Kayak Fishing Ultimate Resource

Wednesday, 04 October 2017 08:49

Bending Branches Interview: New 2017 Updates

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We had a chat with Andrew Stern from Bending Branches about their new 2017 Paddle lineup.  They have redesigned the paddles in their Angler family to make them stronger, lighter and more affordable. We also talked about the current market trends that were very noticeable in this year’s trade shows.


The Bending Branches marketing team has had a busy summer attending trade shows.  Which of your products received the most interest?

Definitely the New Angler Pro. We completely redesigned it with the help of our pro-staff team. The Angler Pro has been the paddle of the year for four years in a row now, so it has a lot of credibility.  We put a lot of thought into the redesign of this paddle, updating it to make it an even lighter, stronger, better paddling paddle with a new look and at a lower price point.  That has really brought a lot of attention back to paddles in a time in kayak fishing when all of the conversations revolve around pedals and motorized craft for kayaks.  We decided that this was a particularly important time to update our lineup and make ourselves as competitive as possible.


The Angler Pro definitely got the most attention, and when you have a team as talented as we do in terms of our athletes and pro-staff throughout North America and Europe - when you have them designing the paddles and the patterns that they specifically want, you can really tailor your product to the actual end user and the applications they are most practically going to be using it for. We can design a paddle ourselves from our office, based off what we know and the experiences we have, but the ultimate way to solidify yourself in a category is to involve the end user in the design and development process. So we are really excited about that.

Looking at the trade shows, could you detect any emerging trends in the kayak fishing industry?

Yeah, there is a few.  I just talked about pedals briefly, that's probably had the biggest impact - particularly in kayak fishing. There's a fair amount of commoditization going on right now. And I know we talked about it briefly in the last interview on Yakangler, but you are definitely beginning to see it become more prevalent in the conversation at these shows.


There's a lot of pressure to go down in price. There are new boats coming in at price points that have never been achieved before.  There's a new influx of competition from overseas. As the market matures, there is an interest in bringing down the price points in order to make yourself more competitive in the market.


Amazon is a big conversation that is being had at shows now. How do traditional outdoor, fishing and paddlesport brands compete on this new marketplace that has completely taken over as the primary channel of shopping in the US? The traditional paddlesport and fishing brands aren't overly interested in competing on Amazon and are still reliant on traditional specialty stores - brick and mortar stores, shops that depend on that sport for their livelihood. So there's a lot of loyalty there, that's why it has been a bit perplexing for brands and retailers to understand how to be agile and to adapt to shifting consumer buying habits.  Amazon is twice as big as Wal-Mart. They are just a monstrosity and a wrecking ball that everybody is trying to understand.


There's an aging demographic.  When we go to shows, everybody keeps talking about how to get youth into our sport. It is a real challenge today, because Millennials and younger demographics are more interested in technology and what is in their hand than what is in front of them.  Millennials, in particular, are very trail-based decision makers - they are very lifestyle based, they want to try out a sport like kayak fishing but they don't want to be committed to it, so they don't want to buy all the expensive gear or let that sport dominate their mind or activities.  This means we have to adapt to a consumer that isn't necessarily interested in buying, but trying.


The sport of kayaking, for example, is dominated by kids in their teens that want to go kayaking and paddle on a local lake.  They are going to try kayaking on a paddle that the rental shop literally bought for $12 - and our lowest price point is $60. So what we hope is that we can be involved in that livery shop so that they can build some awareness of our brand and product quality and then maybe they go kayaking a few more times and think of us along the way. And maybe when they then make their first purchase that's when we can reel them in. It is a struggle - nobody can afford the resources to educate everybody on the importance of kayaking. And yet, at the same time that lack of awareness is not leading people to take that next purchase.

Your new Angler family update was your biggest new product announcement since 2012.  Why did you feel it was time for a big change now?

There are several reasons:

  • The big reason was that the product was getting a little bit stale.  It has not been updated in a real dramatic fashion in 5 years.  And a lot of our competitors had been doing quicker, bigger updates in the interim. So we were due.

