The Predatek Story 1986-2018
In the beginning
One day in the spring of 1986, the founders of one of Australia's most respected lure manufacturing companies were in a boat on Lake Copeton in northern NSW, tossing around the idea of building and marketing a better fishing lure.
What prompted the yarn amongst mates Frank Gaukroger, Rob Smith, and Kevin Clark?
The cost and inadequate durability of imported lures
The scarcity of suitable deep-diving lures for our native fish in Lake Copeton
Belief in our ability to succeed
We each contributed $200 as start up capital for the venture and nurtured a dream that maybe one day we'd export lures to the world. In those days, the majority of the lures we used came from the USA and we decided that exports back across the Pacific would be the ultimate yardstick of our success. That milestone was reached 15 years later, thanks to one Joshua Schainbaum of Aussie Tackle USA.
Needed — One good design
Having made the decision to take a shot at it, the next step was to design our better fishtrap. A series of hand-carved prototypes followed — each put through its paces in field trials. It was a period spent learning a lot about lure hydrodynamics and what it took to attract Murray cod and golden perch.
Eventually we chose Rob Smith's design which, despite evolutionary refinements over the years, is still recognised as the classic and definitive Australian lure with a bend. What better name for this first product than the Boomerang.
Needed — A good brand name
Australia was on a roll. Just two years before we'd created history by winning the America's Cup, and Men at Work's song 'Downunder' had become an anthem. So we chose Downunder Lures as our trading name. It was doubly appropriate because our lures were designed to get down.
But you thought this was a Predatek site? Yeah, we'll get to that later.
Innovative from the start, we were the first Australian manufacturers to use polycarbonate sheet for bibs. For consistency, we made jigs to cut and drill these, and each was hammer-stamped with a DOWN UNDER die.
Early days in business
All Australian boys need a shed
Working weekends from a farm shed near the rural village of Elsmore, we made Boomerangs by hand from white beech and Australian cedar sawmill waste. We built crude jigs and wood shaping machines driven by washing machine motors. The iron walls reverberated and sawdust billowed. Araldite and sticky fingers.
Our paint shop was a small store room in the smash repair shop of Gaukroger's Holden dealership in Inverell — a business founded by the great grandfather of two of the Downunder boys, cousins Frank and Rob.
Facilities were primitive. One day a minor tragedy struck when a rack of freshly lacquered lures toppled. Scattering on the dusty, gritty floor, the sticky lures came up looking like they'd been tarred and feathered and were unsaleable; so much painstaking work ruined.
Back then, we were direct marketers, selling lures locally and by mail order, by word of mouth and off the back of cameo appearances in fishing magazines. It was a buzz to see our brand name in print and our lures photographed in the faces of fish Australia-wide.
Slowly, we built a reputation — our lures worked.
Slowly — because handcrafting lures was slow.
Slowly — because we had day jobs too.
A good problem to have
Boomerangs were now on the national fishing map and we had the fortunate problem of being unable to satisfy demand. In the first 18 months of our venture we hand-made just 1000 wooden lures (now *collector's items), breathed a lot of sawdust and sniffed a lot of Araldite. This was never going to work. We had to find a better way.
Mass Production Mk 1 - 1989
Using all profit from mail order sales, we funded Downunder's entry into mass production using moulds. The manufacturing was subcontracted to Alan Dolan and Peter Howard of Lively Lures who produced finished 80mm Boomerangs in expanding urethane resin. The arrival of our first batch of 500 lures to be tank tested was unforgettable. Never had we seen so many of our lures together in the one place. To us, at the time, this was the big time.
We graduated to laser-cut polycarbonate bibs; again, the first Australian lure manufacturer to use this method. Our friend, Leapin' Leigh Boileau (Tackle Master) assisted by inventing the Omega clip — a clever modification of our original tow-point idea which is now so widely used by competitors.
Lively Lures was associated with other lure makers in those days and proposed the idea of pooling resources and marketing products cooperatively. A weekend meeting was held at Yamba and the 'Aussie Baitfish Range' was born. Marketed under this banner were: Lively Lures' Assassins; Gordon Fallon's Kingfisher Poppers; Mal Florence's Masta Blastas; Leigh Boileau's Mirrorspoons and Blade Runners; and our Downunder Boomerangs. Sadly, Mal Florence died too young just a few years later. Leigh Boileau has also passed on. He was a funny bloke!
The association with Lively Lures continued for three years, during which we launched two new models; the 60mm Boomerang; and the 40mm MinMin. The small MinMin deep-diver was a ground breaker .
