What next for Rapala and Okuma after ‘rollercoaster’ first year.

Posted on April 22nd, 2023

Talking exclusively, Rapala’s Head of Global Rods, Reels and Lines, Enrico Ravenni, and Senior Manager of Product Development Jari Kokkonen explain what’s next for Okuma in Europe.

Enrico Ravenni

It has been a year since Rapala took on Okuma. Was it the right move?

ER: Absolutely. We are all convinced within the Group that we made the right move. We are super happy with the purchase. When we divorced from Shimano in Europe, we needed another strong rod and reel brand. Instead of creating our own, we first decided to acquire 13 Fishing which is a young and fast-growing predator brand in the USA, but then we felt the need for a brand able to compete with the two large Japanese brands. Okuma was the natural choice.

What is the strategy for the brand?

JK: We have a massive plan to introduce close to one thousand rods and reels for spinning, carp and coarse fishing. A range of combos too. The Okuma approach is not to focus on one particular segment of anglers. It is about ‘everything for everyone’. This strategy will take several years to complete, probably five or six, and for two good reasons. First, we inherited a brand which was all over the place. There was no clear focus. And second, you can’t make too many changes all at once. Consumers can not adjust that quickly plus there is simply not enough retail space available.

Jari Kokkonen

And how has the first year played out?

ER: Well, 2022 has been a rollercoaster, starting strong, falling down and picking up again, and with plenty of products in the pipeline from previous distribution arrangements. But still, we exceeded our 2022 goals and closed the year positively.

Can you explain more about Okuma’s historic lack of focus?

JK: The Okuma brand in Europe has been distributed by several different companies, all with different interests. They had their own in-house brands for rods and/or reels. This resulted in a very wide and scattered product portfolio for Okuma. Okuma has many great products and good sellers but mostly as individual items and not as successful series. Our plan is to change most parts of the product portfolio in the next 4-5 years. Additionally, Okuma produced rods as an OEM manufacturer which were sold under different brands in Europe. We have changed that now and we’ve made the Okuma brand the full focus of attention.

And what about the perception of Okuma in the market?

ER: Okuma has high quality, super reliable products, but in the eyes of consumers, it is seen as a grade below Shimano and Daiwa and somehow also Pure Fishing’s brands. Our goal is to change this mindset by focusing on increasing brand awareness in Europe. In 3-5 years we want to bring Okuma sales up to what we were doing with Shimano before we separated.

How does it work in practice between Rapala and Okuma?

JK: Basically, when it comes to product development, Rapala decides what it wants to sell and in the case of reels, they are designed by the brilliant Okuma design team. In the case of rods, Rapala has a great design department and so we carry that out ourselves. It has been a very successful arrangement. The spirit of the Okuma team is something I have never seen before. They don’t just listen and focus – they get things done. We work together with Okuma factories and distribution units in the USA and Japan. Communication is first class and the speed of delivering samples is fantastic. Naturally, range of rods need a much more regional focus, but we find synergies for names, designs and materials.

How have your trade customers responded?

ER: Very positively, even when the market has been difficult. We know 2023 will also be difficult because there is too much stock in warehouses and too many rebates, discounts and special offers. At Okuma we are trying to keep the price level stable.

And what is being worked on now, for 2024?

JK: We are working on hundreds of new rods and at least a dozen new reel models. We can’t say too much yet, but European anglers can expect several very cool looking spinning and feeder reels plus some conventional reel models. Our offering for the summer season of 2023 is strong and exciting (see following pages). It will see us through the turbulent season ahead.

Mel Bagnall -Angling International

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