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Small Business Snapshot: Pitman Creek Wholesale’s Big Splash

Fishing tackle supplier designs an effective lure for company growth

By Mark Green

Central Kentucky fishing tackle supplier Pitman Creek Wholesale’s strategy had already landed it years of strong growth even before the 2020 pandemic created a record year for all business categories related to outdoor activity.

Pitman Creek launched into what owner James Coffey described as exponential growth six years ago, after he hired a management team and shifted operations to Danville. Now the operation is expanding into a new 206,000-s.f. distribution center in Stanford, a move slated for October.

Sales are up a whopping 80% since the COVID-19 pandemic disruption led people to spend more time outside the office, said Coffey, who bought Pitman in 1993.

“All outdoors sporting activities are experiencing record years,” he said, citing hunting, kayaking, hiking and others in addition to fishing.
Pitman Creek hooked into a strong growth curve by providing one-stop purchasing for several thousand retailers of fishing products in 49 states and a few foreign countries, including all the major sporting goods chains such as Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart. It benefits from Kentucky’s logistically advantageous location to fulfill orders to the majority of customers in one or two days.
Between 10% and 20% of that business comes from within Kentucky, from farm pond cane-pole amateurs to uber-equipped tournament professionals who make a living on the commonwealth’s major lakes.

The bulk of its business is concentrated in the Southeast, from Texas to the Carolinas and Virginia, Coffey said.

Pitman Creek Wholesale has grown its list of independent product vendor clients from 600 to more than 1,100 since the management enhancement, Coffey said. Clients large and small do business with Pitman as a single point of access to more than 300 manufacturers and their products. The present warehouse and distribution center stocks 26,000 products, and that is only 10% of what it can quickly obtain and provide.

Coffey calls the effective strategy “vendor consolidation.” Pitman is outpacing all of its competitor providers, he said. It sells only to retailers, not individuals.

“We are not your competition, but your business partner,” its website tells the retailers who are its customers.

The business draws its name from its origins as a specialist in bass fishing lures located along Pitman Creek, a Lake Cumberland tributary near Somerset. In 1978, Don and Marella Stephens started Pitman Creek Wholesale as a custom lure maker, and it evolved into a full-line tackle distributor.

Aerial view of tackle box on the ground

About 15 years later, Coffey, a CPA with an accounting degree from the University of Kentucky and several years experience with then-Big 6 accounting firm Coopers & Lybrant, decided to buy the business. Coffey had insight into the vendor-retailer relationship from having begun work as a route salesman at age 16 for his uncle’s business that distributed products to convenience stores.

Pitman Creek has grown to roughly 230 employees as of early 2021 and expects to increase to more than 250 after the new, larger distribution center is finished in the fall, Coffey said.

Mark Green is editorial director of The Lane Report. He can be reached at [email protected]

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