Say goodbye to the unconditional fly rod warranty?

Leland Fly Fishing Outfitters, a powerhouse of online sales, has introduced a new line of fly rods under their Red Truck brand. Strangely enough, that same brand happens to be their outlet store moniker, but I immediately thought about how premium rod makers would feel having a retailer producing their own rods. Then I saw the warranty…

It’s simple:

– If your Red Truck fly rod breaks due to manufacturer defect, of course we will replace the broken section or make appropriate replacement for the usable lifetime of your rod

– If you break your Red Truck fly rod due to normal fishing, we ask that you pay the reasonable replacement price, comparable to the shipping and handling fees most manufacturers charge, for the section/s of the rod you (or your car door, or your four-legged friend) broke.

In other words…

Most fly rod brands build in an extra “insurance” cost on every fly rod they manufacture, knowing that this will cover the cost of the few who abuse their fly rods. For those who take care of their angling equipment, it’s pure profit for “The Man.”

But what about you? You take great care of your fly rods and might never need a breakage warranty “built-in” to the retail cost of the rod.

At Red Truck, we know that fly rods break, but we believe that you should only pay for what you use.

Fair enough. And an h/t to Moldy Chum.

Meanwhile, Deeter & Company recently broached the issue in the midst of discussing the plethora of tougher product about to hit the streets. Within was this nugget…

One industry insider I talked with (whose company eats about $2 million a year replacing broken rods) said that the rod warranty is still one of the biggest disasters ever to hit the fly rod world. And I’m not sure most consumers even like it.

There you have it folks: one side pushing rods at rock bottom prices without the unconditional warranty, and the other trying to build them better so they’ll never need to be fixed in the first place. Confusing, eh?

Of course, there are other manufacturers out there selling at Leland’s price points that will still replace your stick for no charge, but the shop does one better by saying if the Red Truck isn’t hands down your favorite rod they’ll take it back. They don’t tell you whether you’ll get a refund, but it is certain they’ve got a place to sell it used. You can also be sure that no matter how indestructible a fly rod is engineered, there is an angler who will find a way to break it. However, if even a small percentage of rods come away unscathed as a result of better builds, it looks like a positive. After R&D and other fixed costs are finally absorbed, of course.

Who wins and who loses under these scenarios? Will Leland’s new line become everyone’s rod of choice, or will the eBay rivers wind up running blood Red? Can premium rods with armor plating reinvigorate the sport, or are the price points still too high for the folks struggling with their second mortgage loans?

Even bigger question: How will other rod makers react, and where does the local fly shop fit in to all this?

MG signing off (with nothing but questions)

Comments

Amen. I hope this is the beginning of some sanity returning to the fly rod manufacturing world. Obvious defect failures aside, what other type of product out there just gives you a new one if you break it? It’s ridiculous, and it encourages careless stupidity on the part of consumers.

On the other hand, if the lifetime warranty goes by the wayside, will we see fly rod prices getting lowered? Will a Xi3 or BIIX be available for $500 instead of $700? Doubtful…

Say it ain’t so!

…it encourages careless stupidity on the part of consumers

Quite possibly the most spot on argument I’ve ever heard – one I’m sure you’ve had the pleasure of seeing in action time and time again.

I guess the question remains why wouldn’t other manufacturers follow suit, and drop their prices in the process? The math is certainly easy to do from the side of the warranty cost bearer – all that remains is testing price elasticity on the retail side. Leland isn’t really doing that, but I am sure I’m not the only one waiting for someone to buck up and try.

All the while I wonder how the pricing pressure from the low-end suppliers will muddle that picture.

UPDATE: Just noticed Angling Trade Sept ’10 has a fine piece by Geoff on the new rods, including info on why some manufacturers have decided to wait it out.

Bjorn says:

The Fly Shop has had their own rods for at least a couple of years now, their own reels too.

I know there are folks out there that hate warranties… I love them. I break rods. I love the warranties. If a rod company doesn’t offer a good warranty, I won’t buy that rod.

