David Neill became the stand-out appointment during Nicolas Warchalowski’s first year as CEO of Rapala VMC when he took on the global role of EVP Product Development and Innovation.
Neill, who had been President and Managing Director of Normark Canada for the past four years, is charged with accelerating and reinvigorating product development. “Product innovation has to be brought back to centre-stage,” said Warchalowski. “We need to not only make sure we stay true to our roots, but also to up our game in product innovation and become more relevant to the new, younger, digitally-aware community now entering the fishing market.”
When Warchalowski announced the appointment, he said that Neill had impressed with his track record of driving results in Canada and in his role as key liaison with 13 Fishing after Rapala bought a 49% stake in the Florida business in 2019. “He was by far my first pick,” he said.
Neill (left) explained: “The creation of my new role is aimed at streamlining and accelerating the new product and innovation platform as a whole within the group. Nicolas Warchalowski has a new vision for the group. Under his strategy, product development will have a renewed focus and we will work to develop a more efficient team globally. We’re working as a team to develop a new more collaborative platform for ideas sharing that will allow us to act quickly and efficiently on market trends and innovations.”
One of Rapala’s more intriguing moves in recent years was the purchase of 49% of 13 Fishing, the fast-growing Florida business known for its offbeat approach to the market. Neill has been heavily involved with the company from the beginning and sees it as a “huge opportunity” for Rapala’s European and APAC regions. He also recognises that its different culture has benefits for the wider group.
“We have been working incredibly closely with the PD team in Tampa to develop rods, reels and combos specifically for these markets,” he explains. “CEO Jim Coble is keenly engaged in finding ways to develop these markets and we are working very closely with him and his product development team in this regard.
“The 13 Fishing design centre has a wonderfully fluid and dynamic way of working. It’s incredibly exciting to see how they function as a team, with a very open approach to new product development. They’re deeply focused on innovation and developing and creating new trends in the marketplace. Their highly flexible structure allows them to react and turn over new projects very quickly… which is very exciting and a pleasure to be a part of. This innovative way of thinking is something that’s highly valued by our group and we’ll be working to apply some of that excitement to other areas.“
Despite taking on his new role in the middle of the COVID pandemic, Neill is uncompromising when it comes to achieving his objectives. “Our overall product development goals have not changed,” he says. “We’re still keenly focused on driving new products to market at the same rate as previous years. We control much of the PD process internally, utilising our own in-house teams of designers, engineers and sourcing specialists with little to no reliance on third party. This is a true core competence of Rapala VMC and has allowed us to continue to move full steam ahead throughout the pandemic.”
As COVID unexpectedly triggered a rise in fishing participation, Rapala began working to mitigate supply chain challenges in the middle of last year to anticipate problems that might arise in 2021. “The increase in worldwide demand for our products forced us to take a very close look at our supply chain capabilities through 2021,” says Neill.
“The need for earlier forecasting and demand planning was apparent, and the group worked diligently on that through the second half of last year and this continues today. We felt comfortable that consumer demand would remain strong throughout this year and have planned accordingly in everything from increased raw material supplies to improved factory capacities to longer than average transit times in sea freight.”