Fishing nets and accessories
While Rising's flagship fishing nets are flying off the shelves, the company launched making smaller items for anglers. "We were the first company to put rubber on the tools," says Rothwell. We had that tiny little nipper . . . and we coated those in rubber and that was a huge deal. We sold that out in my first year in business.
The rubber-coated fishing tools, like nippers, pliers, and hemostats, made it easier to maintain grip while maneuvering fishing flies and fish themselves than those of the company's competitors. The devices were made overseas and he essentially just ordered them, but they were popular.
That led to an exclusive deal with Umpqua Feather Merchants, a large fly manufacturer, for worldwide distribution for Rising's nippers and other tools. "Within a few years, everyone was making them, so it was really hard to differentiate yourself," says Rothwell.
The exclusive deal with Umpqua then proved a hindrance, leading Rising to move on in 2012. "The fly-fishing market is so small and the volume is not great, so all I really ended up doing there was just splitting the pie more ways and I just took my eye off the ball," says Rothwell. "I left them and invested in a lot of machinery and learned to use the machinery to build new products. Eventually, I came up with our net, which is now 80 percent of our business."
As nets with wooden hoops were the only U.S.-made option, Rising's anodized aluminum proved to be a big differentiator. "Changing out the net bag is a nightmare on a traditional wood net or a fiberglass net," says Rothwell, noting that anglers must thread the new net onto the hoop.
Conversely, he adds, Rising's aluminum hoops make it easy to replace a net. "The hoop comes out of the handle. You just lace the bag around the hoop and then put it back in the handle," Rothwell explains. "The handle and hoop coming apart also makes it so that people can travel with the net easier since it can collapse."
Another feature on the nets -- waterproof handles -- had an unanticipated benefit. "The first time we showed it to someone, they were like, 'Oh, can you put liquor in there?' Hell, yes you can!" Rothwell exclaims. "I would bet probably 20 percent to 30 percent of the people that use our net fill it with liquor. It's a talking point, you know."
Rothwell says the nets' colors also attract customers, noting, "This is the age of Instagram. And people just love pictures of themselves with the net, the cool fish, just all the colors, popping."
Sales during the COVID-19 pandemic have skyrocketed. "We're having a giant year this year," Says Rothwell. "It's all nets all the time."
Because most products are sold through fly shops, the direct-to-consumer pipeline has gotten notably empty on the Rising website. "I think right now we have one net for sale -- period," says Rothwell. "Last month, we had none, and right after Christmas, we had none."
He continues: "Everything we're making right now is just to fill pre-books. If we don't have it for the dealers we're not selling it on our own website, you know? That's how important dealers are to our business."
Rothwell has mixed emotions about how the pandemic has impacted his business. "It's like you're standing under this waterfall of orders and I wonder if in the next year this waterfall just turns off," he says. "The pandemic helped demand and it also killed supply for everyone because everyone else has all of their nets made in China."
However, Rising's model proved impervious to cracks in the supply chain. "That doesn't matter for us because we get our aluminum in Oregon and all of our anodizing done in Salt Lake," says Rothwell. "It's the perfect scenario because there's high demand and no one else can fill it because they're relying on other people."
The high demand and difficulty hiring employees are forcing other changes at the company, which is why Rothwell plans to move back to Salt Lake City from Francis, about 50 miles east of the state capital, in 2022. He and his sister are developing a facility to house both their businesses and two others, a restaurant and potentially another outdoors company.
Rothwell hopes the move will help him attract new employees so he can make more products and expand Rising's product line. "We have a barbecue spatula that we used to sell thousands a year -- primarily to bigger companies -- they'd order 400 with their logo laser engraved," he says. "We haven't made a barbecue tool in a year because it's so hard to turn down the business on the nets, they're just on fire."
Challenges: "Production. That's one of the factors where you have to rely on outside employees, being able to ramp up," Rothwell says. "Then the second boat would be if fishing becomes so popular that it loses its appeal."
Opportunities: New products, says Rothwell. "We have a huge net that's already built. It's sitting in the corner but we just don't have the bandwidth to add another product."
Needs: Rothwell says he's been trying to hire at least two more employees since early 2021 to boost manufacturing. Rising's employees normally work four 10-hour days a week, allowing for a three-day weekend that would give him an opportunity to play around with new ideas on the machinery on Fridays. "But now Friday is just a heads-down, grind-it-out day, trying to make as many things as possible," he notes. "It's really satisfying to be in a position where every single thing you make you sell. But it's just a lot of man-hours. There's no way around it."