Business Monday

Serving blue-water fishermen and weekend anglers

Carlos Alberto Martinez, 11 years old, with Elias Rodriguez, co-owner of Miami Fishing Supply.
Carlos Alberto Martinez, 11 years old, with Elias Rodriguez, co-owner of Miami Fishing Supply. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

The company and its products: Miami Fishing Supply is a small business that provides a full range of fishing gear and accessories to fishermen for blue-water offshore fishing and international tournaments, as well as for occasional anglers.

It was founded four years ago by two lifelong saltwater fishermen — Elias Rodriguez, originally from the Dominican Republic, and Vinicius (“Vinny”) Wolff, a native of Brazil — who met while working at another fishing supply business.

Walking into the 1,000-square-foot store on Southwest 27th Avenue, customers see a wall of fishing lures in stunning psychedelic colors as well as a broad array of neatly organized hooks, rods, reels, boating accessories and thousands of other items. “Sometimes, people come in for the first time and expect Costco,” Wolff said. “But in the end, they get what they need.”

Prices range from 25 cents for a fish hook to about $5,000 for a top-end reel.

After working for other fishing supply stores for more than 30 years, the two partners set up Miami Fishing Supply in Miami. “We decided it was time to go on our own and try a new approach,” Wolff said, “listening to what customers are saying and offering custom solutions geared to each fisherman.”

They also set up an online site that generates about 25 percent of their sales.

“We have everything a fisherman needs to go out and be successful,” said Rodriguez, who participates in fishing tournaments around the world. “It’s all about personal relationships and helping customers find exactly what they need,” he said, after assisting two customers from Venezuela. “That’s why they come back.”

Wolff began fishing as a boy in Rio de Janeiro, while Rodriguez began fishing when he was 8 years old in the Dominican Republic. “I saw the movie ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ went out and made a pole, found a hook and crushed a snail for bait. That’s how I got started.”

Rodriguez arrived in the U.S. when he was about 9 years old, and Wolff arrived in his 20s.

Getting started: Rodriguez and Wolff pooled their savings and opened their new store in November 2012. They immediately attracted some clients they knew from previous jobs, but got off to a rocky start. They found that several equipment suppliers wouldn’t sell to the new business, Wolff said, apparently because some large competitors threatened to stop buying. Miami Fishing Supply found other vendors willing to work with them and the store began to grow. Today the store and its online component serve customers in Florida and more than 50 countries, including Europe and Saudi Arabia, but mostly Latin America and the Caribbean.

The difference: “We are a smaller store with low overhead, which means we can offer better prices and take more time with each customer to find out their needs and offer solutions,” Wolff said. “Personal relationships are key to our business … we take time to talk to each customer [in English, Spanish or Portuguese]. We offer specialized, personal service, fishing tips and techniques and product knowledge that is hard to find at big box retailers.”

Sales: Miami Fishing Supply opened in November 2012 and had sales of about $500,000 in its first calendar year of business. Growth has been steady and the store’s sales this year are close to double that figure.

Competitors: Capt. Harry’s, Crook & Crook, big box retailers and scores of small fishing supply stores.

Learning experience: “We made all our mistakes when we were working for other people in the past,” Wolff said. “After all these years, we’re now very experienced in handling the ups and downs of the business.” The partners keep a careful eye on seasonal inventory, Rodriguez said. When the seasons start for wahoo or tuna or other types of fish, “We make sure we’re always well-stocked with the gear they need, because the fishermen often come in all at once. If you don’t have an item, you’re in trouble.”

Outside view: Norman Duncan, a retired civil engineer who has been fishing around Miami and South Florida since 1946, is familiar with most of the fishing supply stores in the area and worked at stores in his youth where he built custom fishing rods and repaired reels. “I’ve known both of [the owners of Miami Fishing Supply] for 20 years or more, and they are the best around in knots and rigging tackle,” said Duncan, 77, an iconic Florida fisherman who lives in Coconut Grove. “They are both very competent, and for their size, their store is very well organized. Other stores are impersonal, but they give everyone personal attention.”

What customers say: Juan Ortega, a financial adviser who lives in Pinecrest, has been fishing since he was 6 years old and has known the owners of Miami Fishing Supply for about 25 years. “I started buying there as soon as they opened,” Ortega said. For the current season, “I’m buying trolling lures for wahoo — and I only buy from them. Later, I’ll be fishing for tuna, snapper and mahi. Basically, I go there for most of what I need — hooks, weights, lure bags. They give people personal attention — you’re not just a number. They’re honest and have a ton of experience. Elias even gives you coordinates for the best fishing spots in South Florida and the Bahamas.”

Victor Paneda, from Kendall, was at the store recently buying more than $1,000 in equipment for a weekend trip to catch wahoo. “I’ve known Elias for years and I’ve bought here before,” he said. “They have specialty tackle and certain types of riggings that I want … equipment and service others don’t have.”

Challenges: “The fishing industry keeps reinventing itself and coming up with new products all the time,” Wolff said. Fishing equipment, marine electronics and navigational equipment “keep improving in quality, and as long as we are able to stay informed, we will do well.”

Outlook: Low fuel prices in the U.S. have spurred more offshore fishing here, and there are increasing opportunities for sales growth from international visitors coming to Miami. “There is enormous demand for U.S. fishing products in Central and South America and the Caribbean,” Wolff said, “and those countries manufacture very little of the fishing gear they use. People come to our store from Latin America with empty suitcases, and fill them up with fishing equipment. The biggest challenge is political stability in the countries we sell to and fluctuations in their dollar exchange rates.”

Miami Fishing Supply Inc.

Business: Sells a wide range of fishing gear — including hooks, rods, manual and electric reels, specialized lures, boating accessories and other equipment — for blue-water offshore fishing, international tournaments and weekend anglers. Owned and managed by two experts in the field, Miami Fishing Supply has customers throughout Florida and exports to more than 50 countries, mainly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Selling from its Miami store and online, this small business offers fishhooks that start at 25 cents to fishing reels costing $5,000, plus custom rigs, new equipment being tested by manufacturers and advice on equipment and techniques.

Headquarters: 2121 SW 27th Ave., Miami.

Founded: In Miami in 2012.

Founders and co-owners: Elias Rodriguez and Vinicius Wolff.

Employees: Two.

Website: www.miamifishingsupply.com

Source: Miami Fishing Supply

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