Ross Reels are among the sport’s most durable, an attribute David Dragoo seeks in a reassembled lifestyle manufacturing company.
Ross Reels is getting back to its roots.
After three years as a subsidiary of Minnesota-based 3M, Orvis bought Ross Reels in June 2013 along with Scientific Anglers and quickly sold it to the Colorado's Mayfly Outdoors. Mayfly also now owns Abel Reels and Charlton Reels as part of the deal.
President David Dragoo, a Colorado native who founded Mayfly in 2012, says he sees the business as an intersection of his passions for business and outdoor recreation.
"The purpose of [Mayfly] is to create an outdoor products company, specifically one that focuses on high quality," says Dragoo. "It's easy when you make something you love and are proud of."
Dragoo says the deal is bringing Ross Reels back full circle after 3M had "scattered” the company's operations to several locations around the country. Now distribution and fulfillment is back in Montrose alongside manufacturing, making for several new hires in the last year. "We brought everything back under one roof," he says.
Aerospace engineer Ross Hauck originally founded Ross Reels in California in 1973 and moved the operation to Montrose, Colorado, a decade later. Over the years, the company earned accolades and loyal customers with its innovative reels. Hauck perfected a number of industry standards in his tenure at the company's helm, including the market's first reels machined from aluminum bar stock. The result was one of the most durable flyfishing reels ever to hit the market.
Ross COO and Chief Engineer Tony Lugard says the company has shipped about 600,000 reels in its 40 years and very few come back to Montrose for service. "The drag system holds up really well," he says. "They last generations in numerous instances."
The keys, Lugard notes, are rigorous product testing and the "human touch" in the final assembly, including manual tuning of each reel's drag system and clicker. "It's easy to rush something to market. We like to make sure it's ready."
The push to return to the company's roots not only brings more functions back in-house, it also makes for more efficient R&D.
"With 3M, they had more than enough resources to produce reels, but it didn’t happen," says Dragoo. Mayfly has implemented a much faster pipeline, with the latest new product being the newly released Animas reel, named for the river that snakes its way through Durango. (Ross Reels have traditionally been named for Colorado rivers.)
With a streamlined, focused operation, "We're able to just get it done," says Dragoo.
The company has also re-released classic Ross Reels with its Heritage Series. "All of the great products Ross made over the years were discontinued inexplicably," says Dragoo. "They're being redesigned and improved."
Challenges: "It's really trying to bring some of the skill sets we need in-house," says Dragoo. "That's not easy." When the company hires a machinist, "The challenge is to get them to do it the way we do it. You have to be in sync."
And that takes time, adds Lugard. "We're a 40-year-old company," he says. "My average tenure is 14 years and I have several employees hitting the 20-year mark this year."
Opportunities: More acquisitions and synergy among Mayfly's brands, says Dragoo. "We've seen a pretty large push to bring manufacturing to the U.S." It follows that Mayfly is looking for acquisitions in other outdoor categories beyond angling.
The other push would be to consolidate some of the brands’ operations. "Eventually we'd like to get all the companies on a single campus, with some all under a single roof." says Dragoo.
Needs: More incentives for mid-sized manufacturers. With 25 employees at Ross and about 50 across all three brands, "We're in that gray area," says Dragoo. "It's a tough area to be in. We just seem to get beat up the most at our business size."
In Colorado, "What we'd like to see is some incentives to grow," he adds, highlighting property tax abatement as a prime example. "There's a lot of pride in staying here, but we need to incentivize people to grow here -- especially manufacturers."