For many, starting a new business in 2020 would be the last thing that sounds like a good idea. With businesses being forced to close their doors at a rapid rate because of COVID-19, the risk versus reward factor may be too risky for most.
However, for Brandon Pekarek and Mike Lumley, they were willing to take that risk. The longtime fishermen and friends turned business partners, Pekarek and Lumley created Silver Skalez Tackle and have no regrets.
The idea of starting any sort of fishing business has always been in the head of Pekarek. The San Joaquin County deputy sheriff grew up in Lodi and as a youngster, spent as much time as he could fishing at Lodi Lake or the Mokelumne River. As he grew up, Pekarek’s love for fishing never wavered.
Pekarek later met Lumley and discovered they had a couple of things in common. Not only did they have daughters who were avid basketball players, but the two men shared a love of fishing. And after years of friendship, the conversations of starting a business became more frequent until one day, Pekarek decided it was time to fulfill a lifelong dream.
“Mike and I have been longtime fishermen prior to all of this, and fishing buddies and I mentioned to Mike about a year ago that hey, we should probably start a tackle company,” Pekarek said. “He kind of laughed at me and said we don’t have time for that. Well, we decided to make our own tackle to fish Lake Pardee and catch kokanee. Throughout that trial and error and coming up with some tackle, it was very effective and productive. Because of that, we started tinkering around with some other ideas and more ideas and lures came into play. From there, it just started to evolve.”
That evolution turned into an online business. After being in business for only a couple of months, Pekarek and Lumley are starting to find their groove. Their products, which are made at home, consist of salmon tackle, kokanee tackle, trout tackle, ice fishing tackle, trolling jigs, spinning jigs, spinning lures trolling lures and branded merchandise.
“The vast majority of the products we sell, we manufacture,” Pekarek said. “There are a couple things that we purchase and resell, just because we don’t have the time or the supplies in order to make that happen. We don’t make ice fishing rods, but we do resell them. For the majority of the lures that we sell, we buy the components, assemble them and build them.”
It’s not just Pekarek and Lumley who are helping contribute to the success of Silver Skalez Tackle, as the operation truly is a family project. Wives Amanda Pekarek and Trinka Lumley help with photography, social media packaging and manufacturing. Being in the fishing world is nothing new to the Lumleys, as holding lures was just as comfortable as holding hands during and post courtship.
“I fished as a kid and I met my wife and that’s all we did every weekend,” Lumley said.
Starting any new business is difficult, but when there’s also a main full-time job that takes up 40 hours a week, that makes the new business seem even more daunting. Both Pekarek and Lumley have spent many late nights working, getting a couple hours of sleep, going back to their main jobs, and then repeating the process day after day.
“It’s been busy,” said Lumley, who is also a plant manager for a company that sells displays for wine companies. “I come home from my job, grab something to eat, and then go downstairs and do what I need to do until bedtime. Then I get up and go back to my 9 to 5.”
Pekarek added, “We spend a lot of long hours at Mike’s house filling orders and staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning making products and getting things out the door. We pride ourselves in a quick turnaround and customer service and fast shipping. We make it a goal to try to get orders out the same day they are placed.”
The hard work and long hours that the Pekarek and Lumley families have put into Silver Skalez Tackle is paying off. Not only have they shipped orders to many states, but also have sent products north to Canada. Currently, their products can be purchased locally at Outdoor Sportsman in Stockton; Reggie’s Tackle Shack in Sacramento; Knights Landing Market in Knights Landing; Virgil’s Bait and Tackle Shop in Suisun City; and Omega’s Tackle in Manteca.
“I didn’t think it would take off so fast,” Lumley said. “Being so successful so quickly has been the most shocking thing, because it’s been just over two months.”
So how does a small home business from Valley Springs get noticed by fishermen from all over North America? It’s the same way most people stay connected: Facebook.
“I’ve built a lot of relationships online with different Facebook groups and several admin and we are part of a lot of different groups,” said Pekarek of the Facebook groups that can have anywhere between 1,000 and 20,000 members. “It’s probably close to 150 groups throughout the entire U.S. and Canada. I reach out to these administrators and I build relationships with them and we do a lot of product giveaways in the groups as a form of advertising. We will go on Facebook Live in the group and we’ll do a 10- or 15-minute introduction of ourselves and our company and will give away free products. That has been really successful, and it gives people an opportunity to get to know us and put a face to the name of who we are.”
And when it comes to their products, both Pekarek and Lumley stand behind what they sell. Not only do they sell their products, but the lifelong anglers have switched to only using what they make.
“Ever since we came out with our own products, we’ve exclusively switched to our products and we’ve done really well with them,” Pekarek said. “We’ve gotten a lot of customer feedback and pictures sent in from our customers who have caught large salmon out on the Sacramento River or the Mokelumne River. We’ve had a lot of success and, of course, we are going to stand behind our own products. We wouldn’t be good businessmen if we didn’t use our own products.”
Having an online business has both its advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is low overhead. But not having a building where customers can hold a product in their hands can be an issue. As much as some anglers would like to see with their own eyes what they are buying, online purchasing hasn’t been overly difficult.
“It’s been quite smooth actually,” Lumley said. “The majority of the fishermen already know what they are purchasing, so what we supply is extremely similar. They already know what they’re getting.
As far as COVID-19 being a factor, Pekarek feels that through it all, their business may have been helped along by the pandemic.
“Honestly, COVID-19 made fishing better,” Pekarek said. “People were cooped up and the only thing the people could actually do outdoors was fish. They encouraged exercise and they encouraged getting out, so the fishing industry really blew up. That gave people an opportunity to go outside and not be cooped up inside the house. And, when you’re fishing, for the most part you are social distancing. You’re either with your family or your other fishing buddy and it’s pretty easy to be isolated while enjoying the pastime.”
Pekarek and Lumley know that when it comes to growing Silver Skalez Tackle, there is still a long way to go. They are taking all their profits and reinvesting them back into the business. And while Pekarek would like to one day have a larger operation, he is quite happy with the way things are progressing.
“It’s convenient to be home-based at this point,” Pekarek said. “Mostly because we’re not at that (larger) size yet and it keeps the overhead down, which keeps our cost low and it keeps the cost to the customers low. We have a lot of help from our friends and family, who have agreed to step up to the plate and help if push comes to shove. It would be nice to hire from our friends and family if it came to that point. If we get to the point where we do expand, it would be awesome to be a national brand and an employer of several employees.”
And even though the days are long and there’s always something to do, Lumley gets encouraged by the comments and photos he sees online by satisfied customers.
“Some of the comments that we are receiving online with how happy people are with our products and showing us pictures of their catches while using our products is very rewarding,” Lumley said.
At the end of the day, both Pekarek and Lumley are still fishermen. They were once on the other side of the keyboard, ordering supplies for a big trip or an evening at the lake. So, from two fishermen to others, they hope that Silver Skalez Tackle helps someone go from a good catch, to a great catch.
“Our customer service is our utmost priority,” Pekarek said. “We cater to our customers to make sure they are happy. We want to hear people’s feedback and we are here for our customers and we want to provide them with products that work at an affordable price. It’s our goal to keep our prices low, which will allow them to go out and enjoy their hobby.”
Follow Sports Editor Guy Dossi on Twitter at @GuyDossi