EDGE Innovation

Neil Kwiatkowski
Senior Industrial Designer
Engineering Director

As the leading brand in tackle boxes since the 1950s, Plano knows that for competition anglers, tackle management is everything. Losing time looking for the right lure or detangling hooks can mean missing out on first place and a prize worth tens of thousands of dollars. Lures are a pricy investment and need to be kept in top condition — not easy considering they’re used in wet environments and are prone to rusting.

Smart was tasked with designing Plano’s new EDGE tackle box system to meet all of these challenges and more. The system is made up of general-purpose and lure-specific boxes, designed and engineered for competition and recreational anglers alike. Here, PlanoSynergy Director of Brand for the fishing division, Charlie Davis, shares the driving principle behind this new product line and how customers have been responding.

Honoree Fast Company 2020 Innovation Awards, Sports and Recreation category.

What was behind Plano’s decision to design a new kind of box?

Plano was founded in 1932 in as a molding and machining company. Founder Pete Henning was a fisherman, and in the 1950s, he had the idea to build a tackle box out of plastic—tackle boxes at the time were made out of metal or wood. Plano eventually became the leader in plastic tackle boxes, which are now the standard in the fishing industry, and is the de facto brand for organizational utility boxes.

Our tagline is “protect your passion”—protection and purposeful design allows, ultimately, a better experience, so it was important that however we evolved our box design, it would be in an industry-leading way.

How did Smart help you surface customer challenges and how did that impact design decisions?

Smart’s specialized methods of data-gathering—that’s something that usually takes a lot of time and structure. It was invaluable. The information you were able to pull from our end users was really the foundation for this project, and I don’t know of a way I would have been able to do any of that without Smart.

We interviewed everyone from weekend fishermen all the way up to World Class tournament anglers to get feedback about what they liked and disliked about their current options. We learned there was a market for more premium products with high durability, pre-separated dividers, a clear lid, one-handed latch, and easy labeling—as well as rust prevention and water absorption. We ended up inventing so many features that were really driven by what the consumer was demanding.

How does innovation, strategy, and overall impact drive your growth as a business?

Every year we’re tasked with a way to come up with product that is introduced at our major trade shows. Our key customers expect to see newness every year. Those new products are what get the premium placement on retail shelves.

What was an unexpected advantage to using Smart in your innovation process?

As an innovation partner, Smart was excited and open to hearing our ideas but also critical at the right times, in the right ways, always pushing us to see new perspectives. We had a two-way relationship and a really open communication that helped the output of this.

Some of what makes the EDGE system so premium is how it looks visually, and that was represented in those early concepts from you, which our engineers were able to use and get into commercialization mode. I’m shocked at how closely the final product resembles early renderings you showed us.

That’s a testament to the skill of your engineering department. We might have been able to identify some of those innovative features on our own, but you were able to bring those home and do an incredible job with the final engineering and overall construction and strength of the box.

What’s the reception been like from customers and the industry?

With the launch of the first 10 SKUs, we won Best Tackle System at iCAST 2019. We won again in 2020 with the second-generation EDGE product, the FLEX, which was based on all the principles that we worked on with Smart, with a tweak on the divider system.

A local retailer in Minnesota was on the the news talking about the EDGE box, saying that Plano used to be your grandpa’s fishing tackle box, but that we’ve completely reinvented ourselves as the most modern and exciting tackle storage system in the industry.

For us, to come up with a product that gets premium placement in almost every retailer has been incredible.

Which of this line’s features are you most proud of?

Every buyer I talked to, every end user I talked to, even our pro staff anglers that use 100 Plano stowaways in their boat were really excited about the pre-cut and vented dividers. I was really pleased and surprised to hear how much they loved those—they’re just so superior to what else has been in the marketplace. Also, even if what we’ve done in rust prevention and water absorption and durability is probably far better from an engineering standpoint, I personally think the most impactful part of EDGE is the clear lid and one-handed latch.

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