I was having an interesting discussion with a client and friend yesterday about rod guarantees. Odd isn’t it that on the face of things one would imagine that it was a wonderful boon, that one can safely sally forth into the wilderness in the sure knowledge that if you fall, slam the rod in the car door or leave it for your puppy to chew then you can get a new one. What on earth could be wrong with that? Hell why don’t we get the same guarantee with everything?
Trouble is that I am not that sure that the rod manufacturers have done us much of a favour when you get right down to it.
It all started as best I can recall when Orvis came up with the idea of an unconditional lifetime rod guarantee with a picture of a cute puppy and a badly chewed rod handle. The idea one supposes was some perceived short term advantage in the market place where potential purchasers would say “Oh but if I buy that rod it will come with a guarantee so why should I buy another one that doesn’t offer the same?”
In fact it was undoubtedly a success, a success of such magnitude that almost every other rod manufacturer had to join the game to stay in business and before long rod guarantees were the norm. So Sage and Orvis and Hardy and Winston and just about everyone else now offers unconditional lifetime guarantees. If it was just for the workmanship or the materials or even if it protected against damage in the normal course of fishing that would be fine but these guarantees provide protection for any mishap. In fact you can break the darned thing over your knee and still have it replaced so long as you are a little economical with the truth when you submit your claim.
Being able to have your rod replaced no matter how it is damaged has to be a plus doesn’t it? I mean where is the downside?
Here are some thoughts on the underbelly of what on face value appears to be a deal too good to be true.
Firstly every one of these companies must now have a massive off balance sheet liability which is pretty much unquantifiable and with that they have to make up the difference somewhere by overcharging for their rods so as to have a “War Chest” to stave off runs of broken rods.
That means that you have to be overpaying. You may well say that is fine because of the benefits if you break a rod but then why don’t you insure the thing? If you insured it yourself then you would benefit from being careful and responsible and one presumes that your claims history would be beneficial if you took care of your tackle and didn’t claim that often.
The lifetime guarantee lumps you with everyone else and you are in effect paying for those who are overly Gung Ho with their gear, who fish more than you, who wade more aggressively or routinely leave their rods in the range of car doors or wayward puppies. This to my mind is nonsensical you gain no advantage from looking after your gear and that surely has to be a bad thing.
If you are a fishing tackle retailer and I used to be one, the rod manufacturers who you support with your business just took away a chunk of your market. Where you could realistically expect to sell a new rod to many of your clients on a five year cycle because they broke theirs now you don’t have that market, the replacement rod part of your business has been taken from you. This leaves you with a dilemma where now you have to catch up that loss in some other way and I would suggest that could also mean that you have to increase your operating margins to stay in business or buy into the “you have to get the latest and greatest new rod now available” marketing model, which is disingenuous at best and positively misleading at worst.
The manufacturers now have to encourage you to buy the newest and the latest and greatest because they no longer have the replacement part of their business. So product cycles have shortened dramatically. Some major manufactures completely revamp their ranges every year in an effort to persuade the angling public that they are out of touch and need something new all the time. This is wasteful, unnecessary and prevents you sticking with something that you like because it is no longer available.
If you fish a friend’s rod and really like it you can’t think “Oh I may get myself one of those for Christmas” because by the time Christmas comes around the darn thing won’t be available anymore, and again I have had personal experience of that particular problem. It also means that retailers are going to constantly battle with “old stock” which they are going to be forced to sell off at a discount before the arrival of the next big thing. To my way of thinking consumerism gone mad.
Most of the major manufacturers or at least suppliers, we all know that most of the rods are not made there anymore, are based in the USA. That means that if you break a rod (and you don’t live in the US) you are going to have to ship it back there and they are going to have to ship it back to you again. Those shipping, handling and packaging costs can be prohibitively expensive to the point where you are paying up to a third or so of what you paid for the rod in the first place. In fact you are probably going to have to courier the parcel because the post office will not handle a package of that length That may not seem like a bad deal but add to that that you are going to be without your rod for the remainder of the fishing season if you are unlucky and will have to buy another one anyway if you want to go fishing and the whole thing doesn’t look quite so attractive.
What happens with other sporting equipment?
You see it strikes me that almost every other piece of sports equipment from tennis racquets to golf clubs, some of which must be far less prone to breakage than fishing rods specifically exclude any type of warranty. Most of them have a label affixed somewhere that says words to the effect that “Due to the nature of the sport and our lack of control of the usage of this product there is no warranty offered with respect to breakage other than that associated with proven defects in manufacturing or materials”
So why should fly fishing rods be different? I don’t think that any other fishing rods even offer a similar lifetime warranty. That has got to make us think that if every other sporting goods manufacturer thinks it is a bad idea maybe it is just that; a bad idea.
So now we are stuck in a system where we are bombarded with new and over priced fishing rods every year, have the requirements of fly fishing changed so much that what worked last year won’t work this year? I don’t think so and personally I would suggest that in an effort to constantly come up with something new we are frequently left with tackle, in this case rods, that are in effect less suitable to the task at hand and not actually as good as the rods we had before. The constant drive for newer materials and faster actions being a case in point. One has to scroll through the pages to find a softer action rod these days and some of the supposedly “super light stream rods” on offer are so stiff as to be totally ineffectual for the task at hand even if they do contain some latest technology, super durable, complex resin, woven ceramic high tech nonsense. To visualize the error of our ways you only have to see that despite the old technology of it all split cane rods are the most expensive on the market and the basic manufacturing of them hasn’t changed in decades. They may come with two tips but they don’t come with a guarantee and people buy them because ,as they have done for years, they work.
To be blunt I find this all rather tiresome.
Although I do still own a few rods from top manufacturers which are guaranteed,(one is currently Stateside, racking up postage costs as we speak), I have taken to fishing with rods available to me locally most of the time. The guarantee, and there still is one, allows me to get a replacement part within days, covers all manner of breakage for the first year and thereafter I can obtain a piece at a reasonable cost. A cost far below the postage expenses of my top of the range, has to be shipped back to the US, model and I don’t have to miss out on any fishing either. Plus the product cycles aren’t so short so I can get another rod exactly the same should I want one. In fact if I want a new rod I can still choose to have the same one or another if I particularly like it, but I am not tied down to thinking that I have to replace the same rod if I would prefer a move to something different.
Rod guarantees are all well and good but I strongly suspect that the above mentioned downsides, if carefully considered, don’t really add up. We are paying more than we should for the supposed convenience and we are absorbing the costs of insuring them, the lack of care taken by some owners, the increased R and D costs of constantly seeking out new models, the advertising expenses that go with that and quite possibly inflated costing on other items from the retailers who have lost the replacement rod part of their business.
Perhaps I should just find a rod that I like and buy half a dozen of them, which should last me the rest of my lifetime and would in all likelihood prove to be a great investment.
Food for thought at least..
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