A trip through the Minnetonka headquarters of Rapala is like walking through a log cabin. Stepping through the front doors might as well be a weekend getaway up north to a fishing enthusiast’s paradise. In the center of the office is a glass display case with items from Rapala’s storied history.
Fittingly, out back sits a fishing pond. You’ll often find an employee out there—not just for fun, but testing the latest product design.
Around the corner of a back hallway, a water tank sits next to the former product distribution warehouse (the 40,000 square feet of this warehouse became far too small, making way for a 140,000-square-foot facility in Eagan). The open tank is a large, fishless, fish tank. It’s another spot for testing the latest equipment. Employees come to this room and flick lures into the water with as much joy as a kid catching his first sunfish off the end of the dock.
In the winter months, when the pond out back is frozen and the in-house tank is too small, employees head down the street to a hotel. The front desk workers nod knowingly, and the Rapala employees take to the hotel’s pool to test out new inventions in an open-water setting.
“We’ve got a lot of people who will go out and use a sample and weigh in,” vice president of sales Zack Swanson says. “If something doesn’t get full support, we’ll move on to the next one.”
The employees of Rapala, almost to a person, are avid anglers. Spending their days imagining new fishing technology and playing in their very own pond makes it hard to call what they do work, but it’s that passion that has helped Rapala rise to the top of the industry.
The back-story is well-documented. The first lure was invented in 1936 in Finland. Fisherman in the 1952 Olympics brought the lure with them to the games. The lure caught on with Americans, who brought it back to the United States. From there, Rapala was born and it grew from that one lure into the publicly traded company with 13 brands that it is today.
Even with all the success, and the mass-production required, Rapala still manufactures their lures in Finland. In fact, the original design is still the best-selling lure today. “Great Italian shoes come from Italy. Great watches come from Switzerland. Great cars from Germany. Great lures come from Finland,” Rapala president Tom Mackin says.
Innovation can be difficult. The sport fishing industry is stable, but it isn’t growing, and for the most part advances in fishing technology are hard to come by.
In 2012, the product development department came up with a design for the now popular Scatter Rap lure. An innovation in the lip of the lure created a new, more natural-looking movement in the water. By adding a plastic piece shaped like a potato chip, they were able to make a lure that kicked and jerked in an unbelievably fishlike motion.
“It was a ‘Eureka!’ moment,” Mackin says.
The goal with a lure is to trick a fish into thinking it’s real, living prey. Lure designs have improved over the years, but this was one of the most natural-looking movements anyone at Rapala had ever seen.
The company immediately switched gears, pouring nearly all their manufacturing and marketing resources into bringing this new lure to market. It was released in February 2013, and they sold out their more than 1 million units. Even knowing what a great innovation they had, and planning ahead, they were unable to keep up with the demand for the Scatter Rap.
These innovations are what make Rapala really stand out. After years of practically hiding in plain sight (they didn’t even have a sign on their building when they first came to Minnetonka in 1991 and added Rapala to the sign in 2006) Rapala is embracing a higher public profile. Mackin and staff want people to know who they are, where they are, and all the work they put in to constantly improve their product.
Rapala also embraces their history and commitment to the Lake Minnetonka community. Their employees fish the lake. They live near the lake. They are part of the lake. They’re bringing innovations to anglers of Lake Minnetonka, from the backyard of Minnetonka, and they want everyone to know it.
All items are available at rapala.com