Salesman John Jokinen, left, helps Gordon Cepnick, of West Bloomfield, Mich., select a treble hook for crank baits at Jann's Netcraft. 'Our customers tinker,' Mr. Jokinen says. 'They buy something off the rack, and they're changing it.' Mr. Cepnick started his own lure company last year.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
Most greenhorn fishermen are content to buy a lure from the store, plop it in the water, and hope that little hunk of colorful plastic or rubber looks like a downright irresistible fish lunch.
But for the serious angler, store-bought simplicity often won’t do. Those are the types who shop at Jann’s Netcraft.
“Our customers tinker,” said John Jokinen, a salesman at the Maumee-based tackle supplier. “They buy something off the rack and they’re changing it.”
From swapping out hooks to tying their own flies or handcrafting jigs, some dedicated anglers turn into a lure engineer trying to perfect their game. It might sound obsessive, but for serious fishermen it can be the difference between lunch and the one that got away.
Plus it helps with bragging rights.
“How much more fun can it be than to be out with your buddy fishing and you made this lure and you’re catching 10 fish to his one,” said Dave Jankowski. “To me, that’s great.”
Mr. Jankowski and his wife, Patty, own Jann’s Netcraft, a business unlike most other tackle shops. Much of what the Jankowskis sell are parts and pieces instead of finished lures, though their recently expanded showroom does have an assortment of ready-to-use lures and other accessories.
“We sell to hardcore fisherman,” Mr. Jankowski said. “That raises our game, because they know their tackle. We’d better know it, too.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there were about 33.1 million anglers in the United States in 2011. People in the industry estimate that only about 5 percent of those anglers make their own tackle. While that's a small segment of the market, it still represents a big customer base. And there aren't a whole lot of places like Jann’s Netcraft.
The company’s entire operation runs out of the Briarfield Boulevard location. They package, warehouse, and ship from there. Mr. Jankowski himself shoots and edits photos for the company's Web site and catalog in a small studio tucked away in one of the building’s offices.
Mr. and Mrs. Jankowski estimate about 20 percent of what they sell can’t be bought anywhere else, and there are few places that carry the variety of items they do.
Gordon Cepnick recently drove down from West Bloomfield, Mich., to buy hooks and other supplies for a lure company he started last year called Motor City Bait.
“They’re phenomenal with their orders,” he said of Netcraft. “Literally I've got it the next day. They're very proficient.”
For Mr. Cepnick, Motor City Baits is a side business that capitalizes on his lifelong love of fishing and will hopefully provide his soon-to-be college-bound children with summer jobs.
After ordering online for a year and a half, Mr. Cepnick was visiting the Netcraft retail store for the first time to get parts for a new project.
“We’re dabbling on a couple new lures that I haven’t played with before,” he said. “We’re going to try those out and see how they work at the bait stores up there, and we’re designing our own ice fishing lures. We’re taking some stuff they have, modifying it, and creating a new lure.”
The guys working at Netcraft tell him to be sure to bring his creation down for them to check out.
Lure of online sales
Netcraft has continued to prosper even as bigtime retailers such as Bass Pro Shops and Cabelas moved into the region.
Asked if he sees such stores as competition, Mr. Jankowksi thinks it over.
“Some of the products, you know what, they’re absolutely competitors. Other products, not so much.”
Though Jann's Netcraft just recently opened an expanded and modernized 1,800-square-foot showroom — a grand reopening celebration runs through Feb. 24 — the bulk of their business still comes through orders from their annual catalog and Web site.
Netcraft was a fairly early adopter of e-commerce, first selling online in 1995. For Mr. Jankowski, it was a natural decision.
“I would be a nerd if I weren’t selling fish hooks,” he jokes.
In spite of that, he’s still hooked on the catalog — which in a way is the very thing that got him into the business in the first place back in 1975.
Looking for some extra income and not blessed with an ounce of salesman’s skill — Mr. Jankowksi decided to try mail order.
“To sell you something, I could never do it, but I thought I could maybe do this mail order,” he said. “I was always interested in mail order. I used to get catalogs, I’d go through them, and I just thought it was the neatest thing in the world.”
Though online ordering has surpassed catalog orders, he still sees the magazine-sized catalog -- this year's is 137 pages -- as an essential tool. For one, it gets the company's products out in front of people. But equally important, it drives traffic to the Web site.
“If you don’t have some reason to go to the Web site and look, you’ll never go there,” he said. "But when you get the catalog, you look.”
Selling online has greatly broadened the company’s reach internationally, a segment that continues to grow, Mrs. Jankowski said.
“It would be very tough to do without the Internet,” she said. “We could do it, but without the Internet it would be very, very difficult.”
International orders come primarily from Canada and Australia, but she said Netcraft currently sells to 40 countries.
They’ve long been an advertiser in Field and Stream, a popular outdoor sporting magazine with a monthly circulation of 1.25 million, and say they ship orders to all 50 states.
And though the company sells the world over, it may not be all that well known in Toledo.
“I think a lot of people have no idea,” Mr. Jankowski said. “I don’t know that we really get the word out locally. Sometimes I think we’re better known nationally than we are locally.”
It’s not unusual, Mr. Jankowski said, to have customers from four or five states in the store on any given Saturday.
The company has come a long way since 1975, when it was based in Mr. Jankowski’s mother’s basement.
“On the pool table,” Mrs. Jankowski said.
Come 1982, the hobby business had turned into Mr. Jankowksi’s livelihood, though not everyone saw the potential for success.
“We needed to borrow money,” he recalled. “I went to a banker and I laid out my business plan and he said, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ ” Mr. Jankowski laughs heartily at the memory. “The rest of the discussion was not real important, but I remember that.”
A second banker found more to like in his plan and approved a loan.
Mr. Jankowski opened Sportsman Supplies on South Avenue in Toledo and later moved the office to Nebraska Avenue. In 1994, the company built the current building on Briarfield Boulevard, adding a showroom for the first time.
In 1996, Mr. Jankowski bought the Netcraft company, another Toledo fishing outfitter that was founded in 1941. The two companies were merged into Jann’s Netcraft.
The Jankowskis declined to give sales figures, but say their business is growing.
The neatly organized warehouse is almost overwhelming in its variety. There are row after row of racks holding small boxes filled with fish hooks, cork grips, fishing rod blanks, and nearly anything else one could use to build a custom fishing rod or lure.
It’s a rare peek — they don’t allow customers back there.
“Honestly, they go crazy, they go nuts. You’ve gotta drag them out,” Mr. Jankowski said.
Seems to lure a fisherman there's no better bait than a warehouse full of gear.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.