Should you buy your Japanese fishing tackle direct from Japan or from here in the UK ?
I have been thinking about doing a blog post on this subject for a while now, and then a comment left the other day made me feel that the time was right to fire away and put something up. Now please, please understand that I have nothing to gain by writing this post, indeed I am writing it on time that I should technically be using for bashing out magazine features that earn me a part of my living - whereas this blog does not of course, but that is entirely my choice to make. I am the same as you - I am an angler and a customer and I am always going to look for the best prices/deal on whatever stuff I buy. Think back a few years to when virtually no "modern lure fishing" gear was being sold here in the UK and then compare it to now. What I am categorically not doing here is trying to tell you where or how to buy your fishing tackle, but if I can help out by telling you what I know then perhaps I can make it easier especially for those tackle junkies amongst us (who, me ?) to make their own mind up.
We all know that a "typical" bass fishing lure, rod, reel, vest, fish-grip, spool of line etc. from a Japanese fishing tackle company is going to be cheaper to buy in Japan that it is here in the UK. Nothing remotely surprising there. It's the same the other way round I am sure. Click on some of the Japanese specialist tackle websites and you might well get rather excited and start clicking the "Pay Now" button like crazy - and yes, I have done this before and no doubt I will do it again. If you then search around UK retailers and online stores and then wonder why on earth Japanese products seem to be priced more expensively over here (when converted back to Yen of course), then allow me to try and explain the ins and outs of it. I am hoping that I have got my facts right, but I stand to be corrected if there is an error or two - and please bear in mind that I am talking about Japan and the UK here, not Japan and Ireland, the Channel Islands or the rest of Europe.
OK, so you find the item(s) you want on a Japanese fishing tackle website and you "manoeuvre" them into your virtual shopping basket like a teenage boy moves across the dance floor towards a pack of females. Nice and easy does it, a bit nervous, but at the same time rather exciting. The website works out the shipping costs (I have never ordered a rod from Japan, but I would guess that it is not that cheap to ship one over) and then you pay up via your credit card or perhaps PayPal. All done and the goods are now on their way. You wait expectantly for that doorbell to go.
Then we come to HMRC, or HM Revenue & Customs, but before anybody pipes up, I know there is always going to be the odd case where for some reason your package will slip through their clutches and arrive on your doorstep without incurring any extra charges. It never happened to me when I was looking around for lures that I could not get in the UK, but you always hear the odd story of "I paid what the Japanese website charged me and not a penny more, the UK's just a rip-off" kind of thing. For the most part though your package of Japanese fishing tackle loveliness is going to incur some further charges before you get your grubby mitts on it.
The first time you know anything about this might well be one of those perfectly delightful letters you get from Parcel Force that tells you your goods will not actually be released and delivered to you until you pay some more money. Not only are Parcel Force charging you (or me) a handling/clearance fee of £13.50 (pretty sure this is the right amount), but on top of that is going to be another amount of money that is actually Parcel Force collecting the HMRC charges for them under license. On top of the price you paid on the Japanese website (plus shipping) will be added Import Duty of 3.7% and then VAT at 20%. Now I believe I am right when I say that a company like Parcel Force asks for payment before final delivery to you, but then somebody like Fedex I think will deliver and then send out a letter perhaps a few weeks later that asks for the fees. If you get away without any of this then good for you and stay nice and quiet !!
So does this then work out more expensive than buying the same item(s) here in the UK ? Well it might and it might not. It's up to us to work out the charges and compare them to buying the same item(s) here in the UK from the increasing numbers of companies who are to importing Japanese fishing tackle. I do think that there are plenty of reasons for buying from UK business, but of course we all want to pay the least amount of money for something. There is one thing that I think is vital to point out here - if you buy the more expensive items like rods and reels direct from Japan then the chances are that the moment your package leaves Japanese shores any warranty becomes null and void. If the Japanese tackle company or indeed website offers a complete global, no quibble warranty then you're fine (rare I would guess), but if they don't and your rod turns up with something like a crushed ring or a damaged tip section, or you take the rod out fishing and it snaps for no apparent reason, then I wish you the best of luck with now getting it sorted. If the Japanese website/retail outlet is helpful (and there are some well known outstanding ones that I hear about regularly which provide an excellent service and let's not forget - choice) I would imagine you could ship the item back (at your own cost) and then they might try and sort it out with the manufacturer on your behalf. I am not sure about the HMRC charges on bringing back stuff into the UK that you have already paid for but had to send back, but it is worth finding out about.
