Stanley Bogdan; fly-fishing innovator extraordinaire…

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Last week, Stanley Bogdan–perhaps the finest fly-fishing reelmaker in the world–passed away at the age of 92. Not being a fisherman, I had no idea that Mr. Bogdan’s reels were so famous…or that he was so innovative.

As it turns out, Bogdan fishing reels stand among one of the most prized brands in all the world. The waiting list to buy one can stretch for years. In a Forbes Magazine article from 2009, writer Monte Burke described this iconic brand and the man behind it:

For $2,200 you can own a Bogdan. Slightly more if you want one used.

This exclusive club includes Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Ted Williams, Prince Philip, the Duke of Wellington and Paul Volcker. At one time or other they all cranked in silvery salmon with Bogdan fishing reels, known for their strength and distinctive styles: matte black plates, champagne-gold spools and S-shaped handles. Still handmade by 90-year-old Stanley Bogdan and his son Stephen, 59, the reels come in 15 sizes–to haul in Atlantic salmon or the smallest trout. They cost between $1,300 and $2,200.

A short man with fine white hair, Stanley, who never attended college, made his first reel in 1940 while an apprentice at Rollins Engine Co., a steam-engine maker. At night he worked on his reels, going full-time in 1955. “I was petrified,” he admits, but soon was filling orders for Abercrombie & Fitch and, later, Orvis. Annoyed at surrendering 40% of the $100 retail price, Bogdan became his own sole distributor in 1977, taking orders by phone or mail. Stephen bought him out in 1996, but Stanley is still in the shop three days a week. “I’m quality control,” he says.

The beauty of a Bogdan is in the drag–the mechanical resistance that slows down a hooked fish. Stanley invented a double-brake system using two brake shoes supported by springs that clamp down on a disc. There are ten settings to choose from, depending on the size of the fish. The result is a smooth drag with no hitches that could break off a fleeing fish.

Antsy anglers go to great lengths to try to speed up delivery. Some have offered double the price, says Stanley, but he rarely budges. At one party a man lifted his shirt to reveal scars from a recent bypass surgery as evidence that he had only a short time to live and thus should be moved up the waiting list. Bogdan fell for it. The man eventually got his reel, then lived another 15 years.

The Bogdans have made one concession to demand. A few years ago, after seeing what the used reels were fetching online, they doubled their prices overnight. That still didn’t close the gap: Even in the midst of the recession, used Bogdans are going for up to $3,000 on Ebay–36% more than the most expensive model sold new. “I thought [raising the price] would be the end of us,” says Stanley. “Turned out to be the best move I ever made.”

Here’s the takeaway: Innovation comes in many forms and flavors. Within the fly-fishing industry, Bogdan reels met the classic definition of innovation; they were so ahead of the market and outperformed the competition in such a way that customers ceased to entertain them [the competition] as legitimate alternatives.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patrick Lefler
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.

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