A trip through the doors at Peetz Outdoors in Victoria’s Rock Bay neighbourhood is a little like walking into a comprehensive high school.
It’s art, science, woodworking and metal shop all rolled into a compact workspace steeped in history.
The company’s age seeps into everything in its 1,800-square-foot space, and its honours, in the form of handcrafted fishing reels spanning nearly a century, hang on the wall, tracing the journey of an immigrant jeweller’s inventive mind and eye for design through to his mastery of crafting the kind of fishing gear that stands the test of time.
These days, the 90-year-old firm, founded in 1925 by Boris Peetz, has a lot more time.
New investment, ideas and energy from an investment group that features Art and Shawn Aylesworth and Marc Hoelscher has given the company new life.
Peetz Reels has been owned by Bill Hooson since 1977, when he bought it from Boris Peetz’s children Ivan and Judy, and the new partners see great potential in the brand and the gear. “These guys are really artisans. What they do is amazing,” said Art Aylesworth during a tour through the nooks and crannies of the shop.
Aylesworth, who has been consultant, mentor and investor in a number of companies since leaving the CEO position of Carmanah Technologies in 2007, is more of a wide-eyed fan and rabid researcher — his term for fisherman — at Peetz.
However, he is intent on being a big part of invigorating the Peetz brand and ensuring the gear is produced for generations to come.
The new partners have been involved with the business since last year, and Aylesworth still marvels at how Hooson and his staff work — crafting and hand-turning not just the major components for the world-famous reels, but manufacturing each small fastener, knob and gear as well.
“These are just beautifully made — everything here is made from basically nothing,” he said. “Who does that anymore? And it’s all done here.”
Hooson, who worked for the Peetz family in the 1950s before returning to Victoria and buying the business, said the new investment is a huge boost to the company.
“It will take Peetz to the next level. Obviously, being in it for 37 years, we got to a comfort level and were not too concerned about new products and new items,” Hooson said. “Now this is great. It’s a whole new world out there. It’s not just Vancouver Island, B.C. or the coast — anywhere is your market.”
Recently, Hooson marvelled at taking a few Peetz packages to the post office to be shipped to such diverse places as New Jersey, Wyoming, California and Russia.
“The markets out there love the product,” Hooson said.
That may be down to the company’s commitment to hand-making each reel, hand-pouring lead for weights and paying attention to the smallest details on each item it manufactures.
“It’s really important to keep the tradition going. When I bought the business in 1977, on the first day, Ivan sat me down on those stairs, saying, ‘I could have sold this business for more money, but I know you like the business, you know what you’re doing and you want to keep the name going and I want you to keep the name rolling for me,’ ” Hooson recalled.
“And I think the same is happening with Art coming in. It’s a whole new exciting program for us.”
According to Aylesworth, the immediate job is to breathe new life into the brand, which he says has great “warmth” within the fishing community.
“They don’t seem to need much excuse to get excited about it,” he said.
That should be stoked with some new products and slight improvements to the tried and true.
There is a new commitment to retail — the shop, manufacturing floor and office space includes a 400-square-foot retail space and mini museum — and a website offers an online retail opportunity.
“Retail-wholesale has been about 50:50, but it will likely be 95:5,” said Aylesworth, noting the online reach is already starting to get the name outside of North America. “And it will be bigger. The world is bigger than Victoria. The reality is these days, you have to make it easy.”
And that means increasing production, so there is little wait time for items ordered online or requested in-store.
To that end, the staff has already been increased to seven from two and Aylesworth can see the day when Peetz could be a “nice 15 to 20-person operation.”
The company currently produces hundreds of hand-made reels a year, most retailing for between $150 and $300. But the goal is to ramp up to several thousand a year within the next three years.
They also intend to increase their marketing and are getting more involved in the community. In addition to an annual donation, Peetz is involved with the Pacific Salmon Foundation in a program called Reel Change in which $10 from every reel sold goes to local fishery-habitat restoration and enhancement.
Aylesworth said he was sold on the company on one of his first trips to the Island from Calgary in the mid-1980s. A fishing trip convinced him of the gear.
“When I [moved] here, I knew I had to get one, but had no money,” he recalled, noting he had won a rod in a business-card draw at Capital Iron and was hoping to buy a reel from Hooson at his wholesale outlet, then on Johnson Street.
“Bill told me they only sell wholesale … but I came back and I remember he said ‘Every once in a while we get a second and we’ll sell them’ and then he took a pen and scored the face of the reel.”
Aylesworth bought it for about half the listed price and was hooked.
While that initial investment in Peetz 30 years ago hooked him, this latest, more significant investment aims to hook a whole new group of fishing enthusiasts.
“We sure like the idea of ‘made in Canada’ and our plan is to keep Peetz that way for another 90 years,” he said.