At the Crossroads - 1991
Although urethane moulding was a relatively inexpensive entrée into mass production, it couldn't deliver the product consistency, finesse or economy needed to sustain and develop our business in an increasingly congested market. Backyard lure makers were popping up all over the place (just like we did) and it seemed every country town near a river or lake had its own local makers and devotees. Long live free enterprise.
Our control over the process and profit margins were compromised by subcontracting the manufacturing. We had to find a better way if we were to grow.
Mass Production Mk II - 1991-92
Looking around the ranks of imported lures (which by this time were taking a hammering from Aussie cottage industry makers) we saw that injection-moulding was the way to go. Unit costs could be reduced to support competitive pricing, though the downside was breathtaking startup capital expenditure for small fish like us.
But the bullet was bit, so to speak, and we went into mortgaged-sized debt to fund moulds and the ancillary equipment needed to bring the manufacturing back in-house. Geoff and Cheryl Reid (Reidy's Lures) influenced and assisted our transition to injection moulding technology. At the same time, we registered our company Downunder Lures Pty Ltd with ASIC.
Migrating our existing stable of three lure models to injection moulding was beyond our financial capacity. Reluctantly, we let the 40mm MinMin go; a project for the future?
The first two injection moulds were bodies for the 80mm Boomerang and 65mm Boomerang (lengthened by 5mm from the old 60mm urethane version). The new process was an opportunity to finesse the body shapes and sculpturing. Again, financial constraints meant that the new bodies would have to be fitted with existing laser-cut polycarbonate bibs—we couldn't afford to mould the bibs as well.
That hollow feeling
1992 saw the first hollow (hey, we can rattle now!) moulded Boomerangs hit the market, sporting pad-printed rather than stenciled patterns, and the familiar laser-cut bibs. The hollow construction allowed us to include internal steel rattles to boost the lures' audibility.
With injection-moulding, we adopted a modular approach to product development. Introducing some new laser-cut bib profiles, we launched seven models in quick succession, based on the 80mm (3) and 65mm (4) Boomerang bodies. Although we had thrown out our baby, the MinMin, our lure family had more than doubled in a year.
Our workforce consisted of just the three company directors, all of whom still had day jobs. Again, manufacturing became a spare time activity, conducted in three locations because we lived in different places (Inverell, Casino and Elsmore). It wasn't ideal, but the only way to spread the work around and meet demand.
Result? Like all fishing lure manufacturers, we spent less time fishing and more time designing, manufacturing and marketing product, and doing all the other things associated with running a small business.
But...hey!.... we weren't complaining. We were in it for the long haul. The early hard yards were a labour of love.
To achieve better market penetration, we needed distributors to cover all states of Australia. We received enquiries from a number of businesses because our lures had a ready-made reputation. Today, our products are represented by a loyal distributor network.
In 1993, we invested in moulds for bibs to lift quality and further reduce component costs. We were the first Australian manufacturer to use moulded polycarbonate bibs. These are superior to laser-cut bibs and more economical. The capital expense of moulds is what keeps most small manufacturers loyal to laser-cut bibs.The radical Jindivik bib was our first moulded bib, and designed to deliver a rock and roll action favoured by barramundi experts at the time. We couldn't have replicated the Jindivik's bib design with laser-cutting. The Jindivik became the fourth variant of the original 80mm Boomerang body, and remains a perennial best seller. Funny, that, considering that one of our outspoken competitors declared it would never swim when he first saw the prototype rakish bib in a tackle shop in Inverell.
Above: Original B65UD Boomerang in Black Beetle (BL) livery showing the old style laser-cut polycarbonate bib and a steel tow-plate. Laser burn marks are visible on the edges of the bib. Below: Current B65UD with moulded bib.
We introduced another innovation at the same time as the moulded Jindivik bib—our stainless steel tow-plate, a heavy-duty alternative to the Omega clip. Again, this innovation was copied by local competitors and some overseas manufacturers. What's that they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery?
Progressively, we migrated some of our other laser-cut bib designs to moulded forms as finances permitted. This move required modifications to the body moulds to accommodate the strengthening planks underneath the moulded bibs, The B65UD ultra-deep Boomerang and B80UD ultra-deep Boomerang were the last bibs to be moulded. They subsequently benefited from increased sales and, as a by-product, greater word-of-mouth advertising as the increased take-up resulted in more fish caught on these lures.
Our modular approach to lure design has saved money on bib tooling costs over the years. The 65mm and 80mm Boomerang bodies have the same tapered bib slot. The current B80M Boomerang used to have a different shaped laser-cut bib. It now shares the same moulded bib as the B65D Boomerang. Similarly, the current B65UD Boomerang shares the same moulded bib as the B80D Boomerang.
