In this installment of “Behind the Brand”, we sat down with John Koza, CEO of the popular fly fishing brand Riversmith. Since you can’t drive anywhere in the west without seeing their debut product, the River Quiver, we figured it was about time to get a behind-the-scenes look at the brand based out of Boulder, Colorado. We were pumped to be able to meet the whole team, see their assembly in boulder, and do a little fishing on the side. It’s with that level of personal connection we are excited to take you “Behind the Brand”.
FL: Who is Riversmith?
John: Riversmith, is a team of people here who are passionate about fly fishing and want to better the fishing experience for everyone out there by making high-quality products to better enjoy the sport. We stand behind everything we make because we are using it ourselves, day in and day out. As far as anything else on who we are, we’re passionate about what we do here in the office, but we’re just as passionate about having fun out on the river. We gravitate towards ensuring what we’re doing here as a company is making a positive difference in the way people fly fish and enjoy the sport.
FL: Tell us a little about yourself and your journey at Riversmith!
John: I’m the CEO here at Riversmith. I’ve been with the company since it started back in 2018 and have been the longest full-time employee here. I’ve bounced around to various roles from sales to customer service to business development, but I am now handling more office admin duties as my role has evolved. Many hats have been worn throughout my time here, to say the least!
Things have definitely changed though since I took over the CEO role officially. It’s just more responsibility, I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder every day. That’s the biggest change I would say, but day to day wise, I’m still doing most of the same stuff. My goal is to continue to build and be there for my team in any way I can to help us all flourish in our respective roles.
FL: What inspired the founders to start Riversmith?
John: There was a big gap that one of our owners, John McGowan and Steve Holmes, saw in the marketplace for fly rod roof racks. They are passionate fly fishermen and had an issue with getting a fly rod holder that was back-ordered. This then led to looking into what was out there for this type of product both from a quality but availability standpoint. Once it was known after heavy market research that there was not a superior product in this realm, they decided to proceed with their engineering team to begin developing what is now known as the River Quiver.
They went through that for about 8 to 10 months until they had the final model down. Rigorous testing was involved in this process and every detail was looked at to make sure nothing was left out. From here, it was time to bring the River Quiver to market. That was the start of Riversmith. They envisioned the River Quiver as the first product here, but it’s definitely not our last.
FL: What did the early stages of Riversmith look like?
John: We launched ourselves publicly at IFTD in Orlando in July of 2018 and sold our first unit on September 1st of 2018. I came on with Riversmith in June, and that was when we had final prototypes. I was on the road a lot that summer, trying to get pre-orders from fly shops and spreading the buzz about our new company and product. But we officially launched at IFTD in 2018 and won the “Best accessories over $100” award, so it was super exciting to get that recognition right out the gate.
One thing that we really wanted to try to capture, from the beginning, is that we’re not a rack company, we’re a fly fishing company, and trying to get that messaging out there from the beginning helped us gain brand recognition and trust within the fly fishing industry. Even though our first product here is a rack-based system, at the core of it, we still want it to be known we are a fly fishing company first and foremost. With that, I think what differentiated us too, was the ingenuity behind the quality of our products. Every little detail that has gone into the River Quiver is pretty eye-opening to see. Nothing was overlooked in the design. It was extensively tested even to the point of getting it military-grade tested to capture its rigidness. We pride ourselves in taking product design/testing very seriously and will continue to be a focal point for all product releases moving forward as well.
We had three engineers that were top-level who created this, and now we’ve got another product developer who is now with us full-time. The way that these guys have looked at every individual little piece of every aspect of our products is pretty eye-opening. I don’t have an engineering-based brain, but when I see the actual detail that went into the River Quiver, for example, It made me say, “My gosh, this is incredible.”
FL: What made you want to sell the product in Fly Shops?
John: We always want to be known as a premium fly fishing brand and getting buy-in from shops to carry our products helped confirm that narrative with professionals trusting our products since the start. Our big goal at the beginning was to try and build as many relationships in the industry as we could and expand into as many shops as possible. What’s cool about it too is shops were very receptive to the River Quiver right away. This helped us tremendously in getting our name out there quickly from a branding standpoint. I think customers in general too, who fly fish like to buy fly fishing-specific brands too, so we wanted to really keep that in line with what we’re doing here.
FL: The River Quiver is assembled in Boulder, is there a plan to go fully “Made In America”?
John: Yes, it’s been something we are toggling with here. We would like to continue to strive toward making everything in America but there is no exact plan/timeline on how that may look. Though we have been extremely smart with not being a victim to supply chain issues overseas, it is something that is on our radar as a company. We always have inventory in stock and ready to ship.
Having an American-made product though would alleviate these concerns drastically. We do still assemble everything here in Boulder, CO and each product is QC’d before going out the door which does help give us and our customers more peace of mind, but if we could source locally here in the U.S. too it would be a big win for everyone.
FL: What’s next for Riversmith?
John: We’re going to be rolling out a lot more exciting content with more of a brand feel behind our stuff. Our product development team has been working through a slew of different ideas as well. The River Quiver was our first big breakthrough product as a company, but it’s by far not our last. We want to continue to expand our travel line, then expand into new product lines to really become a staple within the fly fishing industry. Our plan going forward is to listen to what the market is saying, grow within those demands, and keep pumping out products of the same quality that we’ve got out there right now.