  • We wanted to introduce new products during a time when less people are talking about paddles... and we wanted it to be really exciting.  We were waiting to introduce products that were revolutionary in nature that would get people to turn their heads and actually take a serious look at it. If fewer people are talking about paddles, but we can dominate more of the conversation, that's a win for us. And even if you do have a pedaler, who is not primarily focused on the paddle, if we have one of the more respected brands and the more indestructible products on the market, there is still a stronger possibility that the paddle that they may use or just attach to the side of their kayak will be ours.

  • We had a real intimate conversation with the Pro team, and they were talking about bringing new life to the family. They had started drafting up some new designs with new blade patterns.  Our guys were pushing to have those patterns put on new products. And we listened and we let them design it - that's what you see on new stuff.

  • Kayak fishermen are becoming better paddlers. They are understanding techniques and how to make their life easier with better gear.  We wanted to bring all of our experience in traditional kayaking and technology and design into the fishing stuff, so that the fishermen that are paddling are going to have some of the best forward stroke paddles that are available.  

So - we had new designs, an interest in bringing better paddling paddles into the marketplace, we were looking to be more competitive, so we dropped our prices.

Tell us more about the new designs. In which ways are they different from the previous models?

We scrapped the old models.  None of those patterns are available anymore - they are all new designs. We went to our guys and we said "what do you look for in a blade design?"  A lot of them said there are specific species that they are attracted to fishing for and there's specific color combinations that they would like to see. All the patterns are inspired by a different array of fish and fish scales.  The most popular one so far is our blue and black and red one, which we call the Radiant pattern. That was inspired by fish scales and butterfly wings.  All of those colors either come from bestselling color combinations in kayaks, or colors that we just found in our research matched really well. We wanted two patterns that were a bit darker in nature to make them a bit more sleek, but we also wanted patterns that would give you high visibility, safety oriented - and that is our bright green and yellow pattern.  Inspired by fish, designed by our pro-staff team - that was the goal.

Which updates are you the most excited about?

I am the most excited about the new product this year, the Angler Pro Carbon.  So the Angler Pro got redone, the Ace got redone and the Classic got a lower price point.  But we introduced something new this year, and that is the Pro Carbon.  This paddle is at a weight that we have never had before. It is 25 ounces in weight and it is carbon from tip to tip.  It is a really great paddling paddle.  Any fisherman who is going long distance, or who is paddling a lot to a specific watering hole will have a new option in the lightest paddle available on the market in the Angler Pro Carbon. It looks good, it paddles well, it is extremely lightweight and it is solidifying the high-end of our Angler family. So we now have an offering from $75 up to $425.  Whatever your price point is, or whatever your interest level or however you want to join the Bending Branches family, you now have an option from most price points.

What has the response been like from the anglers who have been using the new paddles so far?

We had a bit of confidence coming into launch because we prototyped and field-tested our new models with our pro team.  So not only were they helping us design the concept, they also field tested it before we put it on the market. They gave us a lot of confidence.  A lot of people were surprised that the blade offered a better forward stroke. Basically, they could pull their gear and kayak easier with less effort and be wasting less energy than they would with a wobbly blade.  


The team has been really excited.  It went to market 1st of September, so it has been about a month, and we are already backed up 6 weeks in production.  So it has been a struggle, but it has been a good problem to have.  Dealerships have really been accepting of the new products - they have been bringing a lot of it in quickly to meet the demand that they have seen from consumers.  It is a bit out of the norm for us to be this backed up. We are usually operationally very sound, but an influx of orders came in and it was far beyond our capacity.  When you manufacture in America and source everything stateside, there is going to be some bottlenecks in the operation, and this is what we have with the Angler Pro Blade.  But we are working through it.  To have this type of demand right out of the gate is very exciting for us.

What, would you say, is the most important thing kayak anglers should keep in mind when they are shopping for a new paddle?

Every ounce matters.  This pitch works very easily in traditional kayaking because they know that the paddle is the motor.  If you are paddling, one ounce equates to a 100 pounds that you are lugging around on an hourly basis.  So if you save four ounces in weight, that is 400 pounds that you don't have to pull around.  It is a very easy message in traditional kayaking, but to get kayak anglers to understand that - the importance of a paddle... It can be the difference between you paddling all day or paddling for half a day and it can be the difference between catching the hunt you have been dreaming about or not.  Every ounce matters, so even if you can save two ounces as you go up in price you are going to come down in weight and it really does matter in the long run.

