It’s not hard to have fly rods manufactured in Asia, or at least not nearly as hard as it used to be. If you’re interested in becoming a rod-maker, whether as a start-up brand or a fly shop looking to market your own private label rods, you have ready access to rods that are comparable to those being sold by your competitors.
In fact, it’s possible to get too comparable. So thinks Daniel Galhardo, founder and owner of Tenkara USA, who single-handedly introduced Japanese-style telescoping, fixed-line fly rods to the west in April 2009.
As tenkara has caught on, many small competitors have sprung up, all Internet-based. Galhardo says he’s had to issue a couple of cease-and-desist letters a month to tenkara rod companies, in the U.S. and Europe, mostly for appropriating his marketing copy or photos. But when he saw the following ad for the Denver Fly Shop, Galhardo called his lawyer, and the matter is now in U.S. District Court.
“We looked at all the Tenkara rods on the market and did some research and found one particular rod that outsells every other Tenkara rod combined and had our own version made by the same manufacturer as the leading Tenkara company,” Denver Fly Shop told customers in its e-newsletter. “Getting this rod without the use of a distributor is allowing us to sell this rod at far less than half the market price.”
The rod, which looks and works an awful lot like a Tenkara USA Ito, was advertised for $100. The real Ito goes for $235.95. Galhardo sued, alleging trade dress and trademark infringement, dilution, unfair competition, false description and false advertising.
Galhardo says it’s not true that the Denver Fly Shop rod is made by the same manufacturer that makes the Tenkara USA Ito. The shop is also mistaken in suggesting the Ito is the top-selling rod, he said; that honor goes to the company’s Iwana model.
And he notes that a lot of work and investment went into developing the Ito – long trips to Japan to study tenkara rods and consult with veteran tenkara anglers, more trips to China to find the right manufacturer, and eventually buying into the ownership of the rod factory. No wonder the fly shop can charge less, he said.
“This was one of the first that was a clear attempt to copy a rod, and a rod that I spent a long time designing – and it was right here in my neighborhood,” said Galhardo, who moved Tenkara USA from San Francisco to Boulder, Colo. last year. “In my mind, that really diminished the value of our product. Essentially (the fly shop) was saying that our rods weren’t worth as much as they are.” (Denver Fly Shop did not respond to requests for an interview.)
Read the full story in the next print edition of Angling Trade…