By Bart Taylor | Oct 02, 2013
Employees: About 200
Denver’s iconic sports and outdoor brand prefers a low profile that belies its global reach and tech-driven growth ambitions
Perhaps no global brand is as iconic and influential in its market yet keeps as low a profile as Denver's Eagle Claw. Those who fish have spent a lifetime using its products. But for this enduring company, conceived on a stretch of the Colorado River in the early 1920s, success comes with one condition, that it's done quietly.
That's the way the McGill family, founders and owners of Eagle Claw and other Wright & McGill Co. brands, prefer it.
It also suits the president of the company, Donn Schaible. It's clear he's at home when describing the 90-plus year company's demeanor. "We're still a privately-held company that doesn't seek the spotlight," he says. "Lee McGill's a private individual, and our company's the same way."
To equate modesty with complacency, though, would be a mistake. Eagle Claw's a global powerhouse -- the only hook manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere -- and Schaible's ambition to keep the company on top is unmistakable.
"We direct all our efforts toward driving sales," he says, obviously proud of the company's products like the ultra-sharp, high-end Trokar hook brand and the fact they're made in the U.S. and not Asia, manufacturing home of global competitors Mustad (Norway) and Gamakatsu (Japan). "100 percent of our products are made right here, and we're the number one importer of 'terminal' tackle in the U.S., made to our specifications."
The company guards its IP and manufacturing processes fiercely, in keeping with its reserved nature but as a practical matter as well. A tour of the sprawling manufacturing facility is out of the question.
Think making hooks, rod and reels, and other equipment is easy? Think again. "Much of our equipment is highly proprietary," Schaible says. "What we do here is very unique." Technology's an important driver here, as is the company's commitment to advancing the industry. "Innovation is very important. Our people want us to be seen as the drivers of innovation in our markets".
As with most companies, market conditions have impacted business, but in a surprising way. "When the economy is tough, sales tend to increase," says Schaible. "People tend to stay closer to home, to do more camping and fishing." Schaible keeps close watch of long-term trends. The sale of angler licenses in the U.S. has been flat for the past decade or so, but natural resource management and the availability of 'fishable waters' leaves him more concerned.
"There's pressure from very well-organized groups working to diminish the amount of water available for sports fishing," he says. "We're very supportive of groups like Keep America Fishing and others working to protect habitat and access to public waters."
That said, Schaible, Eagle Claw, Lazer Sharp, and the people and brands of Wright & McGill Co. look from the outside to be doing very nicely.
So is the company growing? Schaible smiles, and simply responds, "Yes."
Challenges: As with other manufacturers, workforce is a challenge, Schaible says. "We manufacturer here, so we pay higher wages than our competitors who don't. It's also difficult here in Denver to find talent, even though it's finally getting some attention. We have to stop demeaning the industry, even at a high-school level. Manufacturing is different than it used to be. But trying to find employees with the right skill set has been a challenge."
And Schaible chafed when discussing the "raft" of regulation the company manages. "It's a constant battle to keep up with amount of regulation this company faces," he says. "It's ludicrous."
Opportunities: Technology is disrupting manufacturing operations in a positive way. "Trokar's a good example. No one else is playing in that market, or have the machines to be able to make that work."
Schaible is also bullish on the long-term prospects for the industry. "Over 90 percent of us have a favorable impression of fishing, despite the efforts of some who unfairly berate the industry."
Needs: Eagle Claw actively seeks to improve its supply chain. “We continually evaluate our suppliers from a cost, quality and availability standpoint. Quality is key but it must also be cost competitive and the suppliers must have a track record of delivering on time.”