The big news of the week, obviously, is that Simms Fishing Products, arguably one of the top three brands identified with fly fishing (and fishing as a whole) has reached agreement to be sold to Vista Outdoor, a company comprised of 39 outdoor brands including Bushnell, federal, and Camelbak. Here’s a link to the initial announcement.
But what does that mean going forward, especially for those in the fly-fishing industry? Angling Trade has some hunches.
1. This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to acquisitions. We expect at least one other major brand to announce it has been acquired within the next calendar year. There’s power in consolidation, and opportunity to tap the budding outdoor phenomenon lives in bandwidth. Besides, “the great resignation” doesn’t only involve people quitting their jobs. Company owners—and investors—are ready to cash in the blood, sweat and tears they’ve poured in over the last 10, 20, 30+ years…
2. A legitimate “field and stream” conservation opportunity? There was a heavy dose of conservation conscience in the companies’ announcement, and let’s hope this translates to something. The hook and bullet world is learning that sheer recruitment and putting more people in the water and afield, in and of itself, is a loss leader. Without conscience, ethos, and figuring out ways to better share and manage, our resources cannot support it. Simms and Vista will have an opportunity to facilitate better “sporting conservation” in a collaborative context.
3. Is Simms going to morph into something else? We don’t think so. In fact, we think the deal only works for Vista if Simms is still Simms. Vista is moving some operations to Bozeman, not the other way around. Vista doesn’t have an existing strong brand presence in the fishing space—not strong like Simms. The companies say that the staff will stay the same, and with the talent at Simms, they’d be nuts to change much.
4. The “all fishing v. fly fishing” discussion just got amped up, about 192 million times. Let’s face it, fly fishing is but an ant on the backside of the all fishing elephant—albeit a very affluent, dedicated, eco-conscious, aspirational demographic ant. The $50 billion in “all fishing” is where many companies want to play, but you can’t step out of the fly zone entirely and expect to live in fly. Just count on the fact that this discussion is only restarting… again… and again…
5. The wader wars are on. Skwala, welcome to the market. It is loaded for bear and not playing around. Patagonia, as always marches to its own drum, and will tap out the conservation cadence so everyone at Simms and Vista hear it. Same is true of Orvis. We expect some serious doubling down of marketing and product development efforts when it comes to apparel, waders and boots especially. Brands are going to fight for prominence. And guess what… ? The little fly tackle dealer is actually going to have something to say about that.
The danger in an acquisition that has been born out in both the fishing industry and other recreational industries, is the acquiring company looking to increase profit margins by reducing the quality of materials and workmanship in the products and banking on the name they purchased to carry them through. I hope this isn’t the case with Simms
Always astute Bryan. I hope it will not be the case either. As long as they hold onto the employees working in Montana, the premium USA products should stay in top form.
I’ve worked in M&A before. This is exciting for the industry as a whole as a publicly traded company (aka shareholders) will put more pressure on Simms and their competition to perform. However, as Bryan suggests, if Vista’s plan is to simply hemorrhage quality for profit, and leverage Simms presence to the angling market for preexisting brand synergies, we’ll see another gear manufacturer take market share quickly. I wouldn’t expect to see much in the way of changes for 6-12 months. The integration process of an acquisition like this is a heavy lift and takes times. I suspect we’ll see meaningful shifts in personnel, strategy and product roadmaps by this time next year. Next year’s IFTD show will be very telling on the market and manufacturers’ reactions to this news.
It will be fun to watch. Classic business school case study stuff here.