Part I: Today’s Orvis is not your grandfather’s Orvis. They are on top of their game and the only one-stop company for ALL of your fly fishing needs
By Skip Clement, Contributor
Anyone who still thinks Orvis has stayed put as the high-end club clothier that dabbles in brook trout fly fishing and accommodating size wooden nets is past his or her observation prime. Today’s fly fishing Orvis is not about leather elbow patches on one’s favorite herringbone jacket nor focused only on okay fly rods, doggy beds and understated hunt club attire.
Looking back: By the late 1980s, Orvis was awash in fly fishing mediocrity and their competition was close by
Fly fishing, a pastime it helped invent for America’s socially elite was slipping away – rod making technology, the introduction of saltwater fly fishing and a slow but steady surge in new products was out positioning them along with new, working folks’ entry into the fly fishing folds. It put Orvis in the club parking lot, alone.
In those latter days of having self-imposed distancing itself from being a serious player in the fly fishing game, somebody slammed their fist down and said, we’re all in and Orvis went nuclear. Almost overnight it flipped a small, sleepy industry on its back. What did they do? Orvis invented the 25-year fly rod warranty, which it holds to today.
From that warranty point in time, it was game on for the Vermont giant. The “guarantee“ idea struck a chord with buyers, and it had an atomic effect on the entire “fishing” industry. All of Orvis’ Sleepy Fly Rod Companies Incorporated rivals got harassed into capitulating with Orvis’ warranty, or one-upping it.
Another meteorite favorably impacted Orvis, but this one not by its own hand. The event impacted the entire fly fishing industry by creating a windfall that many couldn’t fathom, or quite figure out how to capitalize on.
The meteoroid came from “Tinsel Town” in the form of a movie adapted from Norman Maclean’s famous book by the same title, A River Runs Through It. The movie was directed by Robert Redford and featured Tom Skerritt and Brad Pitt. It intoxicated the public – the beauty of fly fishing, the out of doors and oneness with nature. It was so appealing. It had the stampede effect… yelling fire in the movie theater. Only, in this case, promising personal salvation at the fly shop.
A new lion waltzes right in on the “pride” in 1992. Jim Murphy out markets an entire industry
A whippersnapper company, Dave and Margot’s Redington Rods from Stuart, Florida, took the rod warranty ball and ran with it. They added lifetime, working man prices,(a good rod was $100), introduced real customer service and set in motion 20th-century marketing. Redington’s brain was Jim Murphy. He reshaped the fly fishing industry – made responsive customer service a priority, recreated an Authorized Dealer Network Program which remains, in essence, the bellwether of today’s fly fishing industry’s sales strategy. A list of his influences too long to add.
Manchester, Vermont, also got to party hard, like the rest of the industry did because of that box office smash hit movie. It triggered a gold mine rush of new fly fishing enthusiasts. Overnight, it was the “Roaring Nineties” for the fly fishing industry.
Orvis gains in popularity
Orvis’ warranty and the movie got them back into the bigs, but like so many old-line companies they had only just so much chutzpah left in their veins, so they just bumped along successfully, but slowly. Never balls-to-the-wall, just short game misfires, and a few good moves in the fly fishing end of the operation. Never losing its place in the ranking.
Mostly, their fly rods and other fly fishing product announcements played to small-town crowds – never reaching Broadway and the everyday man and woman. They were stuck in second-tier recognition.
They finally hit contender status when somebody in Manchester soldiered the behemoth into being a better Orvis fly fishing company – better products and a much bigger footprint. They became an even more powerful sponsor in conservation efforts and projects, boosted advertising, and insured everyday presence through a myriad of customer participation programs.
They began to seriously endorse lodges, fly fishing guides from Everglades National Park to Alaska, endorsed outfitters with all the right stuff, and endorsed “expeditions” to some of the most remote and unspoiled wilderness areas of North America. Their fly fishing schools inspired a whole host of other fly fishing schools and that made new fly fishers like cookies on a baking tray.
Rosenbauer becomes the ubiquitous face of Orvis
Today, Orvis makes the best fly rods, top gun fly reels, and has go-to current technology fly lines and yes, boundless accouterments from ladies flats booties to billfish fly rods.
What is more impressive is that their quality, which has never been in question, has them in or near first place in every category related to fly fishing products.
Their top end fly rods, reels and fly lines (they own Scientific Anglers) are made in the USA, and it shows.