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St. Croix's history reads as the straight definition of hard work and determination. In 1948, co-founders Bob and Bill Johnson, both avid fishermen, decided to construct and sell landing nets. Their quality nets (complete with cedar handles, ash hoops, and hand-sewn netting) proved too costly for most sportsmen. A brainstorming session saved the then fledgling company. Perusing a display of cane fishing poles, the brothers decided to modify them to make them portable. They cut the poles into three shorter lengths and fitted them with brass ferrules. A local hardware merchant immediately ordered 500 rods, and the St. Croix Rod Company was born. Brother Doug Johnson and cousin John Olson joined the new venture. It is not clear how they decided upon the company name, but since the St. Croix River bordered their stomping grounds of Minnesota and Wisconsin, it is surmised that this was how the namesake was chosen. Efforts turned to expanding the product line and improving production equipment. Olson, an expert machinist, built much of the equipment that was used for many years. Originally based in Unity, Wisconsin, the busy company soon needed to open a second plant in the nearby community of Loyal. Within the first year the payroll grew from eight employees to 90. A summertime fishing trip in 1953 introduced the St. Croix's owners to the Park Falls area. Once again St. Croix needed room to expand and the Park Falls Area Industrial Development Corporation courted the owners with friendliness and attractive incentives. The company celebrated its grand opening in Park Falls in November of 1954. Over the years, there were a variety of goods manufactured that were essential to the development and success of the company. Solid and tubular rod blanks were sold to other companies such as Zebco and Water King. Private brand rods were created for Orvis, L.L. Bean, Cabela's, South Bend, Cortland and many others. Sundry items such as Department of Natural Resources shocking rods and landing nets, pool cues and marine antennas all contributed to the company's longevity. The Schluter Family Legacy In 1960 a group of businessmen from Park Falls invested in St. Croix. The company was struggling financially and needed more capital to invest in growth. Key to this change was one of the new owners: Mr. Gordon Schluter, proprietor of the local radio station and an astute businessman. The sales program was in a state of regression. To help rebuild sales, Schluter moved his family and took on the responsibility of Western Sales Manager in Boulder, Colorado. By 1965, he was back in his beloved Park Falls as the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer. In 1967, the revitalized company was sold to Schaper Manufacturing of Minneapolis. Schluter stayed on for a year as CEO and then moved his family to New Mexico. Products such as reels imported from Japan and leaders, hooks and lures from Hong Kong were added to the product line. During the early 1970s, sales seemed to increase quickly; however, much of the accumulated volume was due to under pricing to maintain a competitive edge. Low-priced foreign markets and higher costs at home left St. Croix in serious trouble by the mid 1970s. Schaper management decided to close the doors at the end of 1977. Once again, the Park Falls community leaders rallied together. They contacted Gordon Schluter in New Mexico and urged him to see if Schaper would sell the troubled company. Schluter and two partners, Norman and Leonard Hoefferle, ended up buying the company. Schluter noted: "We had put a lot into that company over the years. A lot of heart. Thinking about moving back and driving past a boarded-up building really bothered me." At this time, St. Croix remained the only major manufacturer of rods left in the United States. With Schluter at the helm, the decision was made to discontinue the terminal tackle business and to direct all efforts toward manufacturing quality fishing rods for which the company was best known. In the early 1980s Gordon purchased the ownership interest from the Hoefferles. Son Paul Schluter was hired as St. Croix's first employee sales representative. Paul remarks: "When I started working, things were pretty desperate. During my first week in the field, I realized our product line was outdated and we'd have to make some significant changes. Our rod designs were outdated and we were about five years behind the times in materials. We were late getting into graphite from fiberglass." Their rebirth can be credited to dogged hard work and determination. They began improving the quality of the products and sourcing new components. A large private-label contract with Zebco boosted their efforts. The company's survival is largely credited to Gordon Schluter's dedication, but other family members have become equally wrapped up in the St. Croix legacy. Paul recalls, "Getting the Zebco contract helped rescue the company but a lot of hard work went into it. I remember in spring of 1984 we were close to missing a delivery date with them so we rented a U-Haul truck and drove 24 hours straight to Tulsa to get one of their first shipments delivered on time." Paul's brother, Jeff, joined the family business in 1984 as a St. Croix factory sales representative in the upper Midwest. Jeff was met with a sense of nostalgia about St. Croix rods, but little interest from retail store buyers. Equipped with the newly redesigned Premier series rod (originally introduced in 1964 as a tubular fiberglass rod, it was re-introduced in 1984 as a graphite rod), the gifted salesman increased sales 15 times over between 1984 and 1990. He was promoted to Vice President of Sales and Marketing and continues to focus on advertising and working closely with the design team in the development of new products. Brother David Schluter joined St. Croix in 1992. He completely redesigned the shop and restructured the management information systems. He was also integral in implementing an incentive program that rewarded employees for their efforts to help accomplish company goals. David is now Vice President of Manufacturing. Sister Pam Schluter Smylie is not involved in the daily operations of the company, but is essential when it comes to organizing special events. She initiated the efforts to commemorate the company's 50th anniversary in 1998. In January of 1990 the four younger Schluters bought the company from Gordon. They continue to honor his deep sense of commitment and dedication to deliver top-quality products for fishing enthusiasts. Today, St. Croix is recognized throughout the world as a pioneer in the development of high performance fishing rods.

Heritage + Passion

Something remarkable happens when you act on your convictions. You find focus, decisions become clear and your fear of failure fades. When Gordon Schluter returned to his northern Wisconsin home in 1977 to revive a struggling fishing rod company, he had one simple purpose – to create fishing rods that give anglers the upper hand.

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