1977 to 2017 – DAIWA SPORTS: 40 YEARS AND COUNTING
For those of us old enough to remember 1977, we British had a few things to celebrate. It was a big year for many; the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, Virginia Wade winning Wimbledon and Kenny Dalglish signing for Liverpool. But one momentous project began in that year that was missed by many who, I suspect, will not make that mistake again. TTW investigates…
In a corner of Lanarkshire, Scotland, a different moment in history had begun.
Japanese fishing tackle manufacturer Daiwa Seiko Inc entered into a joint venture with Grampian Holdings Ltd to set up a rod-manufacturing plant and direct sales office in Wishaw, Scotland. Called Daiwa Sports, this facility would sit in the catchment of many light engineering and other manufacturing businesses, including the mighty Ravenscraig steelworks.
Daiwa was already present in the UK market, being imported and distributed by Milbro, which were based in the same locale. The UK angling scene was growing and big technical developments in rod design were not too far off. As with many specialist manufacturing operations, things took time to set up: recruitment, training and eventual production. Daiwa Sports Ltd had taken over the distribution of the Milbro portfolio of current Daiwa products, with quite a number of welcomed additions.
The 1978 catalogue saw more UK-specific designs appear, such as the Matchman float and feeder or the Moonraker beachcaster rods. Although the highest RRPs were around £30 it was only a year later that the first ‘Graphite’ models were introduced.
For the princely sum of £89.95, the 13ft Mark Downes Graphite Supreme was a quantum leap in blank design. Around half the diameter of the glass versions and triple the price, it featured Fuji rings and was described as: “Unbelievably light and beautifully balanced.” Carbon had arrived.
In those first few years the UK operation may have been under-delivering in the eyes of the co-investors Grampian Holdings, so Daiwa Seiko, which clearly took a longer-term view, stepped in to become whole owners of Daiwa Sports.
It’s judgement and faith was to prove fruitful as both Daiwa Sports and the UK fishing scene saw vibrant and popular times throughout the 1980s. This brought growth across the UK trade and Daiwa Sports, which was already employing well over 100 people, doubled the size of its operation in 1984.
This was a period when rod technology was accelerating. UK-made carbon rods were now regular and accessible options, with rods such as Harrier and Black Shadow either side of the £100 mark. However, Daiwa had also invested in key anglers, bringing them closer to the development and intrinsically connecting them to the products. The Barnsley Black match fishing team, plus individuals such Denis White, Ivan Marks, Roy Marlow and Paul Kerry, all developed and endorsed rod designs.
Boron arrived and was seen as the next era, offering a 20 per cent drop in diameter and 15 per cent weight reduction over carbon. It would rule for a short time, mainly on match rods, but only a few seasons later, in 1986, the phenomenon of Whisker Kevlar crashed through the range and took rod performance to a whole new level. Apart from the distinctive braided outer of Kevlar, these rods truly delivered better casting in distance and accuracy terms.
Pole fishing was also growing in popularity. The Japanese-made 12.3m Procarbon was truly cutting edge. It weighed less than 1,200g and cost £699. This growth was not lost on Daiwa Sports and UK-made poles were just around the corner.
This Whisker Kevlar partnership remained the mainstay of the top of the Daiwa range, seeing then Daiwa-sponsored Tom Pickering lift his individual World crown with the new Connoisseur in Plovdiv in 1989 and carp and specialist anglers Neville Fickling and Kevin Nash bring critical design input and direction.
But in 199, Amorphous Whisker soon leapt above it all. Ranges of rods that had never been felt or cast before began to amaze those who handled them. Without doubt this was the biggest development leap since carbon first entered rod design, even though the rods were getting close to £300. Despite 25 years further development in rod design, the performance of these rods and their ground-breaking reputation still sees old models command high prices in the second-hand market.
Daiwa’s global advantage of carbon technology was beginning to tell as the UK plant began a period of ‘performance’ pole making domination that arguably remains so to this day. The Harrier Tournament and Competition brought long poles to more hands. More models followed and better materials emerged. Innovations and designs such as the Harrier System Whip can still be found in the Daiwa range; albeit under a different guise.
As the 1990s rolled on, business was booming for all and Daiwa Sports expanded its operation even further, investing in facilities and people across its operation. In-house written CAD played a new role and allowed the development of rods to about 80 per cent ready on a theoretical level before the first prototype would be made. This laid a solid foundation for the next decade as the millennium loomed.
Print v Digital
Daiwa had been serving all disciplines across a growing marketplace and being ‘centrally’ positioned as a brand it still had a strong presence in many specialised fishing areas. This multi-market approach was supported by an investment of high-profile anglers who were among the top in their field.
Recognising this, in 2000 the company broke new ground by launching discipline-specific catalogues across coarse, carp, game and sea. Many sectors were mature and popular with clear growth occurring at a fast pace in some. This all-serving approach was to be reflected in the growing digital presentation, with the evolving Daiwa website offering fishing-style-specific departments.
This multi-catalogue approach continued for four years but the uptake and engagement of consumers on line was increasing and the consumption of print began to slow. Anglers who wanted content and information knew where to get it and a return to a single brochure was called for.
As the ‘noughties’ clocked by, iconic rod and pole designs continued to roll out. Connoisseur rods got even better, Tournament poles got longer and Infinity carp rods cast even further. Salmon fly caster Scott MacKenzie broke the Spey-casting record more than once and in 2007 Will Raison ruled the world by lifting the individual title in Italy on the Spinadesco Canal using the iconic Airity pole.
So the 2008 catalogue had a fair bit to boast, including the 50th anniversary of Daiwa globally. It took some time to look back, acknowledging the founder, Mr Matsui, but it was looking forward that mattered. Daiwa was on a high and things were about to evolve.
As 2010 broke, Daiwa Seiko Inc changed its name to Globeride Inc. With the change came a new brand identity, a changed global philosophy and, of course, a strikingly different logo. The new, modern and contemporary tone of the company – Feel Alive – delivered a renewed look and feel around the world.
This ‘advanced’ mind-set was well reflected in the UK manufacturing, with higher, more sophisticated levels of materials and techniques becoming available from outside Japan.
By 2015, still employing over 100 people, Daiwa Sports would continue to reinforce its place as the biggest, most advanced rod and pole-making plant outside the Far East. Award-winning products developed with Will Raison and Steve Ringer, such as Tournament Pro, Airity and AIR, blew people away. The ‘DF’ carp rods with Danny Fairbrass and the Korda team now reach across the European carp scene.
As we pass halfway in 2017, Daiwa in the UK can certainly look back and celebrate a successful 40 years. King Kenny may no longer be at Liverpool but the Queen still reigns. Well done your Majesty. (Oh, and we’ve got a Scotsman as world tennis No1!)