Interview of the Month - Bill Bragman, Yak-Gear E-mail
Sunday, 18 April 2010 08:37

Bill with his outrigger system Bill has an accessory company called Yak-Gear.  He makes all sorts of accessories and kits for kayaks.  I was aware of his products and they are now offered in many companies and chains throughout the kayaking and fishing world.

How did Yak-Gear come about? What was your initial motivation for starting the company?

My son and I were fishing in Matagorda Bay on the Texas Coast in the summer of 2000. A kayaker paddled by and we watched as he paddled onto a skinny flat, got out and started to cast, within a few minutes he caught a large Redfish. I turned to my son and the same look crossed both our faces, we had been doing it wrong all along. I also realized I had just paid $100 for a tank of gas and the kayaker had paid nothing.  I sold my boat about 2 weeks later and bought two kayaks, one for me and one for my son. I went to a local sporting good store and purchased a few accessories with two of them being paddle leashes. They looked like a telephone chord with plastic clips on the end. Within a couple of weeks they both had broken and I tried to return them. We were told there were no returns on Paddlesport items as it was usually due to customer abuse. Being a little bit of a closet inventor, I went into the garage where I had some bungee and made two Paddle Leashes. As we were using them while we were paddling other people kept asking me where we got them and I told them I had made them. I kept getting requests from people saying that they wanted one because they looked light weight and really versatile.  Shortly after I made a fishing pole leash because my son and I were starting to do "Beyond the Breakers" and on our first trip we both lost rods and reels. A few months later I started selling product online and the two leashes were the start of the company. As I began to rig my own kayak, I realized that there were really no full kits that were easy for the consumer to use. I also wanted products that were lightweight and specific to kayaks and canoes and not boat parts that were stuffed in a bag and passed off as kayak kits.

When did you start?

YAK-GEAR began offering products to retail stores, in 2005. Fishing Tackle Unlimited in Houston gave us our first opportunity to offer products for paddlers in the Houston market. At this time, I was still doing YAK-GEAR part time and working during the day at my regular job. In Fall of 2007, I was able to see the buyer for Academy Sports & Outdoors and he was really impressed by our line. He purchased 7 products to put company wide for Spring 2008. In January of 2008, I left my regular job to go full time with YAK-GEAR. I never looked back. The road has been rocky, but such an amazing and rewarding experience.

What were the first things you offered?

Our first two products were our Basic paddle Leash and our FISHnPOLE Leash.

What is your involvement in the Paddlesports world?

I am active in the Paddlesports World as a resource to kayakers and canoers. I receive 5-10 phone calls a day from paddlers who are looking to rig their boats and ask questions. I am always glad to help and even send design ideas back in emails.

Do you fish from a kayak, paddle, both, neither?

My favorite way to fish is out of a kayak. Whether I stay in it the entire time or paddle and then get out to wade fish, it just makes sense. It is quiet, you dont disturb nature, you see the most amazing things and you catch more fish. Two years ago I had the opportunity to kayak in the Gulf of Mexico about 125 miles off the Freeport, Texas coast. I hooked two Tuna and landed one in my kayak. I used my Outriggers to make sure whatever I caught, did not take me under or flip the kayak. This fall, I am going up to British Columbia to fish for King Salmon from a kayak.

I understand that everything you offer is American made.   That’sgreat; please explain why you went this route.

I talked to retailers before I started to mass produce YAK-GEAR products. The small stores all told me the same thing. The companies they were dealing with made them place an order in October for the next years Bill standing again needs. They would get released over a 90 day period to stager the order. Then there would be problems with the actual shipping dates and delays and price increases and you name it. We have set a standard in the industry I believe, I wanted to prove that American made products can compete. Except for our anchors, every other product is sourced in the US and we produce everything in our shop in Houston, Texas. For our retailers we have no minimums, if a shop needs one of an item, we are glad to ship that to them. It helps keep their inventory clean and that is the heart and soul of any small business. We also truly believe in what we make, we offer an Unlimited Lifetime Warranty on every single product we offer. Another thing we did was look at pricing in the marketplace. Even though we make our products here in the US, we offer some of the best price points in the industry. Our product line just looks different on the shelf. It is bright, colorful, easy to see what is included in the kit and the instructions for installation are on the back so a consumer can make an educated decision whether they want to install the kit or have their local store install it for them.

You have quite a list of vendors where your items can be purchased.   I know it wasn’t easy building the company.   Did you always know that you would be successful?

Yes I did, I set goals for myself from day one. The goals were realis Occassionally Bill sits tic and every so often I hit a few bumps but I kept treading along. I have been told, I am the consumate sales person. In talking to retailers I never really hear the word "NO". To me it just means they dont have all the information they need to make a decision at this time. I keep plugging along, not bothering them but always sending out reminders that YAK-GEAR is out there and willing to earn their business. I answer the phones myself, and if I cant get to a call, I always call the person back. I think the biggest thing though is that I really enjoy what I do, not only the ability to make a living in such a wonderful sport, but the opportunites I have to help people personalize and rig out their kayaks and canoes. I still enjoy going to the warehouse and working with our employees and making leashes, building our kits and doing whatever it takes to make it happen. I am and will always be very involved. I tell our employees that somewhere there is someone that turned their kayak or canoe over and because of the products we make nothing was lost. They should know with a sense of pride it is because of the quality of the work they do.

When did you know as a business you were successful?

2008 was a rough year, but we did ok. In 2009 we doubled our business from 2008 even though it was a down economy. 2010 has started off with a bang. We went from two full time employees including myself and two part time employees to 3 full time employees and 8 part time employees. 2010 will be a banner year for us, the sky is the limit. We grew from being in 40 stores in the beginning of 2008 to this year where we are in over 600 stores across the country.

Bill at a paddle in

What are your most popular items?

We have probably 6 core products.

Our Basic Paddle Leash

FishNpole Leash

Anchor Trolley Kit

Paddle Keeper / Rod Holder Kit

Outriggers / stabilizers for kayaks and canoes

Flush Mount Rod Holder Kit

We offer over 60 products now for rigging kayaks and canoes and really in different parts of the country different items are popular. One thing that our kits do offer that no one else does is the variety of hardware. I understand that their are sit in sides and sit on tops, so all of our kits come with stainless steel screws, stainless locknuts as well as rivets so they can be installed on any type of kayak or canoe. I dont think any other manufacturer offers that type of versatility in each kit.

What are you most proud of?

There are really two things. First is the fact that we are still here as a company and continuing to grow. We have some new products we will be introducing this year and next and should really help us to stay a leader in the market place. Secondly, the Outriggers we designed are being used by "Heroes on the Water" to help Disabled Veterans get out and paddle. I think that is quite a compliment and I am humbled and truly proud that we have been asked to be involved with such a worthy cause.

 

 

 

 

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