Rod Mackenzie with a Murray cod caught on a B80UD Boomerang in the Murray River in the late 1990s.
Restructure—corporate buzzword of the 90's—touched small time Downunder Lures Pty Ltd as well. The difficulties of geographically dislocated production, and health issues for one of the directors led to the consolidation of all manufacturing activities in Inverell. It was 1994, the year we launched the 90mm Woomera—our first tow-from-the-nose lure—and the dual-action Woomera Skitzo. Nineteen-ninety-four also marked our first small export order to Sri Lanka. The business was becoming too much to handle on a part-time basis and we began employing staff.
A little factory
Early in 1995 we built a modest factory in rented space above the Gaukroger Holden dealership in Inverell. That year we launched two more body styles: the 140mm Viper; and 85mm Bandit, which used existing bib designs. The Viper has been one of our most successful products.
The Bandit used the same moulded bib as the B65S Boomerang but was a short-lived model. It was later relaunched as the Spoonbill with its own customised moulded bib.
Kevin opts out
In 1995, Kevin exercised an option to sell out, leaving the future of the company in the hands of Frank Gaukroger and Rob Smith. This was an amicable, though regrettable, arrangement and the three founders have a continuing friendship.
Editorial exposure and advertisements in Australian fishing magazines attracted the attention of foreign companies looking for something different. It helped that Australia was becoming recognised as a breeding ground for good lure designs. There is a plenty of talent in Oz.
Although we sensed the realisation of our original dreams when the first small export shipment left for Sri Lanka in 1994, it was only in 1996 that we started to seriously explore overseas sales.
One day in 1996, our fax machine rolled out a momentous message which began with the words "This is a faxing from Norway....". It was from Mr Terje Anderrson, enquiring if we'd be interested. We were, and Terje became a long standing export customer, honouring us by changing the name of his business to Viper Import. Of special interest to his customers was our Viper model. It is successful trolling for trout and salmon in Scandinavian lakes, and for the great northern pike.
Return of the MinMin
The micro lure market grew quickly in the mid 90's. Small lures had always been popular with trout anglers, and the rising interest in lure fishing for saltwater bream gave them added impetus. We'd abandoned that market segment in 1992 because of financial constraints and took the decision in 1996 to resurrect our MinMin, only this time it was a complete makeover of our old urethane model (which had since been unethically copied using our original moulds).
Using accumulated knowhow of injection-moulding and continuing a modular manufacturing philosophy, we tooled up for two micro lure bodies and two bib styles to go with them. This was the single biggest tooling investment in the company's history at that point. The project started in 1996 and the first product hit the shelves in 1997. In the first half of the year we launched four new lures; 50mm MinMin in deep and shallow-running versions; 40mm MicroMin in deep and shallow-running versions. The revamped MinMin was a more finely contoured and finessed lure than the 1990 model and pushed the limits of what could be achieved in miniaturisation of a plug style lure whilst still retaining good performance.
We kept innovating—a loose wire tow-point that doesn't require a split ring to keep it captive. This reduces the hardware burden on our deep-diving MinMins improving their action.
MinMin and MicroMin were instant successes.
Fingers burned in 1997
Interest from near neighbour Indonesia came in the form of faxes from a company with diverse interests in forestry products, clothing and fishing tackle. We came to know these people on a business and personal level and they made two trips to visit us in Australia and look over the factory. We began exporting lures for sale in Indonesia and Singapore soon after.
Using cheap labour rates as leverage, our Indonesian connection proposed a joint venture to relocate the factory to Samarang in Java; we were to spend some months there training workers. We gave this serious consideration but decided against compromising our Australian-made heritage, and relinquishing so much control for a business we'd built from scratch. This business was and remains..our baby.We also had serious concerns about preserving our reputation for quality. A lot of cheap, imported copy-cat product had begun entering Australia and we were determined to maintain our position at the quality end of the market. After all, that was what got us to where we were. Declining the move to Indonesia revealed the true colours of our friends and the relationship went off the boil. It ended when we were dudded for payment on an export shipment. Lesson learned. Put that one down to experience. (Subsequent political developments in Indonesia further vindicated the decision to remain 100% Australian).
A spanner in the works
You wouldn't guess that a major restructure of the electricity industry in NSW would have an impact on a small Aussie lure manufacturer. It did because Rob had a job with an electricity company, and was relocated in late 1997. This left Frank to run the manufacturing operations in Inverell while the book-keeping, marketing and design functions went to Port Macquarie with Rob. This was a fateful development because, in time, the entire operation was moved to Port Macquarie.