If you know anything about how a legitimate UK company goes about importing and then wholesaling/retailing Japanese fishing tackle then you will realise that there are all manner of different charges that these companies have to pay and then obviously work into their cost and/or retail prices before you or I can buy them. Think about Import Duty, VAT, shipping charges, and then of course the importer/wholesaler and the retailer have to actually add margins to make a profit. It is also most important thing to realise that a lot of these Japanese fishing tackle companies are very much zeroed in on fulfilling the (huge) Japanese domestic fishing tackle market, and whilst our lure fishing market is growing, I would guess that we are pretty insignificant in some respects. Extra credit then to the Japanese tackle companies who are targeting us properly. I know enough people and companies here in the UK now who deal very regularly with Japanese tackle companies to realise how much time and effort (which equals dosh) it takes to build relationships, and most importantly, try to get beneficial prices at which they can buy/import the gear. People don't do it for fun. Sure, they can do it because they are passionate about fishing, but a business has to make money at the end of the day. What about currency fluctuations as well ? On the flipside I would guess that as the UK lure fishing tackle market grows and expands then perhaps more Japanese tackle companies will take it increasingly seriously and then begin to offer our importers/wholesalers more favourable buying rates. It goes in roundabouts of course. Business is business at the end of the day and a business needs to make a profit. I do have to state that if you buy your Japanese item from a genuine source here in the UK then that importer/wholesaler/retailer is now responsible for your warranty, and with items such as fishing rods, reels and clothing I think that is pretty important. I am not for one second defending any UK companies here, merely telling you what I know so that you can better understand why the "buy me now price 'cos I'm shiny" you see in a shop/website in the UK and then Japan often bear no correlation at all. The decision rests entirely with you as to where you then buy your gear, but I have a number of friends/contacts within the tackle industry whom I hugely like/respect and sometimes it amazes me how much time and effort it takes to get the kind of gear into the UK that we are becoming increasingly used to seeing. Also bear in mind that we are being charged 20% VAT by our powers that be whereas in Japan they are paying a 5% Sales Tax instead.
I am going to give you an example here, and I am not betraying anybody's trust by repeating this here just in case you were wondering. I know for a fact that the people behind Top Water Lures would love to be able to distribute (wholesale) MegaBass lure rods and reels to some key accounts within the trade. They reckon they are some pretty awesome rods and reels, and from my limited experience I would tend to agree. Only a few years ago and I had never even picked up a Japanese lure rod, but this learning curve I am on is enabling me to become more and more aware and I hope better informed, and a high-end Japanese fishing tackle company like MegaBass is making some pretty serious rods and reels (not to mention lures of course, but the margins on lures as opposed to rods and reels I understand are often completely different). Anyway, for all that a company like Top Water Lures is doing with bringing (and subsequently marketing - the gear does sell itself, and marketing is a cost) Japanese brands like MegaBass and IMA into the UK, they are in continuous negotiations aimed at securing favourable enough prices on MegaBass rods and reels to enable them to distribute them out into to the trade without the dealer/retailer then having no choice but to price them out to customers at what Top Water Lures believe is just too much money when compared to the prices you would pay in Japan. Hence for the moment, Top Water Lures currently sells MegaBass rods and reels through their website Bass Lures.co.uk only. As I said earlier, perhaps in time when our UK and perhaps European lure fishing market is taken more and more seriously then some of the Japanese companies will make life more "favourable" for items like this to become more widely available at "sensible" prices that then compare with Japanese domestic market prices.
So there you go. I only know the stuff I have written about and I just can't speculate on Japanese fishing tackle being imported into the UK via other channels and then sold in other ways to the ones that I have described. Warranty on rods and reels is always going to be important to me as an angler. It's generally a free world and I would guess that there are always going to be "other" ways to get various items of Japanese fishing tackle into the UK and then make it available to buy, but I can only talk about what I learn via the people I know within the trade. There are of course many, many items of Japanese gear out there that are not available to buy here in the UK and you are left with no choice but to buy from abroad if you want the stuff, but I am constantly amazed at how much more gear is being made available to us almost day to day.
I will leave you with this - the only ways that I can think of where you are going to be able to buy an item of Japanese fishing tackle company at the exact price you see quoted either by the manufacturer or a Japanese website/retailer is either to fly to Japan, buy it yourself and then bring it home, or otherwise ask a friend who is perhaps passing through to pick the item up for you. End of. Technically you are then meant to declare the item(s) at the airport when you come through customs, but that is up to the individual and I am not about to comment on that one. Even if you are the lucky sod who misses out on HMRC's charges for some reason, you are still going to have to pay shipping and then risk having no warranty for the item. UK prices are what they are and Japanese prices are what they are, and at the end of the day all I have tried to do is to give you a few facts, figures and examples to try and help you make your own minds up.