Editor: Recently, our Pro Staff Ryan Said sat down with Lucas Matzke of Blackfish to discuss the Company, its products and its strategy for growth and differentiation in a crowded outerwear market place. Here are the highlights of their discussion
iBass360: Blackfish is going to be a new name for a lot of people. How long have you been in business and how did Blackfish get started?
Lucas: Blackfish is in its 2nd year in the consumer market. We launched in the spring of 2018, under the umbrella of Clam Outdoors whose focus is ice fishing. As a Minnesota company, we have been, and continue to be, very successful with our ice fishing products and apparel lines, but we perceived a need for quality and performance in the open water clothing market. Clam, for example, was the first to offer a specific performance suit for ice fishing, and we felt we could take that innovative thinking and technology to the open water market.
Every year we attend iCast and it seems there are always fifteen new brands claiming UPF protection and moisture-wicking materials. The reality is, most of these are made from very cheap materials that work minimally, if at all. We wanted to introduce a line of high-performance apparel. Our motto from day one has been “Because you can’t choose the weather”. We wanted to introduce apparel that is angler driven and provides superior performance for serious anglers, especially those in the upper half of the country who deal with a wide variety of climates- some changing many times in a single day!
iBass360: There are a lot of companies selling outerwear. Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s have
their own brands. Huk has thrown a lot of money at advertising to gain brand awareness for their line of fishing wear. Simms has capitalized on their long history with fly fishermen and added all types of fishing gear to their portfolio. Then you have brands like StormR and Frogg Toggs that have wedged their way into the market. What is Blackfish’s plan to differentiate and gain market share?
Lucas: Where we believe we separate ourselves is our understanding of our target market and our ability to deliver to that focused target customer. By focusing on the high end of performance, our products are better able to meet their needs. Of course, we want products that look good too, but we are not about flashy graphics and gimmicky marketing just to look good, and we don’t slap our brand name onto someone else’s products. Branding is not our main focus, proving performance is our focus.
Our focus is on the serious fisherman in the upper mid-west. The weekend angler, the guide, those hiring guides, the tournament angler. Our customer doesn’t have the luxury to choose when they go fishing. They go on prescribed days off, or when the tournament is scheduled, or when the clients call- regardless of the weather. We provide performance equipment that first and foremost allows that guy to fish comfortably on the days he can get out there- even in wind, rain, or snow.
Our goal is to create comfort and protection when you are out there dealing with the elements, so you can focus on enjoying the fishing, not on trying to survive the elements.
Our products were born from the experiences of upper mid-west anglers- anglers who fish rivers and streams for trout one day, bluegills in ponds the next day, inland lakes for largemouth and pike the day after, and then take on the Great Lakes for walleye, smallmouth or musky. They target a wide variety of species and encounter a wide variety of fishing conditions. We provide them with high performance products that meet their real needs on the water.
When it comes to performance, our products incorporate extensively tested and well proven technology. Test results show that our CoolCore technology is far superior in moisture wicking and keeping the body cool than any of the polyester “fishing shirts” on the market. The same is true of our Dry-Tex soft-shell materials, and eVent rain material rain suits. The data proven technology is built right in.
iBass360: So, speaking of the eVent technology, most anglers are familiar with Gore-Tex and its
properties, what is the technology behind eVent and how does it compare?
Lucas: One of the coolest things (Ryan: I’m sure no pun was intended) about eVent technology is that, unlike Gore Tex, washing the garments actually improves the breathability and waterproof properties. Unlike Gore Tex, you don’t have to re-treat it either. Ours are very easy to care for garments.
The eVent technology is not exclusive to Blackfish, but it is a technology we have licensed for its superior performance- better durability, lighter feel, better water protection, better breathability, and easier care- vs. Gore Tex and similar materials. To give you an illustration, at one end of the spectrum you have products like Frogg Toggs- light-weight with great breathability- but not good in heavy or sustained rain. These products don’t take well to big waves splashing water on you while underway in the boat. At the other end, you have rubber suits like the crab fishermen wear. These are fully waterproof, but are bulky, heavy and not breathable at all. So getting the right performance with these technologies is a trade-off between weight and breathability vs. water resistance.
With rain garments, there are a wide variety of options. Basically, you get what you pay for. Through research and testing, we have chosen the applications of eVent technology that are optimized for anglers’ needs. Our products have a waterproof rating of 30,000, whereas the highest Gore-Tex waterproof rating is about 25,000.* At the same time, our eVent breathability rating is as good, and in most cases better, than any of the Gore Text variations. eVent technology is also significantly lighter than Gore Tex, making it easier to wear both the jacket and bibs for extended periods of time without fatigue in the shoulders.
* Source: (https://www.sierra.com/lp2/waterproof-guide/)
iBass360: It seems from your marketing that Blackfish has a focused approach on fishing, as opposed to general outdoors…would you agree with that? Can you elaborate on your target market strategy and why you’ve made those decisions?
Lucas: As I said, there is no question our target market is the angler. We want to continue to get our message out to that group and fully establish Blackfish as premium outerwear for whatever weather the day throws at them. Fishing is what we are most passionate about, but longer term, we view ourselves not just as a fishing company, but an outdoors company. We do see ourselves as a scale-able brand, possibly getting into hunting and hiking gear for example. We think our products would serve other outdoor communities, and down the road we will develop products geared to them.
iBass360: How do you decide what types of garments to bring to market?
