By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
He may owe thousands of sore-mouthed bed fish an apology, but to thousands of bass anglers, he has impacted their craft like few innovators ever will. He’s John Oliverio, the inventor/founder of Power-Pole, whose internationally distributed product traces its roots to the proverbial mother of invention – necessity.
Making his home in Brandon, Fla. with his wife Wendy and sons Nicholas (14) and Spencer (12), Oliverio’s first love has always been inshore saltwater fishing. His inspiration arose one windy day in 1997 while he and a friend tried unsuccessfully to target the Sarasota Bay snook they spotted in deeper depressions near a sandbar.
Anchoring left them at the wind’s mercy and when they weren’t swinging out of casting range, they drifted too close for the fish’s comfort. Frustrated, Oliverio pondered the notion: “If I could sit right here, I could catch every one of those fish.”
And thus was born the concept of a shallow-water anchoring device with the slogan “Swift. Silent. Secure.”
After several rounds of R&D, a good bit of head scratching and ultimately a now-famous Leggo mock-up, Oliverio presented his business plan to Len Mriscin a past client from the hot tub business he then operated (more on this later). With Mriscin’s investment, they formed JL Marine Systems, Inc., developed the first 6-foot Power-Pole and obtained a U.S. patent in 2000.
Oliverio would later buy out Mriscin’s stake in the business and go on to develop international distribution with strong presence in Australia and Japan, along with several European and Latin American countries.
More Than Expected
Admittedly, Oliverio’s Power-Pole vision greatly exceeded his initial concept. “Revolutionary” is no stretch for his product’s impact; nor is “gratifying” for its most pleasant surprise.
“I wish I could say that was my vision, but it absolutely was not,” Oliverio said. “I honestly thought it was going to be a side job; a hobby – something I would do in my garage to fill a small need. I had no idea it would grow to this.”
Suffice it to say, that small need multiplied exponentially once Oliverio shared his idea with Greg and Bryan Watts, two of the most successful anglers in redfish tournament history, who immediately saw the Power-Pole advantage. With several more top-tier teams following suit, Oliverio quickly recognized an important marketing truth.
“From the very beginning of the Power-Pole’s public introduction, it was hailed as a tool the professionals used,” he said. “A group of 100 or more boats would show up in a tournament city and they all had a Power-Pole. It was obvious to the weekend fishermen that when the professionals rolled into town, they all had a Power-Pole.
“I think that little element is what jump-started it. For one thing, you could see the product and then it was associated with the top of the pyramid of anglers. We kept that role model going when we expanded into the bass industry. We went right after the top guys in the Bassmaster Elite and FLW Tour.”
A Fresh(water) Direction
Oliverio admits his personal bass experience has been limited to bank fishing in Central Florida phosphate pits, where he nabbed his personal best 8-pounder on a big ribbon-tail worm. (He did note that he’d enjoy getting to know Lake Okeechobee from a boat. Just putting that out there for the people.)
Even without a ton of bass experience, Oliverio recognized the value of aligning his company with names like Dean Rojas (his first big-name bass pro) and Bobby and Chris Lane, the latter of whom went on to lift the 2012 Bassmaster Classic trophy above a Team Power-Pole jersey.
Oliverio notes that adding an 8-foot option spurred greater interest among freshwater anglers, who would later appreciate the 10-footers even more. Among the company’s biggest innovations, Oliverio says transitioning to brushless motors and the development of the wireless C-Monster control system are biggies.
The bass market further appreciated Oliverio’s addition of the variable speed motor, which allows the user to control underwater noise by adjusting how hard and fast the shaft deploys – a huge bed-fishing advantage. Also a hit with bass anglers: the Power-Pole Drift Paddles that attach to the hydraulic arms and help control speed and direction for open-water drifting (think Great Lakes smallmouth).
Reflecting on the success he enjoys today, Oliverio references key lessons learned early in his adulthood. He spent a year of engineering school at a West Virginia institution, but after deciding college wasn’t for him, his dad enrolled him in the “school of hard knocks” by helping the young Oliverio start his hot tub business. He took his lumps, as most young business owners do; but Oliverio is convinced that those ups and downs helped him for the course ahead.
“I tell young people all the time that (establishing Power-Pole) was another opportunity to make right everything that I did wrong in the hot tub business,” he said. "There were so many mistakes you make and you don’t even realize you’re making them. There are relationships with vendors and customers – you see the importance of a customer and how to support your customer and how to build your business through that.
“Honestly, I did it all wrong a lot and when I had an opportunity to start a new business, I put all that behind me. Len was really strong in that area and he really mentored me well. So, not only did I have a chance to start over and fix all my mistakes, I had someone who made me realize those mistakes and someone I could look up to and I wanted to make them proud of me.”
Essential in this development was the fact that Oliverio actively used his own product. Demanding flawless functionality, he recalls nitpicking every minute detail and fixing any flaws he discovered. This gave him not only practical insight, but a keen connection to his customers that has shaped the company philosophy.
The early goings presented Oliverio with an opportunity to test his newfound outlook when a third-party product created frequent installation failures. But rather than lament the nightmare, he used it to establish Power-Pole’s stellar service reputation.
“We only had one chance with all these customers having a bad experience, to do everything we could to make it a good experience,” Oliverio said. “So in the very early days, we had to build processes and procedures that would allow us to very efficiently handle that. From the time you take a phone call until the time a customer gets either a replacement or repaired is key. You couldn’t have them wondering what was going to happen, they needed to know immediately what was going to happen.”
Switching to a different part supplier cut the installation failures from 20 percent down to less than 1 percent. Nevertheless, Oliverio said Power-Pole maintains the same customer service mantra.
“If anybody has an issue with one of our systems, we don’t look at it as ‘Oh man, we gotta fix this,’ we look at it as an opportunity to create a relationship with this customer for life,” he said. “Things are going to break, things are not going to go as planned; it’s how you deal with it that matters.
“Every time we have that opportunity with a customer, we consider it a marketing expense to ensure that, no matter what, we are going to 100 percent absolutely make them happy.”