Tenkara Tuesday - The Commoditization of Tenkara

Welcome to Tenkara Tuesday.

Is tenkara approaching the line of becoming a commodity?

A commodity?  What do I mean you might ask?  I'm not really talking about tenkara being accepted by the fly fishing masses...we've got a long way to go on that front.  What I'm really talking about is the recent growth spurt of tenkara gear, specifically tenkara rods.

In the beginning (a long 3 years ago) there was one source to easily get tenkara rods in the United States.  One might say this company even created the domestic market.  People were happy with these rods for a while, and a large majority still are, but after a little time two additional paths diverged from that main road.

Like you didn't know who I was referencing...

The first were people that looked to Japan, the home of tenkara, to import rods (be it for personal use or re-sale) in an interest to get what they perceived to be "superior equipment" or to simply gain context on what makes a good tenkara rod.  I mean who knows what makes a good rod if you've only fished one brand?

I personally purchased a Sakura brand of tenkara rod from a domestic source importing them from Japan about a year ago.  It's a beautifully refined rod that fishes very, very nicely.  You can tell the Japanese have been doing this tenkara thing for a while.


The second group, and the one that is most interesting and concerning to me at the same time, is the rapid growth of the relatively inexpensive tenkara rod.  Over the past year there have been many new brands of tenkara rods appearing on many different websites for sale, the result of entrepreneurial folks working directly with factories (or through agents) to import their own rods from China for resale to the hungry US market.  Priced anywhere from $40 to $150, these alternatives are seemingly popping up by the day.  Just check eBay sometime.

I suppose the convenience of the internet makes it pretty easy to get into the "tenkara business" if you're so inclined.  If you want to sell your own line of tenkara rods, all you have to do is Alibaba that.  The low minimum orders probably don't hurt either.  It even appears you can get a rod with a Tenkara USA sticker slapped on the side...trademarks be damned.  Yeah, the amazing world of working "factory direct" in China.

Don't want to deal directly with China?  Don't worry about it.  Bob Ward's didn't.  You can work with a U.S. sourcing company called Bridge Outdoors to get into the game.  They'll get you a rod...and even affiix your branding on the side.  Want it to say "Tenkara Stud"...consider it done.  Bam, you're instantly in the tenkara rod business - right along side the big boys.

The "Simplify" Tenkara Rod

What does all this mean?  Beats me.  But the signs point to the fact that if things continue to develop at this pace, your rod choices will be far, far wider than they are today...and that's not even tossing the "notorious" tanago rods into the fray...

One can certainly make the argument that more isn't always better, especially if the primary motivation of these newcomers is to tap into the unsatisfied appetite of a very young market - rather than actually investing the time to learn about the sport, technique, and the art of superior rod design.

Then again, maybe some of these new options will prove to be better than what the current market offers, even at lower pricepoints.  Competition tends to breed innovation, so I guess there's always a chance...

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Comments

  1. Like anything, once there's sufficient demand, supply will come. It will be interesting to see what kind of legs Tenkara has. From my perspective is a sub-culture of a small sub-culture (fly fishing) so unless Bob Wards can bring some anglers from the other branches of the family tree the market is going to be saturated fairly quickly.

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    1. That's kind of my thought Steve. My only hope is that if the saturation point is eventually hit, it is with "tenkara-quality" gear. I would really hate for anglers from outside to come to the conclusion that tenkara is not for them due to their experience being with sub-par gear.

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  2. Sweet! Looks like I can get my rod company "Long Rodders" off the ground!

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    1. We should pool resources and go in halfsies and dominate the Tenkara rod market. Long Rodders will definitely bring in the chicks.

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    2. Totally game! I think we could.....nay....I know we could dominate! With your blogging abilities and my young good looks....the (tenkara) world will be ours!

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  3. You know I'm a fan of tenkara , just because of its simplicity , but I do wonder if the simplicity stifles innovation or will eventually?

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    1. Before I stir up a bunch of negative comments , let me say that I feel that way after watching all types of rods evolve over the last thirty years. I learned with fiberglass and even old metal rods that belonged to an uncle. I was highly impressed with about the first 5 years of graphite rods , but now not so much. You get to a point where rods and reels (for me at least) are so vastly improved over their predecessors across all brands , that any new innovation has to be truly spectacular to even be noticed by the average angler.

      Pair that with the fact that many of the tenkara rods are being made by the same company , with a label and a paint job to indicate the brand , and you can see why I feel that tenkara's simplicity may be holding innovation back.

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  4. I introduced my Tenkara rod to our local fly fishing club and right away one of the guys stuck a Cabela's Tenkara rod in my face. I assume (and I hate to use that word) he's had it a while since I couldn't find one on Cabela's website. Takeoffs are showing up all over the place now.

    Mark

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    1. Cabela's tenkara rod? Hadn't heard that one yet. Crappie pole?...or crappy pole?...I'm guessing the latter. :)

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  5. The inevitable downside to the Direct Import / Low Barrier to entry is that the supply will oversaturate the market and the little guy who originally had all of the small market MAY end up allying by he wayside. Not always, but all too common

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    1. True...and once that happens it usually takes a few years for that market to regulate itself, with the true innovators typically being the ones that survive the implosion. Will interested to see how this plays out.

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  6. Quality and customer service will always win through in the end. If the people behind the company are not passionate about Tenkara then the products and customer service will not be up to standard. The "quick buck" merchants will not survive.

    I believe there are innovations to bring to market but the market is too new to support the development of rods costing near the top end of the Japanese market. Esoteric Tackle has a long term plan for sustainability providing the passion for Tenkara with quality product to match.

    In the end the best will survive because the market will demand only the best at the right price.

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    1. Agree with a lot of what you say...especially the quality & customer service point. The customer is king. Loyalty is a tie that binds. A retailer that recognizes that and works it directly into their business plan definitely has a leg up.

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  7. I am looking forward to competition improving the domestic tenkara market. There are many ways to improve on how tenkara rods are used in the US.

    I for one would love a tenkara rod made made with the same technology of the Orvis Helios rod. Orvis, are you listening?

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    1. Good angle. I've never cast a Helios, but based on all I've heard about them, that could be a pretty sweet combination.

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  8. Commoditization? What? It is, after all, a fishing method that requires a specific product (a commodity) - which generally is bought, not made at home - to pursue.

    Unless I'm wrong and "Tenkara USA" was established as a Buddhist monastery to study the art of tenkara and its impact on the soul's eternal path, and not at all a for-profit business specifically designed to efficiently build and sell a whole hell of a lot of high quality tenkara rods, then it was already a commodity.

    I agree with the other commenters. Exicting to see it change as the business model (and technology) diversify in the next few years.

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