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?
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.
is one of Jeff's favorites
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?
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
Back to the
company, tell us about St. Croix and its history.
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,
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
you say makes St. Croix a company different or unique from the competition?
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
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
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
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?
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
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?
with the Legend Tournament
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?
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
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?
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.
Jeff, and Dave Schluter at Scott Lake Lodge in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada
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?
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