POR Konrad Krauland March 22, 2009
On a midwinter morning carrying a wind almost as cold as the national economy, Konrad Krauland’s warm smile was more welcome than usual.
Normally enthusiastic and upbeat, Krauland, founder of Innovative Textiles Inc. of Grand Junction, had good reason for beaming.
Business was steady, he was about to meet some new sales reps, and he was fresh from his first trip to Japan.
The latter wasn’t strictly a tourist visit but was connected ineluctably to the first two, which in turn were the initial results of his company being purchased in late December by fishing tackle giant Shimano American Corp.
“To be able to make that next big leap, from a strong brand in the U.S. fishing market to one that will have solid global presence, we couldn’t be happier now being part of Shimano American Corporation,” said Krauland at the time of the purchase.
Innovative Textiles isn’t a sweater factory, although it was in his father’s sweater factory in New York where Krauland got his start, but instead makes and markets braided fishing and kite lines.
Braided, like Daisy Mae’s braids, from Spectra fiber (more on that later) and sold in tackle shops to top-ranked and everyday anglers everywhere.
In a time when factories across the United States and internationally are cutting back hours, crews and in some cases, closing down, the future of Innovative Textiles, and specifically that future in Grand Junction, is as strong as its fishing line.
It’s not that Krauland hasn’t been affected by the economic slowdown, but he’s been able to adjust without cutting positions.
“Oh, we’ve felt it, all right, our orders are down by maybe a third from this time last year,” he said. “But I’ve managed to adjust through natural attrition and I don’t plan and layoffs or massive changes.”
He will lose some marketing staff and some retail distributors, but most of the 60 or so workers in Grand Junction will remain employed.
Shimano will assume Innovative Textiles’ marketing, including national and international sales, freeing the Grand Junction facility and staff for, well, innovative research and development.
“As we integrate our Grand Junction operations into Shimano’s, we look forward to working on the next innovations in fishing line technology and other new products,” Krauland said.
“Japan is the second-largest fishing tackle market in the world, so this is a great deal for us.”
So how is it, in the midst of the nation’s worst economic meltdown in decades, that a small Grand Junction company become a national player in the fishing line business? To understand, you have to look at the history of braided lines and Krauland’s approach to the promise of such lines.
A few years after graduating in 1987 with a degree in textile engineering from Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science (now Philadelphia University), Krauland would up in Grand Junction working for Western Filaments Inc. in Grand Junction.
Western Filaments was (and continues to this day) producing a variety of recreational and industrial braided lines and cords and in 1992 the company introduced Spectra braided fishing line. Spectra is a proprietary fiber that, when tightly braided, offers increased sensitivity, better abrasion resistance and strength to diameter unmatched by traditional nylon monofilament line.
It was about this time Krauland decided to branch out on his own and founded Innovative Textiles Inc. His initial aim was to produce braided line for sport kiting, but he soon saw the promise of braided fishing lines.
“I don’t fly kites nor am I an angler. I’m a textile engineer,” he said with a laugh. “And I approach these fields from a business standpoint.”
In 1992, Innovative Textiles introduced its first braided kite line, one Krauland proudly remembers as “the smoothest on the market and 25 percent stronger than the competitor’s.”
His secret? It’s still a secret but he does say his company modified the process to take advantage of Spectra.
Spectra is gel-spun polyethylene fiber made by the Honeywell Corporation, which on its Web site claims Spectra is “pound for pound 15 times stronger than steel.”
Commonly used in bulletproof vests and hard armor, hurricane-resistant panels and cut-proof gloves, the fiber also is found in the dental floss you use each night.
As a finished Spectra fishing line, you get a small diameter with outstanding strength, around four to five times stronger than equivalent diameter nylon monofilament.
Krauland also liked Spectra because it has better abrasion resistance, or doesn’t “fuzz out,” as he told the sales reps.
Just about the time Krauland was eyeing the braided line market, a couple of serendipitous occurrences reminded him of the connectedness of the world.
He earlier had met and been befriended by Russ Izor, a renowned boat builder, captain and fishing-line manufacturer from San Pedro, Cal. Izor, who died in 2002, was considered the father of braided fishing line and when he met Krauland already was well-known for his Izorline, a lightweight, Spectra-based braided fishing line.
“He was buying Dacron line from us in 1993 and he quite truthfully kept our doors open,” Krauland recalled.
In 1993, Izor convinced professional bass angler Randy Dearman of Onalaska, Texas, to try a braided line and when Dearman later that year won a tournament and praised the qualities of a Spectra line, the door was opened.
“That was the beginning of the ‘Superline Revolution,’ ” Krauland said.
At the time, Innovative Textiles was making SpiderWire-brand braided line on a contract basis but tough times hit in the summer of 1997. The supply of Spectra for braided lines nearly dried up when the manufacturer decided to concentrate on making armored wear for military and police.
“We lost 90 percent of our market in June of ’97 but later than year I introduced PowerPro,” Krauland said.
The new braided line made with Spectra fiber was a near-instant hit and for a while, Krauland couldn’t keep up with demand.
Krauland said he had doubled his sales by 2002 and then doubled again two years later.
That growth, however, wasn’t without some novel and literally basic backyard research on Krauland’s part.
Braided line was a delight to fish with but had some built-in problems. Perhaps the most-annoying was the tendency, because of the way the line was manufactured, to bury
itself, digging into the spool of line on the reel when pulled taut and subsequently hanging up on the cast.
Krauland set out personally to solve those problems.
“Our goal was to make a trouble-free line performance on even the smallest spinning reels,” Krauland said. “We also wanted something resistant to ‘wind knots,’ and everyday I’d go out and I’d cast different lines, looking to find the one that gave the best performance. My goal was to make 200 consecutive trouble-free casts.”
After testing many designs and coatings, and certainly building some impressive arm strength, Krauland finally made that 200th consecutive cast and knew he had a winner.
“There is a balance between strength and abrasion resistance,” he noted. “Our proprietary coating offers a smoother surface that’s less abrading than other coatings and is designed to prevent the braid from disappearing into the spool.”
Because of its composition, a Spectra line won’t take a dye but has to be painted in a dipping process that soaks an entire spool in minutes.
“The climate in Grand Junction is good for making Spectra braided line,” Krauland noted.
“The spools dry in minutes and are ready for shipping.”
Don’t ask about the line coating; it’s the closest-held secret in braided line manufacture.
He said it takes from 60 to 70 days for the line to go from raw product to angler-ready braided line.
That coating is one of many changes Krauland has developed since that first spool of PowerPro appeared more than 11 years ago.
“This isn’t the same old PowerPro of 1997,” he insists.
However, the name has remained the same, he explained, mainly to avoid the confusion other line brands have when they switch names every time a new innovation hits the market.
Krauland eventually grew out of his initial factory space and recently moved his factory to its present location in a 210,000-square-foot building on Sandhill Court off the Riverside Parkway.
His factory fills more than half (115,000 square feet) of the massive plant where 4,500 braiding machines run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And in the storage area are hundreds of other braiding machines ready to be used as soon as the market demands.
In addition to PowerPro fishing lines, Innovative Textiles also makes Hollow Core for making specialized connections on heavy duty fishing lines; PowerPro Ice for winter fishing on frozen lakes; Downrigger Cable Replacement offsetting the steel cables traditionally used in downrigger fishing; AnglerPro braided lines made of Dacron; and LaserPro fly fishing lines.
“Things are looking up for us,” said Krauland as he headed down the long rows of braiding machines toward the future of Innovative Textiles. “And that’s good for Grand Junction, too.”