And that is why your company has been trying to shave off as many ounces as possible?

Correct.  We took a really calculated approach to our design and we said we are not going to introduce something if it isn't at least two ounces lighter at every price point.  It is not worth our time.  For example, the Pro went down from about  31 ounces to 28 ounces.  The Ace went down two ounces, from 33 to 31.  And obviously, the Pro Carbon is new, but for us to hit a 25-ounce mark for a paddle has been great for our branding.

Instead of increasing the price of your kayak paddles, you have actually dropped it.  Why?

The main reason is to remain competitive. Prices were coming down in the marketplace and we didn't want to price ourselves out of the market.  Essentially, what we were able to do internally was to capitalize on consolidation.  So we are using more components from other lines we were able to leverage.  And by buying higher volumes of product we were able to bring down our pricing quite a bit.  Rationalizing a lot of our componentry led to a reduction in cost that we were able to pass off to our consumer. So our fiberglass shaft that met all of our expectations, we were able to put that in more of our lineup.  By doing so, we were able to get the Classic's price point down to $139, it was the same with the Angler Pro.  We are leveraging more of our tooling from other lineups and leveraging a shaft that we are using on a more common basis.  By doing so, we were able to cut our costs across the board.

So a lower price doesn't mean lower quality for you?

No - not at all. In fact, you are going to find an improved quality with many of the models, especially the blades. The Ace got a whole new blade, and it is a blade we have done a ton of testing on.  We were learning that it is one of the best forward stroke blades in our entire lineup, so we began to transfer that blade onto more models so that consumers can realize that there's a better product for each price point.  The same thing with the Angler Pro - the blade is lighter while attaining the same strength matrix and providing a better forward stroke.  So there are no concessions in quality.  You are going to notice the same indestructibility at every price point you use in our brand.

Let's just summarize the updates per product in your Angler family quickly:


Angler Pro - New blade, shape, profile, and patterns.  We completely redesigned the blade. It is a new shape, influencing the depth and the angle that it goes to. It comes in three new patterns, completely scrapping the previous designs and is $30 cheaper at $299, where it used to be $329.


Angler Ace - Also got redone. It still has a similar construction, with the nylon and carbon blade.  This is the lightest and strongest combination of plastics that you can put together.  We used a shorter, fatter blade with a sharper dihedral.  It is just as strong, just as light, but the sharper dihedral gives it a better forward stroke and makes it so the water displaces off the blade easier, allowing you to pull the kayak through the water quicker and easier.  Price point reduction from $215 retail to $199.


New Angler Pro Carbon - New to the family.  It has the same carbon shaft as the Pro but sports a new blade that is all carbon from tip to toe. And that's where we were able to get those weight savings from the 28 ounces in the Angler Pro to the 25 ounces in the Angler Pro Carbon.  By not using the fiberglass blade as on the Pro, but using a carbon blade we can suck out the weight and improve the strength.

What are your plans for 2018, can we expect to see any new product launches or other major updates from Bending Branches?

We are going to continue to add to the family.  There are a few products we are considering right now.  Very interesting products to round out the family.

We are going to do two things this offseason:

*  We are going to consider adding new products to the family, which I think we are going to end up doing regardless and that's going to be unique kayak fishing related paddles that elevate the experience for guys and gals on the water.


*  We are also going to consider some diversified kayak fishing offerings. So that could potentially entail more things than just paddles. The marketplace is shifting and we are going to try and mirror our consumers where they are shopping. So we are talking about some new, interesting diversified product opportunities.  But, regardless, we are going to continue to listen to our athletes and consumers about what they want in their fishing-related gear.  We are going to provide what they are interested in.

Kayak fishing is one of our fastest growing and most profitable categories of business and we are very excited about our growth and what we have been able to do in this marketplace.  It is going to continue to be one of our top priorities.

Naomi Bolton

Yakangler's Community Manager and Editor - in charge of sourcing news and articles for the website.  If you have any ideas for new content, please do get in touch with me at: [email protected]

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