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Lessons Learned in the Hunting Industry: Ten Things in Ten Years

Posted on 11 November 2009 by Tom Wiley


Editor’s Note: The following is a reprint from a profile article from the National Association of Hunting Clubs web site. We thought this might help you get to know Tom a little better.

NAHC member Tom Wiley works in the hunting industry as the Principal of a sales rep agency (Professional Marketing Inc.) and as a member of the New Product Development and Sales Team for Wildgame Innovations.

Many years ago, Tom was working the graveyard shift as a nurse at the Oktibbeha County Hospital when he had a 4 a.m. epiphany. He picked up a piece of left over surgical tubing and thought, “I bet this would make a good duck call.” Thus, the Flextone Game Call was born.

Tom turned a spare bedroom into a workshop and began making duck calls from this tubing. The first Flextone calls were made in that spare bedroom in late 1997.

Everyone who heard the calls was impressed at how the flexible tubing produced a truer, more natural sound by more accurately mimicking the soft, flexible tissue of an animal’s neck and tongue. Tom later began to sell the calls to local stores and trade shows. Sales grew rapidly, and Tom was forced to quit his job as a nurse to keep up with demand. He established Wiley Outdoor Products, LLC in 1998.

Tom began to develop more calls. He created a deer call out of flexible tubing, which has become his best selling product to date. The deer call’s flexible call body allows the user to change tones by simply squeezing the call at various, labeled pressure points. Also, the call is silent if accidentally coming into contact with the user’s gun or bow.

Tom received a patent on flexible game calls in August of 2000. His new call is named Buck Rage Plus, the combination of calls includes an All-In-One deer call and a Snort-Wheeze call, both combined on a lanyard.

The brand has gone from just a few calls to over 100 products, and has grown from duck calls only to calls and gear for all types of hunting and is currently owned and managed by Wildgame Innovations of Broussard LA.

Tom is married and has 2 boys ages 2 and 4. He currently resides in Starkville, MS.

The following article is written by Tom:

TEN THINGS IN TEN YEARS- Lessons Learned in the Hunting Industry

1- Give it a shot.
You will not succeed if you never try. During college, I was presented with a few opportunities, but I didn’t take advantage of them. I was scared to lose the little money that I had. Guess what…that little bit of money got spent anyway and on things that I would have been better off without.

After college and a few missed opportunities, I found myself working as a registered nurse in the emergency room of Oktibbeha County Hospital. While working the night shift I came up with the idea of making game calls from flexible surgical tubing. This time I wasn’t going to let an opportunity pass me by, so I gave this idea my best shot.

2- People will recognize and support a good idea.
The advantages of making game calls from soft flexible tubing are not always immediately recognized, but once you think about the anatomical design of an animal’s vocalization system- hard cartilage voice box and the soft flexible tissue of the neck and mouth- a light bulb goes off, and people say, “Wow that really makes sense.”

Not only does the design give you a more natural sound by being more anatomically correct, the design also allows the user to control volume and tone by squeezing the call in various locations. For example, the Flextone Buck Rage Plus will make all known whitetail vocalizations simply by squeezing the marked areas of the call while you blow. It was definitely the design that got Flextone Game Calls off of the ground.

3- Accept help
I learned pretty quickly that I needed help, and I was fortunate when some good folks offered some great help.

Looking back, I am amazed at how naïve I was. Heck, I was pretty sure I was fixing to make millions selling flexible duck calls even though I had no idea what I was doing.

The first support I got was from my college friend who provided me with some start-up money and a tiny space to build calls.

Next, I met someone who will remain a lifelong friend. He had some serious marketing savvy and too much time on his hands. If he hadn’t volunteered his time to me, Flextone game calls would have been nothing but a short lived “neat idea.”

I also learned I was not going to be able to make enough calls with a modified key copying machine and tubing cutters to make a living in the industry. That was about the time that I met the owner of Consolidated Plastics, an injection molding company in Bloomfield, MO.

I am thankful for all of the people that have helped along the way, from my wife to many friends that have put together thousands of calls (usually for nothing more than pizza and beer).

Later, I met some good folks with a desire to invest in Flextone. It was their help, along with the hard work of friends and co-workers that propelled Flextone to the next level.

4- I was wrong when I thought I was the one in control.
I was having a little success doing what I wanted to do: traveling, hunting, selling calls, partying, and thinking that I was steering the ship, but I was going in all the wrong directions. Eventually, I ran aground, but luckily I did not sink. I let God have control and he righted the ship.

5- Hunting is my passion, making hunting videos is not the same.
It seems odd to people when I complain about filming hunting  trips, but it’s harder to make good TV than people think. In fact, about the only way to ruin a great day in the duck blind, deer stand, or the turkey woods is to get bad video. A camera malfunction can turn a once in a lifetime hunt into a day you would rather forget. Props to those in the industry that have the patience to make good TV.

6- Working in an industry you love is still work.
It’s a tough, competitive industry- you have to fight for every success. There are only a few pegs in each sporting goods store for each category of products, and there are many people and companies that want those pegs. Sometimes I have to remind myself why I got in the hunting industry and make an effort not to let the business get in the way of my passion for hunting.

7- Prioritize.
I once thought that if I made enough money everything would be fine. Now I have two young boys and my eyes are beginning to open. If I put God first, family second, and work third- everything really will be fine.

8- Wearing too many hats will make you loose your head.
Managing a small company that’s trying to operate like a larger company means everyone has to fill many roles and wear lots of hats. Switching from the product development hat to the production hat, the quality control hat, the marketing hat, the sales hat, the customer service hat and even the janitor hat, can really make your head spin.

9- Choose the hat that fits you best.
In March of 2007 I took off a few hats. Flextone brand game calls was sold to Wildgame Innovations, LLC., and I joined the Wildgame Team in an effort to take Flextone to an all new level. Wildgame has already proven that they can successfully develop and market great products. You only have to take one look at their flagship products such as Acorn Rage, Acorn Rage Infused, and Acorn Rage Feeder Fat to see this.

I look forward to seeing Flextone game calls highlighted on the Wildgame Nation TV show every Saturday afternoon on the Outdoor Channel. I am also excited to get rid of a few hats. It is the sales process that I have found to be my favorite part of the hunting business, and I have recently created Professional Marketing Inc., a rep agency and as a result, I will get to remain in contact with the many friends I have made within the industry.

Now when I put on my salesman’s hat I will continue to sell Flextone game calls, but I will also get to add some other great products to the mix. I am now the Nikon Sport Optics rep for Mississippi and Alabama as well, so I will also be out showing what makes Nikon the “Trusted Name in Optics.”

10-  I don’t even know what all I don’t know.
When I look back I realize how little I knew when I got into this industry. I have a feeling that ten years from now I will look back and realize how little I know now. There is one thing, however, that I’m sure of – I have been very lucky and blessed.

Learn more about Flextone Calls and Wildgame Innovations at www.wildgameinnovations.com and www.wileyoutdoorproducts.com.

Original Article in North American Hunting Club Magazine

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