August 15, 2012
Cortland Line owners plan growth
Focus on improving marketing, distribution
Cortland Line’s new president says the 98-year-old company can find its way back to the top of the fishing industry with a few changes to its business model.
“At one time it was the No. 1 fly line in the world,” said Cortland Line President Randy Brown, a Newfield resident who has worked as a banker and financial executive. “Our goal is to become No. 1 again.”
The company, which has a long history in Cortland and is located on Kellogg Road, faced financial challenges after taking on loans in 2009. Bad weather patterns in 2011 compounded the company’s problems.
The company had been owned by an employee-stock ownership program before the sale. In May, a majority of the Cortland Line employees who owned the company agreed to sell it.
Less than two months later, Brown and a group of six investors agreed to purchase the company for an undisclosed amount.
“I was impressed by the people here and their passion for what they were doing,” Brown said. “I think the company has a long history. It’s almost 100 years old. I just looked at it as a challenge.”
The company manufactures fly fishing lines, pull cords for toy companies and also has contracts to make products for medical and industrial companies and the military.
Brown said the new owners have retained all of the company’s 52 employees. He said he plans to grow the company with new lines of products.
Fly fishing is a highly weather-dependent business. Brown said the company will look to expand into ocean, bow and regular fishing lines.
He said the company already makes good products, but needs to find better marketing and delivery strategies to get them on store shelves.
Brown said improving the company’s delivery system will mean better business.
“You’ve got to be able to fill those orders,” Brown said.
Brown started working for Cortland Line as a consultant in December. He worked as a banker in Ithaca for years and was most recently the president of Ongweoweh Corp., an Ithaca-based company that specializes in distributing, managing, recovering and recycling wooden pallets.
He is joined at Cortland Line by six investors who bought the company. He said the investors are mostly from the Northeast and just about all of them have a passion for fly fishing and remember Cortland Line as the dominant fly fishing company in the world.
One of them is Hugh Keegan, president of Keegan Associates, a local marketing, advertising and public relations firm on Clinton Avenue.
Former Cortland Line President Brian Ward will stay with the company in a new role, focusing on developing distributors in Europe and also working on planning and marketing analysis.
Brown said Cortland Line will need to upgrade some of its machines and software to help it evolve. The company has 2,500 line braiding machines in its 145,000-square-foot Kellogg Road factory. Some of those machines are 30 or 40 years old. At least one of the machines is almost 100 years old.
Brown and the other investors have agreed to take on all the previous owner’s liabilities, including a $2.75 million loan from Berkshire Bank. The company defaulted on the loan earlier this year. Brown said the company is worth the risk, and he says he is committed to keeping it in Cortland.
“There’s no question that they need to improve some practices, but the core of what they have here is really strong,” Brown said.
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