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Jeff Schluter gives us the insights of St. Croix rods as the company turns 60

Date: 1/14/08
Interview: Jeff Schluter
Title: VP of Sales & Marketing
Interviewer: JIP

Introduction: Congratulations to St. Croix as 2008 marks the company's 60th anniversary since it was first founded in 1948. This well known rod company has gone through many changes through the years and as St. Croix continues to grow we wanted to find out more about its past, present, and future as we expect to see more exciting offerings to come. We had the opportunity to chat one on one with Jeff Schluter, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at St. Croix rods.


Meet Jeff Schluter, Vice President of Sales and Marketing of St. Croix Rods, in his office at the St. Croix headquarters in Park Falls, WI

JIP: Thank you for taking the time to talk directly to the TT readers. Please tell us about yourself and your role at St. Croix?


J. Schluter: Thanks for the opportunity Jack. I’m a 47 year old business man who loves to fish. I’m fortunate to be involved in such a pleasurable business. I went to college at Adams State in Alamosa, Colorado and earned a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in marketing. After college I moved to San Diego, CA and worked retail with Dayton Hudson Corp./Target Stores. After two years in CA I decided to become involved in the family business, moved to WI and started at St. Croix in 1984 as a Factory Sales Rep. responsible for building sales in WI, MN, ND, SD and IL. After six years on the road my responsibilities evolved to encompass all aspects of sales and marketing as V.P. – Sales & Marketing. I’m also a part of our Product Team.


Bass fishing is one of Jeff's favorites

JIP: So when Jeff Schluter has some free time to go fishing, where do you go and which species of fish is your favorite to pursue?


J. Schluter: I like all types of fishing. In the Northwoods of Wisconsin where we are located I prefer smallmouth bass and muskie. We’ve got great opportunities for both in our backyard. I’m fortunate to live on a lake, and the county I reside in has 1,100 lakes with an average size of 400-500 acres. The county one mile north of my home has 1,300 lakes. Water is not a problem in this part of the country. I also love to trout fish in the mountains of the West and fish Colorado with frequency. Some of my other favorites are largemouth bass and an occasional saltwater trip.


JIP: Back to the company, tell us about St. Croix and its history.


J. Schluter: St. Croix was founded in 1948 by Bob and Bill Johnson in Minneapolis, MN. They were ardent fishermen who started by making landing nets which quickly evolved to jointed cane poles to supply a local hardware store. Up until this time cane poles were one piece and very inconvenient to carry and transport. Adding two ferrules to the former one-piece pole became an instant success. Bill and Bob encouraged brother Doug to quit his job as a skipper of a boat near the Chinese coast and become a part of their fledgling company. High rent and labor costs induced the Johnson brothers to move to Unity, WI. Soon efforts were turned to expand the product line and improve production equipment and processing methods. Before long, the building in Unity was completely filled so a second plant in Loyal, WI was opened. Before the conclusion of the first season the employee base expanded from eight to ninety. At Loyal glass rods were manufactured. The fast growing company quickly ran out of space and the search was on for a new location. A fishing trip to Park Falls, WI in August, 1953 was the impetus to move the company here. St. Croix observed its grand opening in Park Falls in November, 1954.

Staging area for the handle department

In 1960 my father, Gordon Schluter, was among a group of Park Falls businessmen who invested in St. Croix which provided capital to fund growth. This group of five eventually bought out the Johnson group. Gordon became C.E.O. in 1965 and was responsible for restructuring St. Croix to return it to profitability. In 1967 the rejuvenated St. Croix Corporation was sold to Schaper Manufacturing, a Minneapolis toymaker and subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel Company. My dad moved the family to Albuquerque, NM and entered the motel and restaurant business. In 1977, the Schaper management decided to close St. Croix at the end of the year because the company wasn’t performing well. My father and a couple of local Park Falls businessmen arranged for the purchase of St. Croix. His associates were soon bought out while all attention was paid to focusing on building and distributing high-quality fishing rods and blanks. We re-established dealer-direct distribution which was a key and gutsy decision. Basically, we started over. My older brother Paul, a geologist by training, came on board in 1983 and is our current President and General Mgr. My younger brother Dave, a mechanical engineer, joined St. Croix in 1992. Dave is our V.P. of Manufacturing. We also have a sister, Pam, who in not involved in the day-to-day running of the business. The four kids purchased St. Croix from my parents in 1990. Since the early 1980’s we’ve been concentrating improving quality and plant efficiency, and expanding the array of fishing rods we manufacture and distribute.


This area of the St. Croix factory is the blank fabrication department. Notice the graphite patterns on the stainless-steel table


JIP: What would you say makes St. Croix a company different or unique from the competition?


J. Schluter: For one thing, we are truly a family business with most of our fishing rods handcrafted in the U.S.A. St. Croix is a full-line rod manufacturer meaning we specialize in most areas of rod manufacturing including freshwater spinning/casting rods, saltwater spinning/casting rods and fly rods. We are also one of the few companies that markets fishing rods that is the actual manufacturer of the rods. In addition, we manufacturer our own blank. So, we are more than an assembler. Really the rod blank is the heart and soul of a fishing rod. The blank is what’s unique. Above all, St. Croix is a manufacturer and marketer, not just a marketer like many or most of our competitors.


