Supply chain. A term that was largely foreign to the public is now dinner table conversation. In the simplest terms, supply chain is the sequence of events that moves product from the manufacturer to the consumer. And like industries worldwide, fishing has been whacked by supply chain challenges, as evidenced by empty peg hooks in the stores and out-of-stocks online.
Even during less problematic economic conditions, the goal is to keep peg hooks full. Fail to fill the pegs and your products are rapidly replaced by the competition. It’s with that core premise in mind that Northland sought the business operations excellence of Rick Billings, naming him VP of Operations. Already known for its exceptional “fill rates,” and with substantial growth on the horizon, Northland wanted to solidify its industry status.
Go to Billings’ LinkedIn profile and his skillset reads: “Operations professional with expertise leading distribution, supply chain, and manufacturing organizations. Experience includes P&L accountability, strategy development and implementation, personnel development, and customer/supplier relationship management.” A perfect fit for Northland’s growing business.
Northland CEO Gregg Wollner has firsthand experience to back Billings’ claims. “I have known Rick for 30 years and I worked with him for 14 years at Rapala. I’ve seen firsthand the impact he can make on a business, and I am thrilled to add him to our team.”
Born, raised, and residing in Rochester, Minnesota, Billings is a lifelong angler and hunter. Billings’ father “fueled his passion” not only at a local level, but on annual fishing adventures to Canada. But, to this day, the Upper Mississippi River remains the apple of his eye. A self-proclaimed river rat, Billings says the fishing quality, atmosphere and views are incomparable.
Like all good Minnesotans, Billings grew up stalking walleyes and northern pike. But then in his 20’s, Billings was introduced to bass fishing. “I was a little reluctant at first,” said Billings. “But after hooking that first smallmouth bass on the Mississippi, I never looked back.” Billings now has 25 years of competitive bass fishing under his belt, being part of both state and national teams. And now? He fishes tournaments for fun with his 8- and 16-year-olds, supported by his wife of 19-years.
On the career front, Billings started at IBM working in manufacturing, engineering, production, and optimization roles, where his passion for the business of operations and manufacturing developed. But Billings wanted more, so he traveled west and knocked out a master’s in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from Stanford University.
Billings then had the great fortune of returning home and merging his polished skills with love for the sport, banking 15-years with Rapala as VP of Operations and Product Development.
Now in his new role at Northland, Billings will employ Northland’s “clear vision and strategy” to a couple key areas:
Billings will center on inventory management and related customer service. “Everyone has been hit with supply chain issues,” said Billings. “You need the right inventory, and you need to ship quickly.” The industry veteran’s second area of responsibility will be lure development and manufacturing of Northland’s new hardbait category. Right out of the box, Billings will hone existing relationships, including those with legendary lure designers to expand both Northland’s and Bagley’s hardbait collections.
Billings journey with Northland and Bagley begins this week, and the trail ahead is clear.