Springfield, Mo.-based fishing and hunting gear supplier Lew's Holdings Corp. reeled in a big one — the manufacturer of at least 70 percent of all soft plastic bait made in the U.S. — with its acquisition of Southern Plastics Co. Inc.
The injection molder makes hundreds of thousands of jelly worms every day at a plant in Eufaula, Ala., for the private labels of Bass Pro Shop, Zoom, Kalin's and Strike King, which was already a brand in Lew's portfolio.
Owned by the private equity firm Peak Rock Capital, Lew's Holding is growing organically and through strategic acquisitions, according to Managing Director Peter Leibman.
"The addition of Southern Plastics enhances our presence in the fast-growing soft plastic lures category," Leibman said in a news release. "Strike King and Southern Plastics are highly complementary, and we're excited to utilize the capabilities of Southern Plastics to support the continued strong growth of Strike King."
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
With 49 injection molding machines that have upwards of 45 cavities, Southern Plastics produces a variety of unique lures with different scents, colors and additives, according to a September 2017 cable TV show about the operation on YouTube.
Soft plastic lures are typically produced from liquid plastisol, which contains PVC and a plasticizer.
The video about Southern Plastics shows virgin plastic in liquid form in a drum being stirred after a pigment is added. The mixture is then sucked up a metal cylinder and sent to a hose connected to a cooker on the side of the molding machine. From there, it is injected into a 46-cavity mold, heated to 345° F, then cooled. After about 2 minutes, a tangle of 46 fishing lures pop out and is hung to cure. Later, the lures are separated, inspected, packaged and shipped.
Southern Plastics has manufactured soft plastics for Strike King for more than 20 years in Eufala. The city of 13,000 is known for bass fishing at Lake Eufala, which is part of a five-lake tournament series that lures some 10,000 anglers a year to compete for more than $500,000 in prize money.
Southern Plastics has been a five-star vendor for Bass Pro Shop about 15 years. The molder produces the retailer's Stick-O worms and other bait products.
Leibman said that as a result of this deal, Lew's Holding is partnering with one of the industry's best-known manufacturers. Southern Plastics' former owner, Terry Spence, and the former president, Lisa Hagler, will remain involved with the business.
Founded in 1972 by Thomas Mann, Southern Plastics initially produced lures and tackle for his original business, Mann's Bait Co. Spence started working at the bait shop when he was 14 and about 15 years later bought Southern Plastics. The business added Bass Pro Shops as a customer in the 1980s and later Strike King and other brands.
"Southern Plastics manufactures probably 70 to 80 percent of the soft plastic baits made in this country. It comes right out of this building," Spence says in the video.
The company uses 5,000 different color formulas to produce the lures, with green pumpkin and June bug being among the most popular, Hagler says. The product in biggest demand is the 5-inch Stick-O worm, she added.
The business also is offering its customers a new production option with an open-pour technology that Hagler says has been in operation for about for two years and allows three colors to be laid down by a robotic arm. A layer of salt is then dispensed to increase the bait's sink rate.
"The fine salt catches the fish and the fishermen," Hagler says.
And, maybe, the acquirer.
In addition to Strike King, Lew's Holding has the brands Lew's, Hunters Specialties and Buck Bomb in its portfolio. The company supplies branded fishing and hunting gear and accessories through sporting goods and specialty outdoor channels.