BassWestUSA - May/June, 2011, Page 16

a Japanese tackle com- pany looking to break into the US market, developing a cult following can be a dou- ble-edged sword. With popular overseas imports currently available on the shelves of both big box retailers and local tackle shops, a new addition lacking name rec- ognition can be easily overlooked. That be- ing said, a edgling tackle company with proven products and a small but ercely devoted fan base stands a chance of suc- cess as the word gets out. Such is the case with Keitech USA, a small tackle company based in New Jersey that since 2009 has been importing and distributing baits manufactured overseas in Japan by Keitech Inc. In 1996, Japanese tournament angler Kei Hayashi started designing and manu- facturing high quality bass lures in Japan. After establishing Keitech as a well known brand in the Japanese market, Hayashi began looking for a way to establish the brand in the United States. Teaming up with New Jersey’s Mike Czaplinski, a friend of the Japanese lure designer since the mid 1990s, Hayashi visited the United States to meet with and tour a variety of small tackle stores across


the Northeast in an attempt to gauge the feasibility of introducing Keitech into the US tackle market in the late 2000s. Hayashi’s interest in expanding to the United States stemmed from an under- ground market for his baits, particularly the Keitech Little Spider comprised of a special rubber compound, which were being purchased online for as much as $25.00 a pack by anglers in the U.S. Czaplinski entered his new role as President of Keitech USA and began the quest to of cially introduce Keitech baits to the US market in 2009. Since initially introducing the Keitech Tungsten Model 1 jig and Tungsten Model II Football jig in the United States, Keitech USA has grown to now distribute a total of 14 different products in over 700 different colors and sizes, nearly 85% of the different Keitech baits that are available in Japan and man- ufactured at Keitech’s headquarters in Ya- manashi, Japan. With Czaplinski at the helm, Keitech USA has increased sales in the United States by 100% each year since 2009 and now employs three fulltime workers. Initially supplying several online retailers and a just a half-dozen tackle stores in the Northeast, Keitech USA currently sup- plies six online stores and over 75 tackle outlets, and the demand continues to grow.

Pro-staffer Just in Perelli and friends with 29.58 lim it of smallmou t h caught on Keitech Sw ing Impact sw imbaits.

the fac esh from fr s it a b Keitech

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While Keitech USA has experienced rapid growth and success since debuting, Czaplinski said fa- miliarity with the product is predominantly limited to the Northeast and, to some ex- tent, in California thanks to online tackle retailers. “For the most part, we still haven’t busted out of the Northeast corridor,” explained Czaplinski. “In the areas where Keitech is known, it sells really well. There’s al- ways been a following with the guys out west who like to throw the football jig and spider grub.” Taking advantage of his familiarity with the re- gional tournament scene in states like Connecti- cut, New York, Penn- sylvania, New Jersey, oor Delaware, and Virginia, Czaplinski assembled a


small pro staff. “I’ve lived in the Northeast for over 20 years, so we hand-picked some of the best tournament anglers and guides in the area to represent Keitech USA,” he said. In addition to a regional pro staff, Kei- tech USA supports the B.A.S.S. Federation in ve states in the Northeast. It’s a grass- roots approach that has paid off. “The word got out and the baits started to get an even bigger cult following, especially in Connecticut,” explained Czaplinski. “It has become one of the main bass baits in the market there.” Keitech has also made an impact in New Jersey, where on opening weekend this past spring, pro-staffer Justin Perelli and his partner used Keitech Swing Impact swimbaits to amass the unof cial state re- cord for ve smallmouth from Clinton Res- ervoir weighing a total of 29.58 pounds. Czaplinski said that with the noted success of Keitech in the Northeast, the demand for certain baits is slowly cross- ing into sheries across the south and Mid- west. “We have a new swim jig out now that guys in Arkansas have been using with great success,” he explained. Within the past year, Keitech USA has expanded to supply tackle retailers in North and South Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, and California. “It all comes down to nding a bait that takes hold in a speci c region,” Czap- linski explained. “Quite frankly, the ma- jority of anglers outside the Northeast haven’t heard of Keitech, so it’s a mat- ter of introducing it to the public. We are hoping that Keitech USA will one day be a national brand and we have the drive to keep pushing in that direction. Adding a national pro staff might become a real possibility as the company continues to grow in the future.”


Product availability and a strong re- gional presence means little if baits don’t meet the quality standards expected by consumers, and that Czaplinski says, is the true driving force behind the rapid suc- cess of Keitech USA over the past three years. One of the biggest factors in the abil- ity to monitor quality control is the fact that each Keitech bait designed by Kei Hayashi in Japan is monitored by Keitech employees from concept to consumer. “It’s all one nice, neat little package where they have control over everything that is produced,” explained Czaplinski. “Keitech is in control from concept, to design, to production, to testing, to marketing. Most



May/June 2011