Product quality is a core value of the business. It embodies not only lure performance in the water where it counts most, but aesthetics, durability and reputation. Our focus at the turn of the century was to cement our position as an innovative manufacturer and lay foundations for global business.
In 1999 we invested in improving the durability of our lure bibs. All manufacturers of lures with transparent bibs experience occasional problems with breakages—some more than others. We were reluctant to accept a small failure rate.
Working with our partners (toolmakers, moulding experts, and resin suppliers), we developed a tougher bib technology. This involved not only the blending of a plastic alloy, but a modified moulding process.
So important was this development that we protected it with a new trademark—enduroShok™. We were confident that enduroShok toughness was unequaled, having torture-tested our own product and many local and imported rivals. None of them could go the distance with enduroShok™. We launched our enduroShok™ bibs in January 2000. Coming out of the gates at the same time was a brand new bib design to go with our Bandit body. It was re-birthed as the S85 Spoonbill.
A decision for the future
In any business, it would seem foolish to abandon a brand with a proud heritage, a great reputation and enviable loyalty from resellers and end users. Why walk away from a brand when the hard work of building it had been done?
That was our tough decision for 1999.
Downunder Lures was a well known brand in our industry and identified so well with what we stood for. The Australian fishing scene is world famous and here was product designed and developed in that great proving ground. So strong was the brand that many keen anglers referred to our lures as Downunders rather than by their specific model names.
"What did you catch it on?"......."A Downunder."
Why fix it if it wasn't broke?
...because we couldn't own the brand. In Australia there are dozens of companies that are 'downunder' something or other. It's not possible to trademark such a generic or geographically based name. Australia owns it—and fair enough! We needed a handle to claim as our own intellectual property, and one that would not impose limits on where we could take the business.
We also needed a name that evoked quality, and the spirit of sports fishing, and would stand for something that committed anglers everywhere could identify with. We 'scrabbled' up literally hundreds of words and finally chose Predatek. We go forward under this banner. The company is still Downunder Lures Pty Ltd, trading as Predatek. Our logo? A predatory fish in the act of striking a lure — the quintessential moment of truth in sports fishing.What kind of fish? It could be any of a dozen or more species that fire the imagination of anglers around the world.Whatever your fishing religion, the logo is a symbol of Predatek's commitment to Maximum Efishency.
We launched our first website with the brand name change and it was instrumental in giving our business international exposure. New international agents found us via the Web.
"I normally don't comment on the quality, or lack thereof, of commercial web pages. However I just finished looking at the site you put together and I must say that in my seven years of web surfing I have never seen a better, more informative and easily navigated site.
Congratulations on some really excellent work."
Don West - Orange Park FL. USA
Highlights (and some lowlights) since the Predatek factory was moved to Port Macquarie in 2000.
Exports to: Netherlands, UK, USA, Hungary, Russia, UAE, Norway, Sweden, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa
Our USA distributor wanted a shallow-running Vper so we developed the Sandviper to cater to that market. As a bonus, the Sandviper has proved a winner on barramundi and other Australian species. The Sandviper was launched in 2002.
2002 also saw the introduction of the Viper Xtra and Sandviper Xtra models. These have 2 large treble hooks instead of the standard 3 trebles, and early export models had luminescent enduroShok II bibs.
Unscrupulous manufacturers in China copy our lures but the quality is inferior. Loyal customers stick by us.
2004 Predatek is a finalist in the Australia Post Small Business Awards
2007-2008 The GFC and high AUD$ reduces our export competitiveness. Chinese knock-offs continue to come into the country.
2008 We launch the third variant of the famous Viper marque—the deep-diving HyperViper
We launch some custom colours in response to distributor requests. Scandinavian and Dutch agents request colur schemes customised for the European market.
October 2013: We launch our Facebook page.
February 2015: R&D commences on a large surface lure for Murray cod. It's long overdue!
August 2016: Predatek uses 3D-printing technology for the first time to produce a protoype Jabberwok lure body
March 2017: The name 'Jabberwok' is registered as a trademark with IP Australia (#1791198)
May 2017: Jabberwok lure design registered with IP Australia (#201711951)
January 2018: We solicit feedback from Australian anglers on social media to help design the best colour schemes for the new Jabberwok surface lure
March 2018 The 18-year-old Predatek website is rewritten and launched to cater for desktop and mobile users and social media
to be continued...
Last updated March 2018
enduroShok, efishency, and Predatek®
are trademarks of Downunder Lures Pty Ltd
(ABN 64 050 040 189)