Editor: Matt Stark is a local fishermen passionate about his sport who, along with his family, started a small lure company that has been slowly surely increasing its presence in the industry. That company is Riot Baits. iBass360’s Sean McKiernan, who had good success with Riot products this past season, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Matt to discuss his company’s story, their products, and his hopes and aspirations for the business. iBass360 is appreciative of Matt’s time.
iBass360: Hi Matt, thanks for sharing with the iBass360NATION. Let’s start with how you got into making and marketing your own jigs and soft plastic lures?
Stark: I started making jigs and lures in my apartment. The jigs were definitely the first thing I dabbled in because for me they were easy. I bought existing parts (pre-banded skirts and pre-painted jig heads) and started putting them together. As I got into it, I started creating my own skirt combinations and designing my own heads.
When it came to soft plastics it was a longer burn, and I mean that. I started just melting old lures and using plaster-of-Paris to create really crude hand pours. It was just something to do to as a hobby. But as with the jigs, the more I did the more I wanted to add my out touches. So eventually I designed a two part mold I could inject. Not surprisingly for a newbie, I over injected it and hot plastisol went everywhere. I burned my face and hands pretty bad, so my wife put an end to that. Turns out 99% of my sketches were so complex I couldn’t make them with plaster-of-Paris.
Despite my wife’s protests, I had the bug, so I started working with a CNC company mill on a
single cavity mold for one of my designs which evolved into what is now known as the Fuzzy. I wasn’t really looking to start a bait company, but when I got that first mold, I realized that my design was pretty good. I spent the next three months doing market research, crunching numbers; and creating a robust business plan. I never got the capital together to pursue that plan, but my wife and I decided to take what little equity we had when we sold our house in West Virginia and turn it into production molds, colorful bags and a website. I maintained my full-time job in order to offset some of the huge risk of starting a new business. One month later, Tackle Warehouse sent us an email saying they wanted our baits.
iBass360: Once you got started how did you establish a presence in the market place?
Stark: Truthfully, we are still establishing our presence in the market place. I think we are pretty well known in the northeast, but in other parts of the country, we aren’t even a blip on the radar. But if you are asking about how we initially started, plenty of the guys in my club knew what I was doing, and that helped spread the word on the local level, but I think the name of our bait, out beaver, was a key element in our success. The name was a joke. If you consider all the names of baits, there aren’t many good ones left, especially when it comes to beavers.
I don’t recall who thought of it first, but we sure did laugh about it- “Fuzzy Beaver”- it’s 5th grade humor, but let’s be real, most of us still laugh at farts too. I ran the name past my mother-in-law to see if the name offended her. When she laughed, we decided to roll with it. The name made other people laugh too, I guess, because it wasn’t long before people started talking about it. That old question from Shakespeare, “what’s in a name?”, well the name turned out to be everything.
iBass360: How have you succeeded in differentiating Riot Baits from the many other lure manufacturers out there?
Stark: In the case of our beaver, we were the first company to have a bait with an alternating ridge on our claws which allowed the claws to move in independent directions- one moved up the other moved down, that was an industry first, so we spent the time and made the effort to protect it with patents. Turns out it was a good thing. It wasn’t too long before another bait company blatantly ripped off the design of our beaver. At that time, half of that company’s team was ordering Fuzzy Beavers through us, and these were some big name guys. They were
winning with ours too. It seems that company caught wind of it and recognized how different the Fuzzy Beaver was. That company had previously capitalized on other companies’ ideas, and they also copied our design. I don’t know what they thought about us, but I’m not the type of guy who’s going to back down from a fight. If you kill my soldier, I’m going to bomb your village. So, we filed an infringement suit, which we ultimately settled out of court. The agreed to destroy their existing inventory, change the design of their bait and eliminate key elements we had protected through our patents.
Our focus has always been on staying true to what we do, how we fish and who we are. When I started Riot, I designed lures I believe I needed in my tackle box. Today, not much has changed other than now I have a pro-staff that also is telling me what they need in their tackle boxes in terms of new products. Listening to their needs and combining it with my inner voice, has allowed us to build a brand.
iBass360: Do think your designs are best applied to a particular style of bass fishing? Pitching,
flipping, deep structure, finesse etc?
Stark: Our designs cover a healthy mix of product at this point, so you can find something in our product line that can be applied to almost all techniques in bass fishing. For the last two and half years we have been working on hard baits too, and we plan to release several of those designs in 2019.
iBass360: What inspires you when it comes to new products?
Stark: Need. It’s that simple. I listen to our pro-staff and to my gut. When we have several pro-staff saying they need a lure, I get to work. When I take on a new design request, I ask myself “is this product already on the market?”. If so, I know my focus needs to be on how to make it better, and how to make it different.
iBass360: Once you decided to market your products, how did you go about promoting your business and spreading the word?
We have a healthy pro-staff and mailing list and we definitely utilized social media. It’s free and free is affordable.
iBass360: How did you go about deciding what materials to use to optimize your product’s performance?
Stark: In the case of soft plastics, everything is made from plastisol and various additives. Coming up with the right formula depends upon what we are trying to achieve. A bait like our Baton worm, needs heavy salt to optimize its fall rate. Salt doesn’t help the action. Salt isn’t an attractant. It simply makes the plastic, which is naturally buoyant, heavier so it sinks. You want your creature baits to be more buoyant so the appendages dangle in the water column. Therefore, different baits require different formulas to achieve the desired performance.
When it comes to jig hooks or the internal mechanisms we’ll employ in our forthcoming crankbaits, through testing, we choose what we feel works best for each particular application.
iBass360: If you could only use one of your lures for 1 year, which would it be and why?
Stark: The Minima Jig because I’m really comfortable with a jig in my hand. That Minima is a bad ass jig. It skips amazingly well for a compact jig and works well in grass and brush. The small profile makes it different than a lot of other jigs out there, so it gets bit.
iBass360: Who are you working with now and how do you use their talents will best advance your business?
Stark: We have a lot of guys in our ambassador program. Our top tier guys are Jamie Hartman and Greg DiPalma on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Clearly, from a marketing standpoint, having two guys in the Elite Series is helpful. What most people don’t see or hear are all the ideas and prototypes that go back and forth between us. Having two straight shooters on the team that compete at that level really helps us to dial in a product. These guys don’t pull any punches with their feed-back and that’s important. For me, negative feedback is necessary to take a mediocre prototype and adjust it to make it a bad-ass production model.
Editor: iBass360 wants to thank Riot Baits, and we appreciate Matt sharing his story. Sean and Matt discussed other industry issues during their time together and we will share those in a future blog. iBass360 ProStaff Sean Mckiernan, from Bensalem, PA, The Founder of Fishing Fiends, an on-line fishing community with over 4,000 members. He is an active member of the Bucks County Anglers Club (PA) where he has won a number tournaments. Sean is also pro staff with Riot Baits, Favorite USA Fishing Rods and SeaKnight Fishing.