The size of the membership roster is fine for now, but Espenscheid hasn’t the slightest intention of keeping her firm minnow-small. She’s working to expand her products’ retail presence, and since Espenscheid’s appearance on national TV this past June, the Fishin’ Chix Web site has been averaging $10,000 in monthly sales. Espenscheid thinks at that rate, the company will turn a profit by mid-2008.
"There are a lot of people trying to tap into this market by making pink rods," Wes Rozier notes. "None have gone to the extent that Claudia has, though. She has created a brand and a national club for women to join."
But, rather like the novice angler who yanks on her fishing line too soon, Espenscheid was overly optimistic with her early orders to suppliers. The thong underwear with the logo, for example. "I thought they’d be well-received, and within the club a lot of women did buy them," she says. "But I realized that wasn’t really the message I wanted to send." Even worse, "I also placed a big order, not realizing I had bought all junior sizes," she says ruefully. "It was Fishin’ Chick-lets."
Everything really came together the day of the Ladies Fishing Rodeo. "It had been a terrible morning for me," Espenscheid recalls. "We’d had a lot of problems with the prizes."
But when she walked into Flounder’s Chowder House for the lunch and awards ceremony after the competition, "There must have been 200 people wearing Fishin’ Chix hats and shirts," she says. Kids were running around with tournament shirts. Guys were wearing Fishin’ Chix visors, tournament participants were carrying Fishin’ Chix towels and, in some instances, clutching their catches of the day.
"I felt like ‘Oh my god. I’m the catalyst for a revolution,’" says Espenscheid incredulously. "People stop me in stores and say, ‘Fishin’ Chix!’ Instead of me calling people every day to talk to them about investment opportunities, people are calling me wanting to be a part of this. There’s this camaraderie because of fishing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a physician or a janitor. You share a common bond. I’m part of something cool, and it makes me so happy."
Running the Numbers
$60,000 initial investment, trawled from IRA and 401(k):
$25,000 for legal and other professional expenses,
$15,000 for office equipment, $20,000 for merch
$250,000 line of credit taken out against home to buy apparel, gear, and a new pink camouflage RV to drive to tourneys
$0 Espenscheid’s salary so far as CEO and founder of Fishin’ Chix
6 number of Fishin’ Chix employees (counting Espenscheid)
1 12-ounce box Zatarain’s Seasoned Fish-Fri mix, to make fried grouper (Espenscheid’s favorite fish dish)
Joanne Kaufman is a freelance writer in New York City.
Originally published in MORE magazine, December 2006/January 2007.