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Abel Reels

by Brad Smith on October 9, 2017, 12:54 pm MDT

www.abelreels.com

Montrose, Colorado

Founded: 1988

Privately owned

Employees: 47

Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle

Products: Fishing reels and accessories

For the high-end fishing reel manufacturer, a proprietary, hand-anodized finish sets it apart from its competition.

Abel Reels was founded by engineer Steve Abel at his aeronautics job shop in California. An avid fly fisherman, he started making his own fishing reels in the early 1980s. Friends encouraged Abel to make reels commercially and the rest, as they say, is history. When the aeronautics industry hit the skids in the late 1980s, he launched Abel Reels as a separate company in 1988.

Those original reels were designed for saltwater fly-fishing, especially to land tuna. Now the company makes reels with tolerances to handle anything from a freshwater trout to great white sharks, according to Tony Lugard, chief operating officer.

To show the world how solid his reels were, Abel chartered a boat in the Gulf of Mexico soon after the company was founded and took some friends fishing. Lugard says that fishing cruise set all kinds of fly-fishing records, which cemented the company's reputation for manufacturing quality and ruggedness.

Mayfly Outdoors acquired Abel Reels in 2012. Founded in Colorado Springs but now based in Montrose, Mayfly also owns Ross Reels, which had been headquartered in Montrose since its creation in 1973, as well as another reel brand, Charlton. David Dragoo, Mayfly's president, says the intention had always been to consolidate the operations of Ross and Abel, a move that was completed in 2017 after about a year of work.

Nearly all the manufacturing for the companies now takes place in Montrose, although the finishing for Abel Reels is still done at its original facility in Camarillo, California. Some Ross equipment also is finished in California.

Able and Ross are differentiated much like Lexus and Toyota in the automobile industry, says Dragoo: Abel is the Lexus of fishing reels, while Ross is the Toyota; both are high-quality, but they serve different markets.

Abel's relocation has improved the company's ability to meet consumer demand for its products, which are only sold through dealers, according to Jeff Patterson, executive vice president and sales director. "We've taken away the back-order situation, which our dealers appreciate," Patterson says. Abel's website, which helps consumers customize their reels, was created as a complement to the retail outlets.

With most of the manufacturing in Montrose, the California facility concentrates on the finish of the reels. The reels are anodized by hand, a process that is time-consuming but creates a finish that increases resistance to corrosion and wear and also provides better adhesion for paint and glue. Abel offers a vast array of finish colors and designs to suit any taste. The process, done by hand, can take up to 10 hours to complete for each reel. The finishers are so skilled at what they do that Dragoo calls them "artists."

These artists showed off their finish capabilities when it created a Grateful Dead "Steal Your Face" series to marke the band's 50-year birthday in 2015. The reels, which cost as much as $1,495, sold out quickly enough that Abel issued a second round. The Dead reels were popular enough that the company plans to sell a Johnny Cash finish in late 2017.

Abel Reels products are so well-regarded in the industry that their products have been honored several times as the world's largest recreational fishing and boating show, the annual International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST). Abel's SDS (Sealed Drag Salt) won the best new saltwater reel award in 2016 and its SDF (Sealed Drag Fresh) won the best new freshwater reel award in 2017. Abel Reels makes two other fishing reel models as well as several accessories.

Dragoo appreciates the support Mayfly and its companies have received from the city of Montrose. Most recently includes an incentive package last year that helped Mayfly consolidate its operations in the city. The package included incentives for new full-time jobs and for marketing.

Mayfly is building a new manufacturing facility along the Uncompahgre River on the north side of Montrose about a mile from its current campus. The facility, called Colorado Outdoors, is expected to open in the fall of 2018.

Challenges: "The main challenge for Abel going forward is leveraging our ability to create incredible finishes on salt and freshwater finishes that perform much better than our competitors," says Lugard.

Opportunities: The consolidation to Montrose means the company is able to increase capacity and deliver its products more quickly.

Needs: Dragoo says the company depends on enhanced and updated machinery and equipment. The ability to manufacture quality products means the company must keep its machinery at a high level, he says.

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