Fisk Gear – www.fiskgear.com – A performance outdoor fishing, apparel, eyewear and marine electronic protective cover company.
Business name and what it does: Fisk Gear – We are a performance outdoor fishing, apparel, eyewear and marine electronic protective cover company, dedicated to taking a fresh approach to the fishing world, offering fresh new styles and ideas at a price point the average fishermen can afford.
Owner: Tony Bills
My story, I believe, is much like everyone else’s. I went to college, got the degree, then four months after graduation I took my first “real” job with a fortune 100 retailer in their buying department. I excelled, I guess, in this very structured environment. I took my job seriously, participating in all the training sessions, developmental opportunities, outside classes, etc. I was promoted 6 times in the10 years. Working my way up from Associate Buyer to Sr Manager of the department with 15 employees under me. The first few years it seemed this was the job I had always dreamed about. The salary was good, benefits were excellent, and the stock option package was a very nice “icing on the cake”. I was frankly scared to death of losing this job. But as the years went by, something began to change. I began to feel more pressure, more stress and not necessarily job-related stress.
I felt like I was running out of time. The adage of, they would have your job posted before your obituary, seemed to be making more sense each day. The idea of quitting my job and starting my own business was more and more on my mind and became more tempting each day. The realization that people don’t hate Mondays, they hate the job they must go to on Monday. My worry of getting fire morphed into a worry of ending up in the same tiny office under those fluorescent lights 20 years later. I didn’t like my place in life, and it became more apparent daily. I began to think about what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. Growing up in Kentucky, fishing and hunting was truly a way of life. The idea that I could get paid to be in the hunting or fishing industry was alluring. The desire to create something of my own became stronger and stronger until one day I decided to put the wheels in motion. I saw a gap in the fishing industry, mostly in polarized fishing glasses, which everyone had and wore and realized the importance of when being on the water. The problem, or opportunity I saw, was there were low end big box store sunglasses, cheap quality and cheap in price and then high end $300 glasses, and not a lot in between. I realized the opportunity was in designing a great pair of high end quality sunglasses but to do it at a price point under $100, well in reach of the “common” Southern bass fisherman like myself. I spoke with my financial manager who gave me some of the best advice of my entrepreneurial life. He told me to delay this plan for 6 months to a year, save as much money and pay down as much debt as possible before pulling the trigger on this plan. He told me, “Debt would be like huge anchor dragging behind me”. I took the next 8 months, got super aggressive, paid off the balance of my house, cars, credit cards and with the help of a home equity loan, borrower $60,000 to invest into starting this business. I can’t say everything was easy or a straight road, we have figured it out as we went along, stayed somewhat calm when the storms came and have persevered. Looking back, it was the best move I could have made and the right move at the right time but also one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted. I value the freedom that being my own boss gives me, the extra time it gives me to spend with friends and family and I value the experience and confidence I have gained.
The challenges we are facing as an online eyewear and apparel company is, it’s very difficult to find marketing companies that we can afford as a small business and its very much a fixed game of who pays Google and Facebook the most that gets the bigger presence. When your number one competitor in the Polarized Fishing glass space is the largest eyewear company in the world, you can’t out spend them, and it becomes increasing hard to get noticed. We have had to develop a “think outside the box” mentality and come up with unique branding ideas to keep the business going. Formats like YouTube and TikTok have helped with this though organic following and allowing us to gain brand recognition without spending a ton of money we don’t have.
The biggest opportunity we have, and our secret weapon is inverse to our biggest challenge. The large, stodgy companies are old, mostly buttoned up businesses that don’t necessarily take chances in their marketing strategies. We are using this to our advantage by being more irreverent, more funny videos with common people that push the envelope and taking more chances from a marketing standpoint.
Key take aways and advice…
– pay down debt before you start
– don’t start with a product, start with a story
– you must enjoy the process or you’re not going to do well
– this will be the hardest thing you will ever do but for most people it’s worth it
– no one has all the answers, the key is to just start!