Fishing lures a hit for small-town teen entrepreneurs

Three 16-year-olds from this Kansas town just beat about 90 percent of the competition at a national high school business class convention in California.

The business model they designed for their fishing-lure company was up against those of many older students, some from private schools in major U.S. cities, at the Future Business Leaders of America conference in Anaheim.

Now, the teens are back in Kansas with the goal of growing the company by improving the product, packaging, promotions and sales in retail stores and online.

Even beyond the next school year, Gabe Backhus, McKenzie Shippy and Emilie Roe are talking about ways this business experience will help them through college and into adult careers.

The business, Double B Baits, is living up to its company slogan of “Kickin’ Bass & Takin’ Names,” according to the teacher who is helping them.
“This is really very impressive, what they’re accomplishing,” said Lisa Beye, a business teacher at Herington High School. “These kids are gaining so much great experience from this project.”

Starting small

Backhus began fishing with his dad when he was 2. By the time he was 10 he was entering youth bass tournaments around central Kansas. It wasn’t long until he started thinking about making his own fishing lures.

“I just wanted to be fishing something better than what everybody else had,” said Backhus, a tall, lanky kid who loses his shyness when the talk turns to bass fishing and bass lures. “My mom gave me a lure-making kit for Christmas one year and I started making plastics. Things just grew from there.”

Rather than copying what was already being made, Backhus looked for ways to make his lures more attractive to fish.

His plastic lures, which include imitation crawdads and plastic-wormlike senkos, look and smell like something a bass would want to eat.

“I’d heard when a bass bites, that tasting some scent will get them to hold on to it longer,” said Backhus, “so I found some scents online and mix it into the baits. I also soak the baits in scent before I put them into a package.”

In a workshop at his rural Herington home, Backhus has continued to experiment. He tests his creations at a 26-acre lake that’s literally in his backyard.

The desire to sell some of his creations was a natural progression of his ideas, Backhus said. He knew who to turn to for help.

Good timing

Last school year he enrolled in Project Management, a business class taught by Beye. Backhus and Beye sought other students who could add talents to a company they named Double B Baits.

Shippy signed on as marketing manager; Roe joined the team to help with accounting.

“I’ve just given them suggestions and ideas,” said Beyes. “They’ve been the ones who’ve taken ideas and really run with them. They’ve worked hard.”

Beye said the project got a boost when Chris Barnes, owner of a local grocery store, offered advice on pricing and marketing.

“The timing was really great, because he was wanting to start selling some fishing equipment, since no place in town was at that time,” said Beye. “He was one of the first businesses to stock the Double B Baits.”

Tammie Roe, Emilie’s mother and an accountant, lent her expertise to the business plan used to pilot the business.

One of the company’s biggest home runs came with the idea of marketing T-shirts and hoodies with the business logo and “Kickin’ Bass & Takin’ Names” slogan.

“I told them they have to get that one approved by the principal, I wasn’t going to do it,” said Beye. “They did, and I think every kid in school has at least a shirt. It was amazing to see how many kids stood in line to buy those things. This summer they started selling hats with just the logo, but it seems like I’m seeing them all over town.”

The business

Much of the school year the students worked to improve the business plan they used to place third in the Kansas Future Business Leaders of America competition. In California, they made it to the round of 14 finalists out of 112 schools. They weren’t called for the final 10.

Now students and teacher are working to increase demand for the lure line, which includes swim and football jigs, and plastic senkos, craws, finesse worms, mud bugs and flukes. Backhus has some improvements in mind, and hopes more anglers take advantage of the custom-made side of the business.

“If they have a particular color they like and can’t find, I’d be glad to work with them and produce what they’re looking for,” said Backhus. “I’m pretty sure we can make about anything.”

Lures average about $6 a package, and all profit goes to Backhus. Shippy and Roe will be rewarded with scholarship money when they graduate in two years.

Shippy said she’s fine with that arrangement and feels she is getting paid for her efforts in other ways.

“Getting to talk to so many people, in so many places has really made me branch out. Just the whole experience of going to California and presenting our business plan to so many people was really good for me,” said Shippy. “I know everything I’m learning is going to help me in the future.”

She said that could include applying to colleges and for scholarships and a possible career in sports marketing.

Backhus hopes to keep the company going, and growing, through his college career. His current ambition is to head to Kansas State, become a member of the school’s national championship bass fishing team and major in fish or wildlife management.

Beye has confidence he’ll succeed.

“Even a year ago I don’t think he could have done what he did at the national competition, to get up and talk with people like that,” she said. “Of course there’s a lot he doesn’t know, but if he stays with this there will probably be opportunity after opportunity. (In California) we had so many people come up and talk to the kids, and encourage them. I think there are plenty of people who will support young entrepreneurs out there.”



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