Tyler’s Creme Lures

Chris and Ann Kent, top right, have taken over as the third owners of Tyler’s Creme Lures. The company maneuvered hectic 2020-21 with the aid of their extended families, a host of long-time employees.

It has been a long time since Tyler’s Creme Lure was the flashiest name in the fishing bait industry. But here is what makes the company different than all the other lure companies today -- they were the first to come out with a viable soft plastic bait beginning in 1949 and they continue to be sold in stores today.

Creme actually got its start in Akron, Ohio, where Nick Creme spent his spare time in the family’s basement using pots and pans to test various soft plastic formulas before finding one that would stay pliable in cold water and not deteriorate when exposed to air.

At the time, Akron was the center of the U.S. rubber industry, and that is where Creme worked during the day. But he was an avid fisherman who sought to fish in the winter months, but could not find the real thing in frozen grounds. Others had attempted to come up with an artificial worm, but until Creme found the right mix and began to market his original Wiggle Worm none were successful.

Creme initially was successful selling his worms pre-rigged with a multi-hook harness five for $1 by mail and at fishing shows in the Midwest. Using molds created by using the outline of real earthworms like had been done for the Wiggle Worm, he eventually added the Scoundrel and Shimmy Gal lines. Interest in the baits exploded in the south when fishermen discovered what has become the Texas rig, a technique that allowed them to fish without constantly snagging and losing their bait on timber or in grass.

It was about that same time another industry with East Texas heritage was getting started, Skeeter Boats. Although the original models looked more like today’s kayaks with a motor, the combination of a bass boat and a soft plastic worm were two cornerstones of today’s bass fishing phenomenon.

Following the demand, and according to accounts -- Cosma Creme’s love of roses -- the Cremes moved their operation to a plant off State Highway 31 in Tyler in 1959. The location is now the city’s animal shelter.

As well as a fishing innovator, Creme was also a master marketer and in an era long before the internet, he pushed sales using what today would be called influencers -- fishermen who served as field testers and spread the word about Creme Lures. It was wildly successful and Creme owned the industry for years. That success, of course, brought copycats that over time diluted Creme’s market shares, but not the company name or much of its following.

Creme died in 1984 and in 1989 his family sold the company to Tyler natives Wayne and Judy Kent, who had developed their own fledgling soft plastic company, Knight Manufacturing. The Kents continued to manufacture under both names, but Creme was clearly the product leader.

The company recently announced its third ownership, but stayed in the family as the Kents' son, Chris, and his wife, Ann, have taken over. The change comes following Wayne Kent’s death in 2021 and Judy’s recent retirement.

Chris Kent did not immediately join the company after graduating from Texas A&M with a mechanical engineer degree, but came onboard in 1996.

At the time, Wayne Kent handled the sales and research/design side of the company while Judy oversaw business, production and distribution. Chris quickly got a taste of both with on-the-job training from both parents.

“I learned that you have to invest the time up front. You have to learn that it takes time, and you have to know what goes into the product. It is a challenge putting out a new product from design, materials and packaging,” Kent said.

The transition toward managing and owning the company began about five years ago. That included the addition of Ann, also a Texas A&M graduate, who joined the company in 2015 and has taken on the financial side.

“I am glad. I think they are going to do a great job. I am comfortable with the company being under his direction,” Judy Kent recently said of the change.

Judy is expected to still be around in an advisory position, but is adamant it will not be on a full-time basis.

“I loved it,” she said of her time in the industry. “I can never say my life was boring.”

From its beginnings with just a handful of products, Creme today packages 30-plus items for bass fishing and a variety of other freshwater and saltwater species.

There have also been changes in production with the company going from open pour, to a combination of open pour and automation to today where production is completely injection molding. However, 95 percent of production is still done in-house with the remainder contracted overseas.

Along with the management of the Kents, Creme has always had a long-time family corporate feel with employees who stay for years. Those relationships helped guide the company through the challenges of 2020-21, which saw demand explode.

Although Creme has always had a family management team, it has maintained a strong presence within the industry. Kent recognizes the challenges ahead working both with retailers and consumers.

“I think you cannot pretend your way through. The numbers of how successful your products are out there,” he said.

 
 

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