It Now Takes More than Two to Do the Trolling Motor Tango

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ICAST is still nearly two months away, but if industry buzz is accurate this is going to be the year of the trolling motor. With the introduction of the Ultrex a few years back, Minn Kota took a substantial lead in what was up until then a two-horse race at the top end. Now it appears that Garmin, Lowrance and possibly one other company (Power Pole?) are going to join the party.

For the consumer, this is likely good news. An arms race to claim supremacy at the front of the boat should lead to better products, and possibly better pricing.

For the pro angler, some of those benefits (specifically, better and more useful technology) should transfer. In other respects, though, they could be hamstrung by the new options. This is especially true when it comes to those getting a paycheck. It’s unclear whether the various corporate entities will require or encourage their sponsored pros to run within-brand products across the board, but in a vacuum they’ll want to maximize such brand loyalty. After all, if it says “GARMIN” in bold letters across the side of Jason Christie’s boat, it sends a confusing message if he’s running their electronics but not their trolling motor. Likewise for Lowrance’s premier pros. For those who run Humminbird and Talons, a Minn Kota would be the obvious choice. Part of this is corporate branding, the other part is efficiency — you can assume that companies already in the boat business will build a trolling motor that maximizes their other products’ effectiveness.

So what happens if you have long term deals with Garmin or Lowrance (for electronics) and with Minn Kota or Motorguide (for trolling motors)? Or if you love your Garmin/Lowrance electronics, but for some personal reason don’t want to switch to their trolling motors? Are you going to be bullied or pressured into making a switch, even if you suspect it’ll make you a less efficient angler? If they do want you to switch, will you be compensated accordingly, or will you lose some dollars in the wash? If you’re making less money, do you now have fewer total obligations (boat show days, etc.) as part of the exchange?

Residing under a single corporate banner for multiple products has its advantages — you have a single point of contact, potentially a single service crew, and one place to go for all new product knowledge. Furthermore, if the monthly check is late, you only have to make one call (you hope) instead of two or more. (On the other hand, if the check never shows you’re out 100% of the amount instead of 50% or 25%).

On the flip side of the equation, you’re now beholden to a single entity. If the pro staff manager changes and doesn’t see you as a good fit, you may not get the raises you think you deserve. You might even get 86ed. If the company gets sold to an even larger entity, or a private equity firm, you might likewise be out the door altogether.

None of this is to say that one scenario is better across-the-board than the other, or even that all anglers will experience it the same. Rather, it reflects a changing dynamic. The pros used to obtain sponsorships the way they buy their boats, through a mix-and-match, one-from-Column-A-one-from-Column-B, sort of menu. Now it’s more like buying a truck, where you choose your loyalty, and then you’re stuck with a very limited palette of engines, transmissions, interiors and stereos. To some extent, you’re gaining product integration and volumes of scale, while giving up maximum customization.