Lucas: It is a multi-year process deciding what to bring to market. When we look at different garments we may want to bring to market, we do extensive study on how anglers would use them. Technologies like eVent and CoolCore have 30 to 40 different variations each with its own set of performance characteristics. Our challenge is to develop the most appropriate version of the technology to meet the needs of each target market application. Our research includes interviewing anglers and trying out a lot of different fabric combinations.
We currently offer two types of rain gear, a heavier version for colder weather and a lighter
version for milder weather. We offer a line of soft-shells, which provided us a lot of fun in creating, that incorporate some very innovative designs. We also have our line of Performance Wear sun hoodies and shirts incorporating the CoolCore technology.
I can see us adding products like cold weather hand and head gear, possibly shorts and even shoes down the road. We want to continue to provide the angler with every need from head to toe as we carefully and thoughtfully expand our product line. Our success with the ice fishing line gives us confidence that we can achieve that.
iBass360: Outdoorsmen come in all shapes and sizes…are you looking to target everyone? How do you go about deciding on sizes to bring to the market?
Lucas: A lot depends on what is popular. We start with the basics from small to XL or double XL, but we have expanded to 3XL and in some cases up to 5XL. As we get demand, or we see the popularity of a product growing, we expand the size offerings.
iBass360: At iBass360 we have quite a few women pro staffers, and one of the complaints they often voice is that women’s garments are the male styling in stereotypically feminine colors. Do you have anything in the works to target women specifically, both in styling and functionality, with your clothing lines?
Lucas: We definitely have products in designed and sized to fit women, and we also definitely hear this request. Between this summer and next spring, we are going to launch some shirts specifically designed and tailored for women. We are not going to just make a youth size and call it “women’s”. We are taking some of our most popular pieces and tailoring them to specifically fit women. I can tell you one of our most popular items for both men and women is the Gale Soft Shell Pullover and it will have a uniquely designed women’s version soon with true women’s sizing. We are hearing the request and we already have plans to meet the needs of women anglers.
iBass360: How have you approached the whole world of social media as a tool for brand awareness?
Lucas: We understand the power of social media are very active on Facebook and Instagram. However, we also fully understand that brands themselves don’t create as much visibility as people- those we call our “influencers”- that represent our brand, both on the water and on the internet. To that end, we have selectively chosen influencers with strong media presence both here in the upper mid-west and nationally. We have chosen a strong mix of anglers- professional anglers across a spectrum of species such as walleye, crappie, musky, bass, and trout. We also chose anglers with a presence across a spectrum of media outlets, TV, tournament pros, a strong internet presence.
iBass360: I’m a bass guy, so I know you work with Chad Grigsby. Are there other pros? How are you capitalizing on pro fishing tours and professional tournament fishing to increase your market visibility?
Lucas: We do a mix of both tour professionals and TV and media professionals. On the walleye
tour we have Jimmy Bell, Keith Kavajecz, Gary Parsons, Chase Parsons, and Tommy Skarlis, who also does the crappie tour. As you mentioned, we have Chad Grigsby on the bass side. We are also planning on bringing on a few more names in the near future. On the bass side we have done a lot of grass roots work. We host a tournament on Minnetonka every year with a $10,000 top prize. We are also big in the upper-midwest TV market. We have the Linders with their TV show Angling Edge on board as well as musky guru Pete Mania, and Jason Mitchell.
iBass360: If someone is in the market for new foul weather gear for fishing and they come to the iBass360 staff for advice, what message do you want us to send about Blackfish?
Lucas: We are, first and foremost, fishermen ourselves. Our products exist, as our motto says: “Because you can’t choose the weather.” We are not flashy and not “for show”. Our products all have distinct applications we call “reasons for being”. We create products that fishermen have always needed, using innovative technology and designs to better meet their needs. Finally, we try to create unique products that meet fishermen’s needs in new ways.
iBass360: When it comes to your product line, how broad do you believe your offerings should be? For what pieces of gear and fishing applications do you want to be considered the “go to” brand, and what products are not your thing?
Lucas: I think the biggest thing we are “not” is low quality and inexpensive. We are not going to sell a t-shirt for $25 just to have a t-shirt at that price point. We are not really interested in entry-level garments that are lower priced and don’t work well, just to have our name on something. We produce high quality garments designed for serious anglers, and we intend to keep to that target market and business model.
iBass360: Now that we’ve wetted the appetites, where can our anglers find your products?
Lucas: We do have products in retail stores. Most are in the Minnesota region where we are located, but we have other outlets as well. Scheels, Fleet Farm, Reeds, and Thorn Brothers all carry our product. In Michigan we have product at D&R Sports Center, Frank’s Great Outdoors, and Jay’s Sporting Goods. But for sure, currently, our main source for anglers is online. They can purchase directly from Blackfishgear.com. We have done a lot of work on our website to make it attractive, easy to use, and full of information about the superior quality of our products.
iBass360: Last question for you Lucas…when is the next time you are going fishing, where, and what will you target?
Lucas: I am flying to Oregon and doing a float trip on the Deschutes River for red-band rainbows.
After that I am coming back to Minnesota for bass tournament season. I will also be competing in a walleye Pro-Am tournament after that. When we say fishing is our passion, we mean it!
Editor: We greatly appreciate Lucas’ time and his sharing of insights into this innovative, new garment company. Ryan Said uses a variety of Blackfish products while guiding bass trips throughout Michigan. With a keen interest in the sustainability of our fisheries and our sport, Ryan is offering “learning trips” for teen anglers and coaching/mentoring the Lawrence Tech University Bass Fishing Team. Ryan is Pro Staff for Dobyns Rods, Lew's Reels, P-Line and Costa Sunglasses