Three of the biggest reasons why some rods cost a lot more than others are: labor, quality of the components & blanks, & research & development. Those cheaper imported rods are made by factories where they don't care about advancing the sport - they are simply trying to get the cost down as low as possible to get a bigger share of the market. Their research & development department consists of someone copying someone else's rods. Their labor costs are also much less & can be so low that their workers make less in a day than an American making minimum wage will earn in an hour - after taxes!!
If we only knew the actual cost to make these cheaper imports we'd all flip our wigs. As the product moves from country to country & through different distributors, the price goes up by many percentage points. These are the biggest expenses for the importers & yet their rods are still so much cheaper than anything we in the "developed" world could make.
Steve Parton was a British fly fishing expert who made & sold his own rods. He also worked for the Shakespeare company in England as a consultant & was a respected author (he wrote a nice book called "Boatfishing For Trout"). He also ran a fly shop called Spartan Fishing Tackle. Sadly, Steve is longer with us, but he has left his words behind to guide us. He wrote an interesting article about the mark-ups in imported rods & how many of us are buying counterfeit rods or even rods we think are made here but actually aren't. While the article is written from a British perspective, I think those of us across the pond will find it insightful as well. In the article he points out the following:
"You can cut the cost of blanks in two ways - if you buy a lot or make a lot the same then there are some production economies and the more you buy the cheaper they will get.
The other way of cutting the costs is to proceed to the Far East where the poor sods work for a lot less and when I tell you that I can buy perfectly adequate 10' AFTM 7/8, 2 and 3 piece fully finished flyrods for just less than £5:00p each from China you will understand just how deadly is cheap labour competition these days. Take a 1,000 set and the blanks I can buy for less than £2:50p - and if I specify the finishes in a corrupt forger's manner and spend an extra £1:00p per unit I will willingly bet you couldn't tell the things from most American or European Manufacturing Sources - which is why most of what you think is American or European Made isn't at all."
And when talking about the price you pay for the imported rods he says:
"Most of the cost you have paid has been about levels of distribution / importation / marketing / transportation. Very little has been about Manufacturing/ Research / Expert Input.
Frankly there are very few actual fly fishermen involved in manufacturing, development and design these days. Most manufacturers routinely buy the best rods they can find by recommendation and it doesn't exactly take them a hell of a long time to drop a couple of different mandrels down the insides which coupled with using a micrometer on the outsides teaches them precisely what somebody else did - I'd guess at less than half an hour with a specialist. And it takes very much less of a specialist to copy the hang on componentry precisely. This is why you can wander into a (say) Korean Rod Maker with whatever you want copied and have an actual sample in your hands within a day!"
Many of my clients insist on their graphite rod blanks being made here in America, while others don't care where the blank came from. For a custom rod maker like me, we have to first concern ourselves with serving our clients with the best service & quality we can. Personally, where & when I can support American jobs, I will -every time. I fear a world someday where the development of fly rods will become stagnate because all the manufacturers who put money into r&d have gone out of business. That would be a tragedy. If the only companies left making fly rods are copy-cats, it won't be long before you won't be able to buy a new rod of quality.
I certainly don't mean to preach here, but it would be great if we could all consider our purchases a little. I know, we don't all have the luxury or ability to buy high-end American made fly rods. That's okay. There are plenty of other ways to support domestic manufacturers a little at a time when we can. The best thing, no matter which rod you buy, is to not just look at price alone. Just try to consider the quality & the price together &, if you can, "vote with your dollars" as they say.
To read the rest of Mr. Parton's article (which I believe you will find very interesting), click HERE.