Caribou Lures Canada's fishermen
Dorval based company is one of the country's largest fishing tackle manufacturers

During the early 1980s Ruby Polsky was in a jam. The Kahnawake Mohawks had just seized the equipment at the quarry his family business was operating on the South shore reserve. The dispute, over royalty payments, was tied up in endless litigation, and Polsky needed to find something to keep busy.

"During my vacations we used to fish in the Florida keys, and I'd always taking a keen interest in the sport," Polsky said. "So I decided to find a business related to fishing."

It's a good thing he did. Despite years in court and several injunctions in his company's favor, Polsky never recovered the $7 million worth of assets left behind. This was in part due to questions regarding the federal government's jurisdiction on the reserve. But Caribou Lures, the tackle-manufacturing firm he founded during those hard years, grew to become one of the leading players in Canada's fishing equipment industry.

The company has built a niche marketing high quality specialty fishing lures marketed under the Jig-a-Jo brand, which compete with the low cost imports that dominate the Canadian market. Experts rate the products highly.

We've been testing Caribou lures for almost 15 years, and they've always performed well," said Claude Roy, host of Les Amants de la Nature," a television show that deals with fishing issues, and runs in all Quebec markets except Montreal. "I would say they are one of the biggest, if not the biggest in Canada."

Denis Lapointe, editor of Aventure Chasse et Pêche, agreed. "The Polskys are well known in the industry and are avid fishermen themselves," Lapointe said. "That probably has lot to do with why their products are so well made."

According to Polsky one big selling point is durability. "Look at these lures," he said, pulling out a package from a portable rack. "I've been showing these samples for almost five years and they are in perfect condition. The hairs are still in place, and the paint hasn't chipped."

Those sample bags have a lot of mileage on them. Caribou Lures' target market is Canada's independent sporting goods stores. Each year Ruby and his wife Pauline, the company's president, travel across the country in their motor-home visiting dealers and drumming up new sales.

The couple set up a mini display room at the back of the motorhome and in each town they stop at the local sporting goods store, to show off their wares. The trips have brought a considerable side-benefit, since the couple have gotten to know Canada from coast to coast.

"It's a beautiful country," said Pauline Polsky. "When you compare what we have here to anywhere else in the world. We are really lucky. And the fishing here is terrific."

But despite their success in generating and maintaining new business, those cross-country trips also drew the attention of a tax inspector during a recent audit.

"He was very suspicious, he must have thought we were just travelling for fun," Polsky said. "But we keep a detailed mileage log, along with a record of which customers we saw, in what town and what sales we made. In the end he allowed (most of) the deduction."

Although fishing is still one of the most popular outdoor sports in the country, growth has been stagnant in recent years Ruby Polsky said. Industry statistics are hard to find and the most reliable gage seems to be the number of fishing licenses issued, which in Quebec stands at about 1,2 million.

"It used to be fathers took their sons out fishing. Now it's more often grandfathers taking their grandsons out," Polsky said. "But I when I bring kids out, if they have a positive first experience they are hooked."

Polsky is an accomplished raconteur, who loves to tell stories and admits to occasional embellishments. "I'm a fisherman, I'm supposed to exaggerate," he joked. "See how big that fish looks in that photo? That because I'm holding it close to the camera, so it looks bigger," he said with a smile.

But Polsky has other reasons to smile. Caribou Lures' sales, closed in on the $1 million mark last year, an increase of 10 per cent from the previous period. That increase is due to a combined strategy of making higher-quality and more attractive tackle, as well as generating new business with an important distributor Maurice Sporting Goods; which resells the product to retail giants such Canadian Tire. Wal-Mart and Zellers.

According to George Polsky, the couple's son, who is also active in the business, a fishing lure's design is crucial to its success.

"We're not (just) building fishing tackle to catch fish, we're building them to catch-fishermen," Polsky said, showing his family's sense of humor.

"A rusty nail at the end of a line will still catch fish, but fishermen believe that a good design will bring the extra edge," Polsky said. "In a sense we are selling hope."

In recent years they have been increasingly selling that hope overseas. The company's European business has shot up from about five percent of revenues to about 15 per cent during the last five years.

However according to Ruby Polsky, despite the cheap dollar, Caribou Lures has had little luck South-of-the-Border.

"American independent stores are very loyal to their distributors and are reluctant to buy direct (from the manufacturer), Polsky said. "To sell to U.S. distributors you have to back the product with heavy advertising, and we don't have the money for that."

To counter the stagnant fishing tackle market and stimulate future growth, Polsky is planning to expand horizontally by introducing a new insect repellent, tentatively called Bug-a-Jo. He got the idea after being swarmed by mosquitos during a recent excursion in Quebec's North.

"I had bites all over my head and it was puffed out to here," said Polsky, holding his hand about a foot in front of his face. "It was so bad I had to go to the hospital."

Bug-a-Jo is slated to contain the highest Deet content allowable by law (23.5 per cent), and will target fishermen who go deep into the wild. According to Polsky the product should sell well and could eventually boost the company's sales by as much as 50 per cent, because many independent sporting goods stores are having a hard time getting supply from established manufacturers.



Photo caption: Ruby, Pauline and George Polsky are all avid fishermen. So they decided to manufacture fishing tackle, a product they know well.


Getting ahead:

o The Polsky's are avid fishermen, so when they were looking for a new business they chose to get into a field they knew and loved.
o The company manufactures high-end tackle under the Jig-a-Jo brand, and competes with lower priced imports by promising higher quality.
o Caribou lures targets independent sporting goods stores, and offers personalized service through annual visits which they make via a cross-country excursion in their motor home.
o To make up for stagnant domestic sales the company is expanding into Europe and developing a new high-strength mosquito repellent.



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