Building a better turkey decoy turns into business, Flatline Your Bird

Darrell Bartel, a former Green Bay resident now residing in Waupaca, had an idea. It all started years ago when he shot his first turkey. Because decoys are a must for most hunters, he purchased a tail-mounting decoy kit that he thought was confusing and ineffective.

“It was a little bit of a process and difficult to assemble,” Bartel explained. “Later, when I was hunting with a buddy, I saw that he was using a mounted turkey fan as a decoy. This was a new technique to me, but it was a decoy tactic that old-time turkey hunters have been using for decades.”

Intrigued by this type of decoy, Bartel got busy in his shop. He began to perfect the process of creating a dual-purpose turkey decoy. It could be displayed as a wall mount, and then, with the addition of a galvanized steel stake, converted into a hunting decoy. He christened it “Jake’s Tail Holder” and started a hobby business in 2002.

As the years progressed, the decoys were sold at hunting and sporting shows and a small number of retail shops. The interest in the product had him thinking ahead to what it could look like as a full-time business once he retired from the job he held at Waupaca Foundry for years.

That led to a competitive analysis, and a search for similar products. After not finding anything similar, he began to believe that the decoys could bring something to the market that was better than anything else that was available.

“I hired a patent consultant to do a more extensive search and he referred me to a few different patent attorneys,” Bartel said. “They had an architect do drawings, and in 2015, we filed for a patent.”

He was granted the patent in 2018. In his elevator pitch, Bartel says the benefits are many. The turkey fan can be displayed on the wall, and when it’s time to go hunting, the steel post is inserted so it can be used as a decoy. The decoy is flat and easy to stack and carry, and it turns in the slightest breeze.

“Are you tired of carrying large, bulky decoys to and from the field?” hey asks “This is easy to assemble, allowing you to secure your cured turkey tail in no time on your wall and it’s only one-quarter of an inch thick making it light-weight to go from wall to field with ease.”

But having a good product doesn’t mean much if there isn’t a strategy to bring it to the market. Bartel recognized that although he had leadership experience from his days in the Marine Corps and as a foreman at the foundry, he needed to learn more about entrepreneurship. That led him to the Fox Valley Technical College entrepreneurship program in Appleton where he took the E-seed course.

There, with the help of excellent mentors, he was taught about subjects ranging from marketing to financial planning.

“I learned that there is a lot of help and resources out there,” Bartel said. “They taught me to stay focused, to get into the habit of contacting one small retail store every day and making additional contact once a week. I had been trying to do everything myself and learned that there is more than one way of doing things and I can’t do it all myself.”

He hasn’t been all alone in the process, though. He leans on his wife, three sons, and family and friends when the going get rough. As he spends 50 to 60 hours per week on the business, he said he is also getting help on his website and social media.

Meanwhile, as the business grows, he is adding products, has learned to run a CNC machine so he can do the cutting himself, has redesigned the product so that it is more durable, and has applied for another patent.

Branding as Flatline Your Bird

His product line has been expanded to include turkeys, goose, owls, and other silhouettes. He does custom-engraved signage, and sells T-shirts and hoodies. Another major change since starting was the name. He obtained an LLC as Kjendalen Enterprises in recognition of a family member, but knew he needed something that was easier to brand.

Bartel explained, “In 2018, as the business was growing, we came up with ‘Flatline Your Bird Series Decoys’ because all of our decoys are flat and when you harvest your bird, they are flatlined.”

Turkey decoys

The business has been personally financed with a current investment of about $60,000 that includes the patent processes and machinery. He has one patent, one patent pending, and three registered trademarks. Inventory is limited due to cost, and he wants to be able to make the business go without taking out a loan.

“The hardest thing in the past few years to overcome has been material costs that have risen so high. We purchased the CNC machine to reduce costs; it also enables us to carry less inventory,” Bartel said. “We also started up Flatline Custom Engraving in which we design, create, and make custom engraved signage.”

Flatline Your Bird is promoted on social media, and at outdoors shows throughout the region. To get more exposure, he is working on a marketing plan. Having never been in business, it has been a learning experience.

“What I know now is to stay focused, dream, draw out what you want to do, and just create it,” he said. “I learned so much from the Marine Corps — it is amazing how much is instilled in you. Never expect someone to do something you wouldn’t do, and work hard. I get up every morning at about 4:30 or 5 am and head out to my shop. This is my retirement.”

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.

Comments are closed.