With a history of 60 years as a business, more than 70 years of lure making experience and close to 300 world-record catches, Rapala and its products are clearly crafted from experience. With its track record and current unique distribution network, manufacturing platform and brand portfolio, the Group is well positioned for growth.
Lauri Rapala, the founder of the Rapala business, was born into poverty in Finland in 1905. He made his living by farm working and fishing. To make a better living for himself and his family, Lauri started to develop a lure that would increase the productivity of his fishing. In 1936, he finally managed to carve a rough-looking lure that produced an off-centre and enticing wobbling action – the one that is still the basis for many Rapala lures. The story of Rapala lures had begun.
After World War II, Lauri revived his small lure making business that had blossomed just before the war. He was sure he had found a successful lure design, which he developed further. Lauri first made all the lures himself but was soon joined by his family. Production techniques and processes developed step by step. Despite the increased production volumes, Lauri insisted on testing every single lure to make sure that the action was correct. Even today, all Rapala-branded lures are tested before packing.
Foreign visitors to the Helsinki Olympic Games of 1952 were amongst the first to take Rapala lures outside Finland. In 1955, the first export sales started to Sweden and Norway and later to the USA. In 1957, the business was formalized and the Rapala-Uistin (Lauri Rapala and Sons) company was established. The successful Rapala lures started to build a good reputation in North America, and in 1959, Ron Weber and Ray Ostrom started to distribute Rapala lures in the USA, a business later to become Normark Corporation. In 1962, Life magazine published a long article on Rapala. It happened to be in the same edition that covered the history of Marilyn Monroe who had just died and it broke all circulation records. Consequently, piles of orders started to pour in necessitating major capacity and production increases.
While Rapala continued to grow and gain its worldwide reputation, copies started to enter the market: at one time there were more than 40 copies in the US market from all over the world. Since then, Rapala has defended itself against copies with legal actions but more importantly with consistent high quality that has differentiated its original products from copies. After export sales were expanded in the early 60’s from the US to Canada, Rapala strengthened the distribution in Sweden in the mid-60’s and made the first contacts with the French companies Ragot and VMC. Many new lure models were introduced in 60’s and the first Rapala fillet knives were launched in 1967 – the start of the co-operation with Marttiini. By the mid-1970’s, Normark had established distribution companies in Canada, the UK and Sweden. At the same time, Rapala signed distribution agreements to Denmark and France. The new factory at Vääksy was opened in 1973.
After Lauri Rapala died in 1974, the company name was changed to Rapala Oy and the eldest son Risto was appointed as President of Rapala while his brothers Esko and Ensio had their own responsibilities. Production methods and technology were further developed and the capacity increased markedly: while a total of 25 million lures were produced during 1936-1975, the total number of manufactured lures reached 100 million in 1988. The range of lures was further widened, the Blue Fox spinner brand was introduced and a manufacturing unit was established in Ireland. During this time, the Group acquired the Flipper boat company and a caravan business.
In 1989, Esko’s son Jarmo Rapala, who had led the product development from the mid-80’s, was appointed as President of Rapala and Jorma Kasslin as Deputy President. Consequently, a major restructuring followed: in a few years Rapala sold both the boat and caravan business and acquired the Normark distribution companies in the USA, Canada, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland and Finland as well as the French company Ragot. In 1991, Rapala started a distribution alliance with Shimano. These changes were followed by a management buy-out, where the management together with some private equity investors bought the company from the family and listed Rapala Normark Oy on the Helsinki Stock Exchange in 1998.
In the late 1990’s, Rapala bought Storm lures (USA) and a Norwegian distribution company Elbe, established a distribution company in Japan and started to develop a manufacturing unit in Estonia. The French VMC hook business was acquired in 2000 and the Chinese lure manufacturer Willtech in 2001. These deals increased the Group’s manufacturing capabilities markedly and made the Viellard family and William Ng important shareholders of Rapala. The distribution network was further expanded to Eastern Europe, Switzerland and Brazil. Simultaneously, the product range was increased to include a wide variety of fishing accessories such as rods, reels and fishing lines. The Williamson and Guigo big game fishing businesses were acquired in 2004.
A new era of strong growth started in 2005 when Rapala continued to implement its strategy for profitable growth. In less than a year, the Group acquired or established distribution companies in South Africa, Australia, Malaysia, China, Thailand and Switzerland and bought lure manufacturer Luhr Jensen in the USA, knife manufacturer Marttiini in Finland, fishing line supplier Tortue in France and cross-country ski manufacturer Peltonen in Finland. Thereafter, Rapala has established a lure factory and several distribution centers in Russia, a distribution company in Korea, acquired the Terminator spinner bait business in the USA and widened the distribution alliance with Shimano to several new countries. Simultaneously the Group has developed a large variety of new products and product categories including Rapala Pro Wear clothing, Rapala Vision Gear sunglasses and new Trigger X attractants that include Ultrabite fish pheromone. The latest addition to the Group brand and product portfolio is the Sufix fishing line brand with a large spectrum of products and the potential to become one of the world leading suppliers of fishing line. With this product assortment, distribution network, manufacturing platform and brand portfolio, the Group is well positioned to continue its profitable growth.
Rapala’s business organization can be divided to manufacturing and distribution and, on the other hand, into six different product lines: Lures, Fishing Hooks, Fishing Lines, Fishing Accessories, Third Party Fishing Products and Other Products. The Group core business is fishing tackle business, which is represented by five of these product lines.
Rapala is an undisputed market leader in hard-bodied lures, metal lures, treble hooks and fillet knives. The Group is also strengthening its global position in Accessories and especially in Fishing Lines. Other Products includes products, like hunting and winter sports equipment, which fit well into Rapala’s distribution network in the Nordic countries and smoothen the
seasonality of the fishing tackle business.