Our March Member of the Month is Tim Rajeff of Rajeff Sports. If you’ve ever fished an Echo rod, an Airflo line, or used an Air-Lock indicator, you’re likely familiar with Rajeff Sports. Here’s what Tim had to say about his business, fishing, and AFFTA membership:
Explain Rajeff Sports — the who, what, why.
Rajeff Sports was started early in 2001 because I slipped in the shower… bumped my head… and decided to try making a living at something that should be a hobby. While most of that statement is accurate, fly fishing equipment and the pursuit of the best rod, reel, or line are not the results of brain trauma. After a wonderful bottle of Pinot, I convinced Katherine (wife / life / and business partner) that we might consider quitting G Loomis to start a distribution company centered around Airflo Fly Lines. She said why the F$&@ not and Rajeff Sports was born.
We hooked up with former G. Loomis employees Jarrod Black (a friend and crazy fly fishermen) and Julie Landry, and on June 1, 2001 we turned on the phones and waited for our first customer to call. Rajeff Sports World Headquarters started in our guest room behind the house and soon took over the garage and my wood and metal shop. I used to be a home builder and was proud that I finally had a killer shop where all my tools were organized and I had tons of space. Then Rajeff Sports happened…
We now have a 6,500-square foot warehouse and office space about three miles from our house in Vancouver, Washington. We live on a lake, and when the company was based out of the house we would “test” our new rods and lines on the carp in the backyard. In our new facility we don’t have a lake in the backyard but we do have more room for all of our engineering, design, and test equipment as well as a photo/video studio. We have come a long way but we maintain a lot of the fun we had at the house. Sometimes we have to delay work to accommodate one of the many daily ping-pong matches. We have an incredible group of people at Rajeff Sports that love to take care of our customers and have fun doing so.
What excites you the most about Rajeff Sports and Echo’s future?
What is exciting about the future of our sport is the access to killer gear at an affordable price. Because of the lower price, more people can get into the sport and do so with gear that performs well. For some, the lower price allows them to get the perfect rod, reel or line to help them enjoy their local waters and still have enough money left over to pick up a second or third rod so they can effectively fish new water. We recognize that there is a difference between a lower priced product and higher priced product but, like in many sports, the difference in performance between the higher priced and lower priced gear continues to shrink.
How has AFFTA membership benefitted you?
Being able to easily communicate and interact with others in the industry helps keep us on top of current trends and the state of our industry. AFFTA’s support of public lands keeps fly fishing businesses alive – we need land to access and clean water to fish if we want to keep fishing as an everyman’s sport.
What’s one thing you wish AFFTA members knew about your business?
Fly fishing is a mentoring sport, and most people rely on local knowledge to get the correct gear and learn how to use it. When people buy gear from an online-only supplier and or at some factory-direct or discount store dumping generic gear on the market, they often end up with something that isn’t the best piece of equipment for them. They didn’t have someone there to help them pick the best gear for them and have them try it before they head home. We feel our sales continue to grow because we support the brick and mortar stores that got the sport going many decades ago. When fly shops disappear our sport will suffer. We certainly don’t have the elevated profit margins of companies that sell directly to the end user, but we’ve developed deep-rooted support for our brands, continue to experience steady growth, and plan to be here for a long time
Our philosophy is simple — create gear that is well designed, built to exceedingly-high quality standards, and to thoroughly test the gear to make sure the product wont fail in the field. If by chance something goes wrong and a rod, reel or line, we’ll take care of the customer ASAP with friendly, honest service.
How is your own personal fishing journey reflected in your business?
I grew up fishing off the pier of San Francisco bay with hand lines. We caught perch and smelt and would freeze them to feed them to the seals, penguins, and polar bears at the San Francisco zoo. We took vacations to Oregon and fished for trout; that is where I started fly fishing at age 10. Living close to Golden Gate Park allowed my brother and I to join the famous fly and spin fishing club there. Steve quickly became a champion and then became the most celebrated world overall spin and fly casting champion of all time. Being three years younger, I was involved in the sport to a lesser level than my brother but did have some success of my own. After 15 years of competitive casting, I burned out at the ripe old age of 25, and haven’t been a serious casting competitor since. My first exposure to the fly fishing school business happened in 1975 when I worked at the Fenwick fly fishing school outside West Yellowstone, Montana. I later worked as a guide and lodge manager in Alaska and Russia before working at the G. Loomis rod factory in Woodland, Washington.
Casting competition gave me the opportunity to work with unusual rods reels, and lines. Having the ability to use custom-made rods to cast farther and more accurately, I was drawn to the technology and performance afforded by the newest materials. I started my competitive career with fiberglass rods and still remember the day my brother received a special rod from Jim Green at the Fenwick factory. It was the first graphite fly rod ever built in the world! The action was terrible but it was clear on the first cast that we weren’t going back to fiberglass, and that graphite (carbon fiber) rods were here to stay. My engineering education combined with years of competitive casting at the top level helped me gain an understanding of how materials and deign affect rod and line performance. I love what I do and hope it shows in the gear we design.
When you’re not in the office, what are you most likely to be found doing?
I fish when I can and seem to always have some project I am working on at the cabin or the house. Lately Kath and I have been travelling more and I always travel with a rod or two in my luggage.