This is a staging area for rods with handles getting ready for guide wrapping

JIP: Let’s focus on St. Croix’s rod building processes and technologies. Tell us about IPC and ART. Also, what other processes put St. Croix rods in advantage from the competition?


J. Schluter: IPC or Integrated Poly Curve® refers in the mandrel. The mandrel is the mold from which rod blanks are made. IPC mandrels are a superior design over the compound-tapered mandrels used on most blanks because they provide the blank a more uniform wall thickness which in turn creates stronger blanks. With IPC we’ve virtually eliminated the transition points. IPC-engineered rods also deliver smoother casts. This is really evident in a fly rod, especially 4-pc models. IPC allows us to build a 4-pc fly rod that feels and casts like a 1-pc. ART or Advanced Reinforcing Technology™ is an exotic carbon fiber material that adds a magnitude (10x) of strength with virtually no increase in blank diameter or weight. ART significantly improves the hoop strength of the blank by preventing it from deforming or “ovaling” under a severe load, such as a powerful hook set or fish battle. ART is also a critical part of our slim-profile ferrule design. The slim-profile ferrule has less mass resulting in improved flow from section-to-section. In other words, no flat spots in the ferrule area. Another St. Croix advantage that we are just now announcing, but have been using throughout our manufacturing process for about three years is “Laser-Guided Technology”. St. Croix employs several laser-guided machines throughout our manufacturing process. Laser-guided equipment assures perfect placement, alignment and straightness of every rod that leaves the factory. It’s featured on our catalog and website “Factory Tour”. We are probably the only rod company in the world that uses laser technology in the manufacturing process. Our engineers and equipment crew custom-built all our laser machines.


Jeff and Dave Schluter. Dave is the VP of Manufacturing at St. Croix. This part of the factory is the Finishing department where Flex-Coat two-coat finish is applied to threads and decals

JIP: We were surprised and happy to see you make the move this year to update the grip design and look of your Legend Tournament Bass rods. What prompted the move and do you have any similar plans for your other lines?


J. Schluter: I’m glad to hear you guys like the change. We’re getting the same reaction from anglers throughout the country. Our Product Team, Pro-Staffers and customers should be credited for the change. We do have plans to feature the split-grip handles in rod series at higher and lower price ranges than the Legend Tournament Bass rods.


This is our designs lab. J. Schluter with Jason Brunner, St. Croix blank engineer. The Dynamic Analyzer is a St. Croix custom built machine used to put various power loads on rods. It can perform 15,000 powerful hook sets in a 24 hr. period. This machine is ideal for fatigue testing


JIP: We hear it a lot from our readers, that one of the reasons they choose St. Croix versus say, brand X, is your practice of making available, all the blanks in your lineup to those who choose the custom route instead of a production rod. Many rod companies either offer only a limited selection of their blanks or none at all. Can you share with us, the reasoning behind St. Croix’s willingness to be so open with their product?

Jeff fishing with the Legend Tournament


J. Schluter: That’s a good question. We love the blank business and enjoy working with custom rod builders. Our philosophy is that the custom builder deserves access to all our blanks because they satisfy a unique niche in the market and drive high-end sales. Plus, we learn from them. In addition, we feel servicing the custom market adds credibility to the St. Croix brand.


JIP: Who does St. Croix view as your primary competitor/s, what separates the St. Croix offering from these companies?


J. Schluter: It depends on the specific market. That said, we have some fine competitors in all of the fishing segments we are in, and thrive on the competition. That’s what our country is all about, right. A big challenge for us is dissecting the various markets and putting priority on which ones have the greatest opportunity for growth.


Jeff shows us the St. Croix Factory store


JIP: Has the fishing rod market changed much over the last few years? In your opinion have consumer tastes changed, and if yes, what drives those changes?


J. Schluter: The rod market is becoming increasingly specialized. Anglers are more sophisticated than ever. It’s probably typical of American consumers in general. Imported spinning and casting rods have dominated the U.S. market for decades primarily because of labor rates. In the last few years this has become more prominent in the fly rod market. The types of consumer changes we are most interested in are performance improvements. Avid anglers get excited about tackle that enhances performance and makes their fishing experiences more satisfying. That’s what we love doing.


Brothers Paul, Jeff, and Dave Schluter at Scott Lake Lodge in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada


JIP: Thanks for providing us with detailed information on St. Croix and a look at your factory and store. In closing is there anything else you would like to say to TackleTour readers?


J. Schluter: I’d like to thank your readers for taking time to read this interview. Hopefully it was informative and valuable. I would also like to thank Tackle Tour for the job you perform providing detailed information on vast amount of fishing tackle available in the market. Thanks to all of you.


TackleTour would like to thank Jeff Schluter for sitting down with us to talk about the company's history, present, and future. A look inside St. Croix's factory was an added bonus and we'll definitely have to visit the factory for an in-depth look at your operations










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