy. A word of warning though - there isn't much loyalty left anywhere in any walk of life these days and brand loyalty is one of the strange anachronisms. It does seem to take forever for a punter who bought a rod from a Company that he liked - say 30 years ago – to realise that the game has changed in the interim and that he is no longer a valued customer, as it were!

Best wishes and a Happy New Year

Steve P

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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