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Lynn Reeves, left, holds a Lew's reel next to business partner Gary Remensnyder, at their retail store, Sportman's Factory Outlet, 2253 E. Bennett St. They teamed up in early 2010 to sell Lew's and Mr. Crappie brands to such retailers as Cabela's and Academy Sports.Click here for more photos.
Lynn Reeves, left, holds a Lew's reel next to business partner Gary Remensnyder, at their retail store, Sportman's Factory Outlet, 2253 E. Bennett St. They teamed up in early 2010 to sell Lew's and Mr. Crappie brands to such retailers as Cabela's and Academy Sports.

Click here for more photos.

Fishing industry vets revive classic brand

Posted online
Nearly three decades spent working with Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris might have rubbed off on Lynn Reeves.

Reeves is the face behind the unassuming Sportman’s Factory Outlet in east Springfield from which he ships roughly 200 Lew’s and Mr. Crappie fishing products to more than 300 domestic and international customers.

A 15,000-square-foot warehouse is abuzz behind the outlet’s packaged-bait lined back wall. The retailer and distributor – east of Kraft Foods at 2253 E. Bennett St. – operates under Do Outdoors Inc., which Reeves founded in August 2009 after learning the trade in 27 years at Springfield-based Bass Pro Shops. Reeves served as Bass Pro’s divisional merchandise manager for fishing, marine and water sports, managing $300 million in sales and traveling to Asia to develop and bring new products to market for the megaretailer.

“I’ve traveled the world for more than 20 years, meeting with (original equipment) manufacturers and developing relationships,” said Reeves, who established Do Outdoors as the parent company of his fish-and-tackle retail dreams, which include Sportman’s Factory Outlet and a previously dormant rod-and-reel manufacturer called Lew’s.

Reeves pursued the licensing and brand naming rights for Lew’s following his early 2009 exit from Bass Pro Shops after his position was eliminated. Three of his 20 local employees formerly worked at Bass Pro.

“I went to the factories that I knew could build the quality that we wanted for Lew’s,” he said. “They wanted so much to help support us and resurrect this brand.”

Lew Childre established Lew’s in 1949 and developed the Alabama brand – known for its pistol grip and as an early adopter of graphite rods – into a favorite among fishing enthusiasts in the 1960s and 70s. Childre died in 1977, and licensing rights were first sold off to rod-and-reel manufacturer Zebco in the late 1980s.

Possibly to prevent in-house competition, Zebco eventually phased out production of the Lew’s brand. After losing his position at Bass Pro, Reeves decided to utilize his knowledge of product development to revamp the once-sought-after Lew’s name. He bought the licensing and branding rights to Lew’s for an undisclosed amount in 2009.

In February 2010, Reeves teamed up with another industry veteran, Gary Remensnyder, who has 20 years of experience in sporting goods sales. Remensnyder worked most of that time on the supply side as executive vice president of sales and marketing for Columbia, S.C.-based Pure Fishing and its Shakespeare Fishing Tackle brand. Instead of selling to Reeves at Bass Pro, Remensnyder is now working with him to sell to retailers such as Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Academy Sports & Outdoors.

Reeves functions as CEO and owns 75 percent of Do Outdoors, and Remensnyder, its president, owns 25 percent.

The company’s headquarters are connected to its single retail shop, Sportman’s. Three months ago it moved a block west from its 9,000-square-foot retail/office/warehouse space at 2353 E. Bennett St. into the new 20,000-square-foot combined facility. The retail shop is slightly smaller, Reeves and Remensnyder said, but room was needed for Do Outdoors’ already multimillion-dollar shipping business. On the retail side, Sportman’s Factory Outlet notched roughly $1 million in first-year revenue, Remensnyder said, and Reeves said he is expecting a 10 percent increase in 2012.

Remensnyder said since shipping began 13 months ago, the company has sent products from Lew’s and Mr. Crappie – a fishing-gear brand Do Outdoors is also licensed to sell – to 300 to 400 dealers, mostly mom-and-pop shops.

While the company has 40 salespeople in the field, it’s Reeves and Remensnyder who call on the big clients, they said. Their strategy was to get connected first with small retailers, building interest in the familiar Lew’s brand before calling on the national retailers.

“(Lew Childre) was known as an innovator. He believed in lighter, stronger, faster products – and we are just trying to continue with his principles,” Reeves said, adding he became friends with one of Childre’s sons during Reeves’ time at Bass Pro.

Chuck Smock, a spokesman for national sporting goods retailer Cabela’s, said the company picked up the Lew’s brand earlier this year.

“We knew the Lew Childre name was something that would resonate with our bass anglers, especially with the older generation,” Smock said. “Our fishing product managers looked at the line, saw quality products, good price points and good features.”

He said Lew’s appeals to entry-level fishermen up to pro anglers on the tournament circuits.

Smock, who said he knows Reeves and has fished with him before, declined to discuss sales of Lew’s products but said Cabela’s was pleased with the brand’s performance.

Do Outdoors also recently secured exclusive sales, marketing and development for Mr. Crappie, working with the brand’s namesake, professional fisherman Wally Marshall.

While the young company has a number of notable clients, there is one that has eluded Reeves and Remensnyder to date: Bass Pro.

“We’ve talked to them. We obviously know those guys pretty well over there. In my past, I’ve done a lot of business with them with other brands, and, you know, I think it’s just a matter of time,” Remensnyder said.

Bass Pro spokesman Larry Whiteley would not say if the company was considering Lew’s products at this time.

Reeves said he didn’t leave Bass Pro on bad terms, and he was hopeful that a working relationship with Bass Pro was possible.

“I have no sour grapes. I look at those 27 years as an education. How could Gary and I bring Lew’s to the market if we didn’t have the prior opportunities that we had? I went to university, learned a lot about the business, and here we are,” Reeves said.

“The university of Johnny Morris,” Remensnyder added with a laugh.[[In-content Ad]]

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