By: Barry Cobb
Buy local. It’s a popular idea. In a recent article in Entrepreneur, John Rampton lists potential advantages of purchasing goods made locally and sold on a small scale. These include experiencing better customer service by being acquainted with the “people behind the product” and improving the economy while keeping the local community “unique.” Opportunities abound in Springfield to buy directly from local businesses. At Farmers Market of the Ozarks, consumers can buy food and gifts directly from local farmers and artisans. The website www.lovelocalbuylocal.com was created to boost local businesses in Springfield, and is a great place to check to see if you can support local commerce when you need a product or service.
Supporting our friends and neighbors is fantastic, but what if you have to go to a “big box” store, such as Bass Pro Shops or Walmart, to get something you need or want? Have you turned your back on the Springfield business community?
Consider Lil’ Anglers, LLC, a business started by entrepreneurs Ralph Duda III, his brother Marty, and lifelong friend Anthony Tolliver — all from Springfield. The business was founded on the idea of involving children in fishing as a way for families to spend time together outdoors. As young dads, the trio recognized the need for fishing poles and accessories that were easy to use, so kids could have fun learning to fish. This led the group to design and patent a line of kid-friendly, tangle-free fishing rods and training lures. Duda first realized a market potentially existed when he took his young sons fishing and “spent the first two hours untangling rods.” The business developed locally, out of a passion for a popular Ozarks family activity.
The Lil’ Anglers partners quickly found that children’s fishing kits and accessories were low-margin products, so selling a large volume would be necessary for them to become profitable enough to earn a living. Duda described the process of pursuing large retailers. “I probably left over 50 voice mails for the fishing buyers at Dick’s Sporting Goods and Bass Pro Shops,” he said. “When the receptionists got tired of transferring my calls, they gave me email addresses, and I sent 50 emails. We knew we had something good, so we never gave up.” The effort paid off, with Duda finally earning face-to-face meetings, with every meeting resulting in successful retail placement. The company’s first product, the Kid Casters Fishing Kit, was sold at Toys “R”Us in 2014. Other retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Bass Pro Shops followed soon after by carrying both the original product and follow-on Kid Casters products bearing popular licenses like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Paw Patrol, Hello Kitty, Minions, SpongeBob & My Little Pony (view the company’s product line atwww.kidcasters.com).
Duda recalls gaining a new sense of confidence in pursuing additional chains. “Having our products in Bass Pro Shops really gave our company a lift with future opportunities. It’s like having a golden stamp of approval from the most reputable fishing retailer in the world. Once Bass Pro had it, everyone else trusted it and wanted it as well.” So ultimately Lil’ Anglers pursued other big box chains like Walmart and Target by using the same tactics they used with the others. However, this time they had more confidence, thanks to their relationship with a large national, yet local, retail chain — Bass Pro Shops.
After meeting with Walmart, Duda was ecstatic when their buyer said, “I like your product,” but a little perplexed when the buyer asked, “Can you handle our replenishment?” “At the time, we had no idea the kind of risk that would entail!” Duda said. Simply put, selling to Walmart and other mammoth retailers requires that Lil’ Anglers fill huge-quantity orders on demand, within a tight delivery window. An initial order to a manufacturer was placed in advance of having a signed purchase order from the company. Duda says he “sent up a prayer” and placed the order for tens of thousands of fishing kits. Fortunately, the gamble paid off, and now Kid Casters is quickly climbing the ranks as one the nation’s leading providers of youth fishing tackle.
Lil’ Anglers was founded locally out of a passion for outdoor activity in the Ozarks. It continues to be operated locally, employs local workers, and utilizes the services of other local companies, such as printers and shippers, as it conducts its business. Its products are now sold in over 20 retailers across the country.
Have lunch at Bambino’s Cafe, buy fresh produce at Farmers Market of the Ozarks, or purchase a Kid Casters fishing kit at Bass Pro Shops or Walmart. Whichever you choose, you’ll be supporting a local business.
Rampton, John (2015), “6 benefits for you and your community from supporting local entrepreneurs,”Entrepreneur. April 2015. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/244839 (accessed June 22, 2016).
Barry Cobb is an associate professor of supply chain management and logistics in the Department of Marketing at Missouri State University. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas and conducts research and consulting in the areas of operations and supply chain management.
This article appeared in the July 2nd, 2016 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.