Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Fly rods
CEO April Archer is luring in new customers as she explores uncharted waters in the angling industry: fly-fishing rods for women.
"Right now, we're the only fly rod manufacturer that's really focusing our resources on serving the female angler," says Archer.
SaraBella makes handmade custom and semi-custom fly rods from U.S.-made and locally sourced materials and components. While the material for the rods themselves comes from elsewhere in the U.S., almost all the other materials and work is sourced from Colorado-based suppliers.
SaraBella has a strong emphasis on women, but the company isn't focused exclusively on them. "We don't discriminate against any angler, so we'll sell to anyone who wants to buy a rod," Archer says. "What makes us different is we're the only fly rod manufacturer who's focusing our education, outreach, and product development on the female angler. We're listening to what women want, trying to support women and girls and educate them on the next step in their fishing adventure. There are other companies that build a simple rod that they call a women's line, but no one else is taking it this far."
She continues, "We recognize that women come in all different sizes, so we offer choices and then allow the customer to customize to what she or he feels is best. What is unique for the female angler is letting her think about and consider what fits and feels the best for her performance and fishing needs instead of telling her because she's a female, she must need a lighter, smaller rod or something along those lines. She can really choose what fits the best. We do have a lot of guys that recognize that they have the same options."
The company's smart and skilled approach to rod-building was developed by Archer, her husband, JT Archer, and their friend Scott Grieble -- its main employees. The other rod-builders are contractors, who Archer calls survivors, most are close to retirement or veterans looking for part-time contract work. "They work from their various home or local workstations," she says. "They're members of our rod-building team." That includes David McElwain, who also ties flies for SaraBella. "David is a breast-cancer survivor."
The company also is working with Mile High WorkShop, which helps people recovering and rebuilding from addiction, homelessness, and incarceration gain important job skills to transition to careers. The nonprofit contract manufacturer now provides fabric rod sleeves for SaraBella, but Archer says the organization could do more for company in the future.
"Our customers love knowing that nothing from the packaging down to the hardware on our products, nothing comes from China," says Archer. "They love knowing that even that fabric piece is another handmade work of art that has a local impact. It definitely resonates with the customers that we work with Mile High WorkShop."
Fishing is a sport traditionally associated with men, but Archer finds that there's a lot of support for women. "A lot of folks including men from older generations have been very welcoming and have said it's about time someone's doing this." However, she observes, "There is still a lot of work to be done. There is still a lot of harassment and discrimination."
"We have a lot of great male allies that back our product and that want women and girls to be out fishing and those guys are important to us," she asserts. That includes the shop where April and JT, SaraBella's chief technical and production officer, bought their first rods, Anglers All in Littleton. "When they said they wanted to carry our rods, that was just awesome. That was 20 years in the making," Archer says. "It's really special that they carry our rods."
SaraBella's rods are also in a handful of shops in Colorado, but the majority of the company's sales are direct to consumer. Many direct customers are in Colorado as well as in other Western states like Montana, Oregon, Wyoming, and Washington. That said, the company seeing growth nationwide.
"We're starting to get rods in places that haven't been traditional fly-fishing hubs, which is exciting for us," says Archer. That includes states like Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Florida, for instance.
"With the stores, we look at them as important places for our customers to touch and feel," Archer says. "We feel like it's worth it for us to have some retail presence so that customers can have that face-to-face experience."
Retail shops also offer other important benefits for SaraBella. "It's about education, it's about supporting female anglers, it's about making a bigger impact and we feel like teaming up with retailers is effective in reaching more people," says Archer.
Still, as a custom rod manufacturer selling rods in shops poses a challenge since a shop isn't likely to carry every model SaraBella offers. "With each fly shop, we try to create a custom customer startup package," Archer says. "A couple of shops have a custom kit or station where they can help customers fulfill their order. . . . They order direct from us and make the customers happy, the retailer's happy, and we're happy."
The approach is proving popular, SaraBella has continued to see 30 percent year-on-year growth since launching. There's also plenty of room to grow. Currently, women make up about 31 percent of the fly fishers in the U.S., according to the Outdoor Industry Association's 2018 Special Report on Fishing, but women are the fastest growing segment in the fishing and fly-fishing industries.
Challenges: "The biggest challenge for SaraBella right now is shaping the fly-fishing industry for something that is unique and different," Archer says. "There hasn't been a mainstream fly-fishing company that's also a custom manufacturer that targets female anglers. We're trying to strike a balance of steady growth with constant education while gaining strength in fly-fishing market spaces."
Opportunities: "A huge opportunity is that right now women in fly fishing is the fastest growing segment in the market," Archer says. "Beyond that, connecting a broader more diverse fly-fishing population also is a huge opportunity."
Needs: "We need orders, orders, orders. Keep them coming," Archer says. "That's the biggest thing, the most important thing."