Lew’s Fishing Tackle – Springfield

Bringing back the ‘70s lighter, faster, stronger

  • Published: Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013

Seems the older we get, the more we miss the pastimes we enjoyed as kids.

Lynn Reeves, CEO of Lew’s Fishing Tackle, found himself missing the wonderful fishing equipment of his youth.

Not that the sturdy, affordable 60-year-old Lew’s fishing brand, once among the most popular in the country, ever truly died, but it was definitely fading. Namesake Lew Childre was killed in a plane crash in the late 1970s, and others who held the marketing rights afterward struggled with making Lew’s a good fit in a crowded marketplace.

Enter longtime Lew’s fan and fishing industry veteran Lynn Reeves.

After nearly 30 years in the fishing industry with Bass Pro Shops and retirement within range, Reeves might have been happy to retire and go fishing. But, his years in product development and merchandising had prepared him for a new career as an entrepreneur.

Reeves had known the Childre family for nearly three decades. Without disclosing Reeves’ age, it’s important to note that the original Lew’s Speed Spool model BB1 didn’t even exist when he started fishing.

Reeves admired what Childre started with the low-profile baitcast reel craze when he introduced Lew’s Speed Spool back in the early 1970s featuring innovative features never seen before. Childre also had a significant role in rod development, contributing to the pistol grip handle and the use of ceramic inserts on rod guides. He was named one of bass fishing’s 35 most influential people by Bassmaster magazine.

“Back in the 1970s, Lew’s reels were amazing,” said Reeves. “They had patents on many innovations that were the driving force behind lighter, faster and stronger reels.”

Reeves left Bass Pro Shops but couldn’t get the Lew’s brand out of his mind. Would the Childre family sell the brand and its many iconic trademarks and products?

The answer turned out to be yes.

Like many older professionals, Reeves had the background and skills to recognize opportunity when it came his way. Reeves hired six former Bass Pro Shops’ colleagues immediately. He was determined to make Springfield the home for Lew’s new headquarters and found a roomy 20,000 square-foot building for storage and distribution.

Word of Reeves’ bold acquisition spread quickly, and many acquaintances began to line up in support. Included in this number were several professional anglers with national recognition. David Fritts, Stephen Browning, Tim Horton, Kevin Short and Glenn Browne joined the Lew’s pro staff.

Securing a stable market niche, another significant business hurdle, was already in place for Reeves and Lew’s.

“When we re-introduced Lew’s to the fishing market in 2010, we knew we had a group of anglers, the baby boomers, who were well aware of the Lew’s brand,” Reeves says. “So our initial product launch was geared toward them, and we found them to be ready for new Lew’s products.”

And that’s exactly what Reeves gave them: up-tempo, lighter, faster versions of Lew’s Speed Spool reels. Since then, more Lew’s products have been added, and Lew’s also entered into an exclusive agreement with crappie guru Wally Marshall to make and market his Mr. Crappie and Wally Marshall Signature Series of crappie rods, reels and accessories under the Lew’s umbrella.

Today’s Lew’s product lineup runs the gamut of rods and reels featuring the latest in design technologies and materials ranging from $14.99 to $299.99 — something for everyone, even if they’ve never heard of Lew’s.

“In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Lew’s was really the innovator in lighter, faster, stronger products,” Reeves said. “That’s what we’re focusing on again now — being innovative and lighter, faster and stronger.”

While the company doesn’t share sales information because of the competitive nature of the fishing industry, Reeves is proud to say sales have grown annually and the firm has grown to 20 employees.

Reeves is quick to credit Isabel Eisenhauer, counselor with the Missouri State University (MSU) SBDC in Springfield, with helping him resurrect Lew’s. Eisenhauer helped him obtain SBA loans; reviewed business plans and financials; recommended accounting software; found MSU students to help with keyword optimization and other internet sales strategies; and insisted Reeves document his processes and procedures. Reeves says Eisenhauer helped him visualize what success might look like.

He says he first found the wired world essential to business success today much more baffling than “fishing over a weed bed in seven feet of water.”

But with patience, MSU students and IT professionals, Lew’s has one of the most robust websites in the industry today.

“I can’t be any prouder to have Lew’s back in anglers’ hands,” Reeves concludes. “I owe a lot of that success to the great Lew’s team we assembled, and that includes Isabel.”

So, is Eisenhauer a fishing fan?

Her answer? She knows how to reel in business.