I think that the idea that a rod company “eats” $2M on replacing rods is a funny way to look at it. The cost of the warranty has to be included in the price of the rod, no? It may cost $2M, but what is the profit they make on the folks that don’t use the warranty? If the company sees it as something they are eating, I doubt the $700 rod will ever see $500.

I’m no MBA, but I’d think the customer loyalty derived from making people happy when they break a rod is probably worth the cost. The cost of the warranty offered by Patagonia is also included in the cost of the gear and I’d say they are way more generous than rod companies. You can send anything back at any time and they’ll take care of you.

I’d think all the low-cost, decent-quality rods are a much bigger concern for the well known rod makers than warranties.

Smithhammer says:

I think the real issue here is how you define a “good warranty,” and the relationship between a “good warranty” and cost to the company, which of course then gets passed on to the consumer. In my mind, it’s unfortunate that a “good warranty” has come to mean covering every possible mishap for the life of the rod or consumer, whichever comes first.

I’m all for a “good warranty,” which I think would be one that covers the product from manufacturer’s defects for the life of a product (but not from carelessness and stupidity), IF that sort of warranty would result in lower manufacturer’s costs, and thus consumer cost.

It’s not a new idea, but I think that a lower retail rod price, combined with the option to purchase an “insure me against my own carelessness” option if the customer wants to purchase it for an additional amount, is the way to go.

I believe all the low-cost, decent-quality rods are actually less of a concern for the premium rod makers than they would be if the latter decided to start lowering their prices. At the same time, however, those high-end providers also make lower priced models which would probably creep right into the price point range of the discount (read: overseas sourced) brands if the cost of the warranty was stripped out of the equation.

Would I buy a rod with no warranty whatsoever? No way. Would I buy a rod with a conditional warranty (i.e. manufacturer defect only). Probably. Then again, I don’t break rods often.

I’m on board with the “insurance” option, and would probably opt-out too. Zach Matthews discussed the same last year on MidCurrent.

On a side note…

I’ve heard that rods have a tendency to break on or near the ferrules – I wonder if the slight uptick in two-piece (and in some cases one-piece) offerings bears any relation to manufacturers’ want to hedge warranty risk.

UPDATE: To address Bjorn’s fine points about warranty and CS, I think you do have to point back to the cost structure of the product itself. If Pati was hand-making their garments in the US, I suspect their apparel would cost significantly more than it does right now. Their impeccable service is a big part of the existing price – it wouldn’t surprise me if the markup off the factory floor to retail tag was a thousand percent or more. I’m not complaining – I swear by them (and Marmot) for that very same service. But you have to admit…fleece is significantly less prone to breakage than nine-foot sticks of carbon fiber.

Bjorn says:

My graphite is WAY more prone to break. From your perspective, I am certainly part of the problem.

I think Patagonia is a great example, though. Even if the rods break much easier than a jacket. You can send in a 20 year old jacket and Patagonia will do something for you.

If it made good business sense to drop the unconditional warranty then the first to do so would gain a competitive advantage, no? Won’t the market sort it out?

I noticed a while back that St. Croix has tweaked their warranty. If it is a defect, they repair or replace. If it was your fault, they let you know the repair cost, which usually isn’t much. Their change in warranty hasn’t set the world buzzing, but I’d say it is easier than one might think to make some major changes to the warranty structures.

http://www.stcroixrods.com/category/service_and_warranty

Aww…I didn’t say that. Maybe I’m just getting ripped off because I never have to use my warranty! 😉

Yep…the Pati (and Marmot) bit is nice, but again I don’t know if they could pull it off with domestic piece manufacturing. TFO is probably in the same boat.

