They were described in the Milwaukee paper as a "fired up family of five" The year was 1938. The Matras - Frank, Bill, Earl, Michael and Ed – got into the business of buying and selling closeout and distressed merchandise. And if you combine parts of their first names - Frank and Bill specifically - you come up with Frabill. This marked the beginning of a 70-year legacy in the fishing industry.
In September of 1952, Frabill moved into a seven-story, 162,000 square foot facility in downtown Milwaukee. The newspaper proclaimed, "The new Frabill plant is probably the most modern and best-equipped of its kind in the country." The company's emphasis had swung from moving closeout merchandise to manufacturing fishing gear.
Frabill spent the industrial, postwar era of the 40s and 50s manufacturing fishing and marine accessories like landing nets, live bait containers, and boat seats. The 1960s saw the burgeoning company expand into terminal fishing tackle. During that same growth spurt Frabill diversified and entered the developing home basketball market, producing backboards, goals, mounting poles and accessories. Yes, sporting goods was a departure, but Frabill was able to leverage its manufacturing expertise.
By the 1970s Frabill was an established leader in the fishing tackle and general sporting goods industries. Beyond fishing gear and basketball equipment, Frabill also produced horseshoe sets, referee whistles, and the needles for blowing up balls. Jeff Marble, the present-day CEO, joined Frabill as Assistant Manager during that period.
In 1977, the Matras family sold Frabill to Huffy, a company best known for its bicycles. Huffy wanted to diversify, and the expanding sporting goods market seemed compatible to its core business. The newly acquired sporting goods arm became the Frabill Division of Huffy Corp.
The very next year Huffy purchased marine and fishing product lines from Cosom Mfg. Mixed amongst the products was a plastic bait container called the Flow Troll. Today, it is the most recognized bait container on our lakes and rivers. With the acquisition, Frabill became the largest supplier of bait containers and marine accessories in North America.
The fitness craze struck during the late 1970s and early 80s. Huffy jumped on the bandwagon with its own line of exercise bikes and weight lifting equipment. The company was now into sporting goods, fitness, and marine, as well as the foundational fishing category.
Huffy's interests in sporting goods and fitness increased during the early 80&'s, but at the expense of the fishing and marine division. Jeff Marble, unwilling to watch the decline, responded by assembling a group of investors to purchase the fishing and marine division. Frabill was reborn.
In 1985, Frabill capitalized on the developing ice fishing market and introduced The Hideout, its first portable ice fishing shelter. A 25-year history of building versatile, high quality shelters had begun.
The years from 1991 to present have been keenly centered on fishing. This penchant for manufacturing high performance, low maintenance fishing gear is evident in every landing net, bait management product, portable shelter and ice fishing accessory. And innovation drives Frabill to continue improving and adding features to its product lines.
Frabill, the manufacturer, is known throughout the industry for its rigid Quality Control Inspection Processes. Frabill has also earned recognition for its diversity-oriented hiring practices, recruiting many bi-lingual employees. On the retail front, capable and dedicated customer service is paramount at Frabill.
Frabill revitalized its brand in 2008 as part of an effort to better communicate the company's longstanding commitment to offering innovative, high-quality fishing gear. This bold new attitude is signaled by an enriched color scheme, updated logo, and overall powerful new appearance.
Frabill is 70 years young. With a focus on fishing and new look of confidence, Frabill is ready to tackle the next 70 years. (Pun intended.)