by Len Lear
Chestnut Hill is not the first place you’d think of as a location for a business that makes equipment for fisherman. But there it is, “Rod Warrior USA: World Headquarters & Production Facility” on the sign against a building off the parking lot behind Cosimo’s Pizza, 8624 Germantown Ave.
Inside the building is Pete Lerner, 52, making high-quality sleeves for fishing rods and covers for anchors. Pete is not a good ol’ boy from rural Alabama or Mississippi tooling around in a pickup truck to the local fishing hole. He is a native of a Chicago suburb who came to Philly to earn a BS from Penn’s Wharton School in Finance and International Business. He also started but did not complete a PhD in Risk & Insurance, also at Wharton, and he is self-taught in database management, which he also does now.
Lerner worked in corporate finance for about 10 years and switched to IT about 20 years ago. He met his wife-to-be, Cecelia, at Penn, and they have lived in Chestnut Hill for two decades. (They have a daughter, 20, a junior at Lehigh University, and a son, 17, a high school senior, but Pete requested that their names not be used.)
So how does a person with that background wind up making fishing-related equipment? “I got tired of guides and hooks getting stuck in old mesh covers,” he explained, “and my son and I wanted better protection for our equipment, so we started looking around. Nothing included all the features we wanted, so we tried to make our own. We went through a bunch of trial and error about four years ago and finally found the materials and design we liked. Then people we knew started asking us for them. That led to a few more good ideas with their feedback, and we ended up with the sleeves we sell today.”
About two years ago, a friend with Power Poles wanted covers for his anchors, so Pete designed and measured, cut and sewed and then delivered. (The Power Pole is a shallow water anchoring system for all small skiffs, bass boats, flats boats and bay boats.) A few other people asked for them, and now Pete offers them as another product. “The folks who make Power Poles agreed to let me use their product name in my work,” said Pete, “and I’m careful to get permission for all the logos I use.”
Lerner’s designs sold for a while from limited word-of-mouth and a small internet presence. Then, last January he launched his website, and business increased to the point where it was inconvenient to do the work out of his home. So Pete rented the “Rod Warrior” location three months ago “to have space and to give my living room back to my family.”
Pete’s Facebook page has been getting some very favorable comments from people using his products. For example, Larry Stewart, of Durham, NC, wrote two months ago, “Best rod sleeves made, period.”
Charlie Harding, of Hallsville, Texas, wrote, “Love their products,” and Joseph Statuti, of Lansdale, added succinctly, “Nice.”
Lerner does not flounder around since he still makes every item himself. “Every item is cut and sewn by me, so I am sure of the quality of every unit I ship. I can make about eight rod sleeves or two Power Pole covers in an hour. That’s why I’m often in my shop until 2 or 3 in the morning.”
How many sleeves and covers has Lerner sold? “Enough to warrant moving into this space and enough where I’m no longer surprised to see my products in use when I go fishing or see them used by professionals at competitions.”
In addition to his website, Lerner has one boat manufacturer selling his Power Pole covers on their site and a different boat manufacturer selling the rod sleeves. A few independent tackle shops carry his products, and some small high-end rod makers ship their products in his sleeves.
What does Pete like and dislike (if anything) about living in this area? “While there’s some bass to be found in the Manayunk Canal and Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, my son and I have to go pretty far to get really good fishing.”
What was the best advice Pete ever received? “Shut up.”
What was the hardest thing he has ever done? “Shut up.”
If Pete could have any job in the world, what would it be? “That would be making my products full-time. There is no greater satisfaction for me than getting feedback from clients and their repeat orders.”
More information at wwwRodWarriorUSA.com or www.facebook.com/rodwarriorusa.