By Miles Burghoff
Special to BassFan

When Shimano first came to the United States from Japan with its innovative and highly acclaimed bicycle components, the company knew it needed to do something special to show off its products and provide support for them in the new marketplace.

It was around 1965 when Shimano sent a “caravan” of employees out on the road to make contact with end-users and retailers. It was a highly successful endeavor that enabled Shimano to showcase its products, and the company soon became known as the industry leader in quality and innovation.

In 1970 Shimano decided to look for new segments to break into that would benefit from the company's superior engineering and machining processes. Shimano Fishing was born.

Now, 44 years from the inception of its first line of fishing products, Shimano is once again sending a caravan of passionate staff on the open road with the intention to provide the same kind of support, knowledge and enthusiasm that made the original bicycle caravan such a success.

This crew of passionate anglers who have been sent out to promote and educate about Shimano brands (which include G. Loomis, Jackall and Power-Pro) has been dubbed the Shimano Experience Team (SET).

Bass Crews 1 and 2

This year marks the birth of the SET in its current form, but this type of traveling support for the fishing segment actually started last year, with three Shimano employees and one Toyota Tundra and Skeeter/Yamaha rig. The original team consisted of former Bassmaster pro Chris Bielert, Shimano product expert Dan Thorburn and fishing industry veteran Mark Mills.

The program was so successful that it was doubled it in size for this season. This year, with a focus on freshwater bass fishing, the SET program is comprised of two Bass Crews complete with Toyota Tundra tow vehicles and fully decked-out Yamaha-powered Skeeter bass boats.

Bielert and Thorburn have returned as leaders of the newly expanded program and the team also has two newbies – Ethan Cox and myself.

Bielert and Thorburn are obvious choices for the SET due to their extreme level of product knowledge and passion for the company. Bielert is a savvy angler who has a diverse background in tournaments, including fishing on the Bassmaster Tour, while Thorburn is very experienced in many different types of fishing and really shines when sharing his depth of angling, company and product knowledge.

Cox, like me, is a former collegiate angler who won the 2012 BoatUS Collegiate Bass Championship. He's easy to spot amongst the team, but difficult to understand at times due to his excited, rapid-fire North Carolinian banter. Despite the need for translation at times, you can always tell Ethan is sincere – even if he does sound like Boomhauer.

Though the two rigs are broken down into two different crews, the teams are single, cohesive units and usually work together at major events like Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments, the Bassmaster Classic, ICAST, etc. We also visit dealers (large and small) along the way to not only show off products, but to create or strengthen the link between the consumer and the company. Together, the members of this team have a dynamic combination of skills, experience levels and knowledge to make it a very effective program.

Quality Talks

The concept that the SET is based upon is relatively new in the fishing industry and only a few companies employ this type of traveling support and education concept.

A program like the SET needs three things to make it a successful endeavor: a team that's passionate about the product and the company, a consumer base that feels the same way, and products that can speak for themselves in terms of quality and innovation.

Photo: Shimano

The Shimano Experience Team rigs are visiting a lot of high-profile events this year as well as making stops at retail outlets.

To be honest, the SET crews have easy tasks to accomplish. We travel to different high-profile locations, set up our branded displays and encourage consumers to try out products like the new Curado I low-profile baitcasting reel or the completely updated G-Loomis IMX series of rods. The simple act of casting and handling the product speaks volumes. For the most part, we're there to help people understand the specific features of the products and how they translate to on-the-water performance.

Reuniting the Family

Another big part of the mission of the SET is to connect, reconnect or strengthen the relationship between the consumer, the retailer and Shimano.

One thing I've learned being a part of this team is that Shimano truly cares about maintaining a relationship with the consumer and works hard to honor those relationships by learning from mistakes and improving upon successes. This is one of the key reasons the SET was created – to provide a direct line of communication between the brand and its consumers.

Shimano is listening, and the SET program is a critical link in the communication chain.

SET Here, There, Everywhere

The SET has an extensive travel schedule this year that includes the aforementioned stops, numerous outdoor shows, dealer tournaments and retail events. The teams will also provide retail training at more than 100 fishing tackle dealers across the country. At each of these events the SET offers everyone the opportunity to demo all the latest gear from Shimano, G. Loomis, Jackall and Power-Pro.

I’ve personally handed youth anglers a G. Loomis NRX paired with a Shimano Stella FI reel, a combo that retails for upwards of $1,300. Though most people couldn’t spend that kind of dough on a rod and reel (and I include myself in that group), it’s not all about selling product with the SET – it is all about the experience.

So if you see either of the SET rigs on the road – be it at an Elite event, a local tackle shop or even at a gas station – feel free to approach a member of the Bass Crew. Make sure to ask questions, give feedback and demo the product while you’re there.

That's what the SET is all about, and we love every minute of it.