Blogs are back! After some time we will be continuing to add to our blog this time with more featured guests! Our first feature is Elliot from Tandem Fly Company. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Elliot over the last two years and we've talked about everything from manufacturing to marketing his products. This blog will hopefully give you an inside feel to how he brought this product to life and what makes it a fantastic box for many applications.
From Idea to Reality: Developing a Fly Fishing Product
"My name is Elliot and I’m one of the guys behind Tandem Fly Company’s Dropper Rig Box. It’s a simple solution to storing pre-tied rigs in a fly box. We’re relatively new to the scene and Spawn has been carrying our product for the last year or so. As manufacturers in the same industry, Josh and I have shared a connection and a passion for talking shop. It’s been awesome.
We thought it would be cool to give you a look at Tandem’s journey and some of the challenges and considerations it took to develop the Dropper Rig Box. Just like us, Spawn has developed and manufactured their own products like jig shanks, heads, football beads, simi-seal dubbing, etc. Manufacturing consistent, quality products is a ton of work and Spawn excels at it. Spawn’s products are not generic products with a brand slapped on them, they were dreamed up and personally developed. The fly fishing industry is a tight-knit community of small businesses with real people behind the scenes. As small businesses, there’s no budget for outsourcing and we need to take on everything from production, assembly, order fulfillment, advertising, social media, bookkeeping, you name it. We as consumers rarely get to see this side of things. Suffice it to say, we take pride in our businesses and their products. Here’s a look at how one of those products came to be:
Dropper rig storage: a problem in need of a better solution
Everyone hates rigging up and tying knots. It wastes valuable time that should be spent fishing. Growing up in Colorado and frequenting many technical tailwaters, I have had many frustrating days spent matching hatches and endlessly re-rigging flies. That’s why I wanted to create the Dropper Rig Box. Yes, there are other solutions to storing tandem rigs, but often that means adding more gear to your pack. As a wade-fisherman and a minimalist, I say no to that. Everyone carries a flybox, why not configure the leaf to hold rigs as well? Simple.
Made in USA
From the beginning, we have chosen to source close to home. Working with domestic suppliers supports local businesses and safe working conditions. It also gives greater control over processes, allows for quick troubleshooting, easier communication, and quicker delivery. Most importantly, domestic manufacturing gives us the ability to constantly improve and produce the very best product possible.
Our product needed high quality materials. We tested a ton of different foams to find one with the dense, resilient qualities that would hold flies secure. Holding that foam in place required a strong adhesive tape capable of withstanding wide temperature ranges (in case you ever leave the box on the dash to bake in the sun). For the plastic, shatter-resistant polycarbonate was chosen for durability and longevity. See for yourself...
Proper functionality took priority over cost, no skimping. Our dropper page is a great example. It is made from multiple components even though it would have been cheaper to create from a single foam sheet. This was done because a single slit-foam sheet is too flimsy to keep flies secure, it needs a rigid core to stiffen things up. Additionally, we went to great pains to ensure that our page would leave rigs kink-free and ready to use. We constructed the page in a way that the tippet would not contact any foam adhesive (leaving gunk) or the inner plastic sheet (leaving kinks).
Having the ideal attachment for the dropper page was also key, we needed something simple and secure. Many iterations of magnetic and press-fit attachments were tested, but none were reliable. They would often fall out of the box while wrapping a rig, or if accidentally bumped. In the end, a mechanical snap-clip attachment was the best way to go.
3D printing is an amazingly fast and cheap way to do this. You don’t need to spend thousands on a 3D printer. In fact, there are many online 3D printing services available. Just upload a design file, choose your material, and order parts. Next add some craft foam, double-sided tape, steel wire, and you’ve got a flybox!
Patenting the Idea
It’s important to protect an invention from copycats. Unfortunately, lawyers are expensive and patent law isn't a DIY thing. Luckily, there are programs out there that level the playing field by offering pro bono (free) patent prosecution. We worked with ProBoPat, an organization in the mountain west that connects inventors with patent practitioners for patent preparation and prosecution. We got a patent. Even if we didn't, knowing the IP regarding other products in the industry is a must. You don’t wanna step on anyone’s toes and end up with a lawsuit.
Manufacturers didn’t exactly drool over us, it takes them a significant investment in time and effort and they want to see it pay off. Luckily, we found a local injection molder who saw our vision and decided to take a chance on us. We then invested some serious money to get our molds tooled. Tooling a mold out of hardened steel is an intricate, time-consuming process. However, once complete, a mold can last for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of parts. Here’s our smallest mold in action:
This was a major headache. We went through multiple suppliers and scrapped more material than we’d have liked before finding someone capable of providing consistent quality and thickness. Even finding a die-maker who was able to create the intricate design of our slit foam inserts was a challenge. We talked with dozens of manufacturers before we found a great partner out of Pennsylvania who would take on the challenge. The results speak for themselves.
Lots of Learning
We're not engineers, we’re just regular people. The learning curve has been steep. I didn’t know CAD in the beginning. In fact, the first prototypes were made using a free online program called Tinkercad (for kids). Designing for manufacturability, knowledge of materials, and gaining experience working with different manufacturing industries took countless hours and each had their own challenges. Along the way, I'd like to think we earned honorary industrial design degrees.
A Long Time Coming
It took over three years until we launched the product. Yes, it took a while. If you look up bootstrapping in the dictionary, our pictures are there. All I can say is that we’ve put in countless nights, weekends, and everything in between.
We’re extremely proud of the Dropper Rig Box. It turned out great, it’s useful, unique, and made in the USA. We hope you like it too."
-We hope you enjoyed this inside look at the Tandem Fly Box and everything that goes into brining a product to life in the fly fishing industry. Countless hours go into creation and we are so happy to be a small part of the Tandem Fly Co Journey! Order your box today! CLICK HERE!
- Josh Phillips