I don’t think you garner competitive advantage simply by doing what makes business sense i.e. if a manufacturer tweaks their cost structure to grab an extra point or two of margin, that doesn’t give them a leg up on the competition per se, it just makes them slightly more profitable. If, however, a manufacturer moved their operation overseas, could produce the exact same quality rod they could in Bainbridge Island or Montrose but at 1/10th the cost, THAT would make for a serious competitive advantage.

The St. Croix bit is news to me. Did they lower prices after that change? Introduce new models immediately thereafter? I know they are doing the “matrix” thing – do you think that was the deciding factor?

Bjorn says:

I just meant that I break a lot of rods and use that warranty… a lot… and usually not something defect related… falling down cliffs, car doors, tailgates, barbell eye clousers… I’ve broken a fair number of sticks and I can’t really blame defects. I’m the kind of angler that has taken the stupidity warranty as a fact of life and I’m the kind of guy that likely wouldn’t buy from a company that didn’t offer it… although, that said, the St. Croix policy seems reasonable. Basically, you pay for the actual cost of the rod, not for any of the dozens of mark-ups that go into the fly-shop-end-purchase. I like St. Croix… loved my Legend Ultra until some SOB stole it from the beach behind me while I was fishing. Wish there was a warranty for that!

As for St. Croix, I’m not sure when it all came about or what the driving force was. Would be interesting to hear from them, I suppose. I noticed that they had some brands that were 1 or 5 year warranties too.

Its not a matter of ‘how well one takes care of their equipment’….but odds are good that the more you use it, the more chances you have of damaging it.

I’ve seen cautious anglers who have ‘speared’ their rods into the ground or shut the tips in the car door…it happens when you actually use your gear a lot.

I buy my gear to use…and don’t expect any of it to last a lifetime. Replacement policies are a friend to guys like me.

Smithhammer says:

Trust me, CA – I use my gear a lot. And I just broke a rod last month, though while in use, not through doing something stupid. And yes, I took advantage of the replacement warranty. Why wouldn’t I? I essentially paid for it up front.

But that still doesn’t change my opinion that more realistic warranties, if they resulted in lower rod prices, is the way to go.

I use my car and my laptop a lot too – should I expect a replacement if I break them?

Pete McD says:

The Gap used to give you a free new pair of jeans if you walked in with your old ones. I did that a few times back in the day until the chick behind the counter noticed the size difference and said, “you’re getting fat.”

Bjorn says:

Yeah, I’d never say you weren’t using your gear… I’m sure that you are, and a great deal more (and likely better) than I am these days.

Still, the comparison to cars/laptops and rods is cheese vs. chalk. You didn’t already pay for that warranty with the car or laptop, you did pay for that warranty with the rod. However, let’s look a little closer at cars… say you buy a Mercedes… guess what doesn’t come with that… service. That’s an extra $4K or so in the first 3 years. Compare the price of a similar model BMW… guess what does come with the BMW… service. The cost is already in there for the BMW, while the Mercedes doesn’t include service. Mercedes takes it out and saves a few grand on the sticker, BMW puts it in and banks on making customers happy with the ownership experience. Two different schools.

Who would buy and NRX with the knowledge that they were just one drunken move from being out a $700 rod? I’d say they’d HAVE to put the insurance into the purchase price just to get anglers like me to even consider such a purchase (I’d briefly consider it and then buy something 1/3 the price).

It seems more and more the “unconditional” warranty is turning into a “slightly conditional” warranty where you just have to fork over the bare cost… maybe that $700 rod repair costs $100… that sounds reasonable to me… but forking out another $700? Not many folks I know would consider it.

Smithhammer says:

Bjorn – agreed. Which is why I said I only support downgrading the unconditional warranty if it results in lower rod prices. Personally, I prefer the idea of saving the money up front, then letting me pay for my mistakes after/if I’ve made them, not before.

Smithhammer, only if you bought a Yugo and a Dell. In that case, I’d demand a replacement AND my money back.

Smithhammer says:

hahaha….

@RK – Smithzilla rolls in a stretch Cadi, with a Cray by his side. Both have complimentary maintenance plans.

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