Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Voices from the Past: The Millionth Heddon Sonic

Recently Dean Murphy—the author of the fine Fishing Tackle Made in Missouri (Second Edition)--sent along to us a very interesting article on the One Millionth Heddon Sonic lure. It was published in the obscure Outdoor Equipment Merchandiser magazine for January, 1958. Some good stuff in here!

Gold Lure Sparks Dealer Fishing Contest

WHEN JAMES HFDDON'S Sons introduced the Sonic lure they felt they had something sensational, and countless rod and reel devotees were equally approving. Sales, good from the introduction of the lure have been truly spectacular.

As they climbed toward the million mark and seemed certain to surpass it, Heddon officials felt something should be done to commemorate the event, when and if it happened.

A gold lure was planned as the millionth Sonic, to he kept in stock until the millionth order called it out. Wen the order tally showed that the 999,999th Sonic had been packed, the next order, regardless of whether it called for a single lure or 1,000, would include the golden lure. This golden Sonic was shipped on order of The Sportsman, Inc., Lafayette, Ind.

"lt was a big surprise to me," said John Walkey, one of the store's owners, as he discussed getting the lure. "When Heddon's first announced the Gold Lure Contest, I figured it would go to some large store. The purchasing power of the big stores is so much greater than ours."

The lure carried with it a $100 defense bond for John Walkey and Gene Britt. Britt is partner and co-owner of The Sportsman. A second $100 bond was intended for the lure's ultimate purchaser.

"Gene and I decided to stage a 'Big-Fish' contest to decide the winner," Walkey explained. "We put it on in three divisions. Since the smallmouth bass is the principal game fish in this area, the winner of this division took the gold lure and bond. The winner of the large-mouth bass division received a Heddon rod and reel; the winner of the silver bass division, a Heddon 'Pal' reel. The contest opened on July 1 and closed October 15."

In spite of the inclement weather prevailing throughout the period, sales were stimulated by the event. Although Walkey is modest about The Sportsman's sales, the store's tackle volume is by no means a trivial matter. While it is not exclusively a tackle operation but stocks a diversified and complete line of all sports equipment, it is well to remember that all northern Indiana is fishing country. The Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers are well-fished streams, and the area is thickly dotted with excellent fishing lakes.

Of the more than 50,000 residents of the Lafayette vicinity, some 20,000 are avid fishermen. They fish the favored spots of their home state, and those of the adjoining states as well.

When the laments of certain northern tackle merchants were mentioned, Walkey didn't agree that tackle business was in a wholly sad state of decline. "In spite of the almost unbelievable amount of rain since May 15, our sales have held up reasonably well," he stated. "However, I'd be the first to admit that the rain has hurt our sales. Seldom has there been more than two days at a time during the period when streams could be fished satisfactorily."

He emphasized, however, that in tackle merchandising the field is highly competitive. "Because of this competitive nature of the industry, sales need more aggressive merchandising than ever before. With us, selling service is as important as selling merchandise. We've tried," Walkey added, "not only in tackle but with all our lines, to offer service and good advice. We're sure this helps offset the effects of certain competition, and try to get all our personnel to give every customer this feeling."

That this policy works can easily be seen by observing the many sportsmen who drop in just to chat and ask advice, or to talk over their plans with the partners or their assistants. For them, The Sportsman is a friendly and semi-official club, with John Walkey acting as informal master of ceremonies at fishing discussions throughout the day.

It doesn't require the knowledge of a business analyst to determine the policy’s effect in sales. When an angler drops in to boast about the weekend's catch or report his failure to land the big ones, and gets understanding counsel and friendly assistance, that is the place he is going to buy tackle,

There is a second axiom which rates high in Walkey's merchandising creed, amply verified by his well-arranged and eye-catching stock. "To merchandise anything,"' he insists, "you have to display it properly. You won't sell it if it's down in the basement. Not only must it be properly displayed, but the dealer has to be completely familiar with it."

Displays are located on behind the counter shelves which line three sides of the store's spacious display room, and smaller articles are housed in glass showcases in front of the shelves. In attractively arranged groupings around the supporting pillars of the central floor area are bulkier items such as guns and rods.

John and Gene started The Sportsman ten years ago, shortly after they graduated from Purdue University. Due to the industry and acumen of both partners, the store's growth has been more than satisfactory. "It's been work," Walkey admits, "but now we have six clerks, and feel that our sales of tackle, guns and general sporting equipment are at least equal to those of any store in our area."

They began with one asset which may give them more of an edge than they realize in their particular business. Both John and Gene were sports stars at Purdue. Walkey starred in basketball and baseball; Britt in football and basketball.

Walkey looks after tackle and guns, and spends most of his time at the store. Britt spends much of his time on the road, calling on school accounts which form an important part of their business. This school trade is growing, and recently they added another man to assist Britt.

Many, many thanks to Dean for sending this in, and hopefully someone knows where the Millionth Sonic sold ended up!

-- Dr. Todd


Unknown said...

I am the current owner of the millionth sonic. I would enjoy discussing it with you if you are interested. I would really like to get back in touch with the current owner of the Sportsman if all possible. Email is ryanm(AT)sun-beltusa.com.

Unknown said...

would you consider posting pics of the millionth sonic on the Heddon sonic and Heddon only groups on Facebook please ?? thank you