September 05, 2013
Rethinking Fly Rod Warranties
By Kirk Deeter
Every few years the issue of fly rod warranties generates some heated debate among manufacturers, fly shop owners, and consumers, then disappears. This year might be different. David Leinweber, owner of Angler's Covey in Colorado Springs, wrote an open letter to the industry demanding that rod warranties be rethought, and in the last few weeks, I've heard more buzz on the topic from more sources than I can remember.
You know the deal. Most high-end rods come with a no-fault warranty. You slam it in the screen door, or your dog eats it, or maybe you even break it while fighting a fish, no problem. Just mail it back, pay a processing fee (they vary by manufacturer) and you get a new rod. Thing is, you're already paying for the replacement when you buy the $750 rod in the first place. I'll use basic math and round numbers: Rod makers know that one in three rods get broken eventually, so they tack a third of the price of a new rod onto the original purchase price.
Some anglers love that. Some would love to see the cost of the rods reduced. Some shop owners love the warranty. Some think they sell far fewer rods than they would if people weren't getting so many "free" replacements. And that volume of rod replacements is more than you might think. One major rod company admitted that they get as many as 500 returns per week during the busy fishing months of summer.
And some of the repair requests are silly. Look at this rod tube being held by Jim West of The Orvis Company, who heads their repairs department. He's seen it all in over 40 years at Orvis, but this takes the cake. I don't know if it got flattened by a tank; Jim didn't ask. But true to their promise, Orvis replaced it.
It kind of bothers me that the price of rods is influenced in part by the cost of fixing things like this.
I was talking to another industry insider last week (few folks want to go on the record regarding this taboo), and he thinks we might see at least one manufacturer launch a new series of rods next year that expressly doesn't include a warranty. What would now be an $800 rod might be priced at $500 or $600.
Another idea being kicked around is allowing the consumer to buy a purchase protection plan, kind of like when you buy a television or a refrigerator and you have the option to pay extra up front if you want free repairs in the future. Would you opt for that? Would you at least like the option of not buying that?
Some say we'll see the industry really clamp down on secondhand warranty claims (most rods warranties are only valid for the original owner, but enforcement of that policy has been lax, and a good percentage of returns are rods that changed hands through eBay and so forth).
Maybe rod makers will shorten the term of the warranty from "lifetime" or 25 years to five years. Most of the rods I've broken have busted within the first year I used them, and if I break a favorite old model, odds are the rod company isn't going to fix the original or send me the same model; I'll get a modern equivalent.
Maybe we'll see rods come with two tips as an option again.
I don't know for sure what will happen. But I know something is going to happen. And I'm interested in what you think.