Phil & Kay Robertson
By: Mimi Elliott, The 700 Club
CBN.com THE DUCK CALLING
Phil, 67, grew up one of seven kids in the 1950s in Louisiana. They never had new cars, nice clothes or lived in an extravagant home, but Phil says the family was always happy. Nearly everything came from the land: they grew vegetables in the garden, ate eggs from their chickens, bacon from their pigs and hunted deer, squirrels, fish and other game for food. The story of the Robertson family is what Phil says is a pretty good picture of an early American family. "I've never owned a cell phone and don't plan on ever having one," he says. "If anyone needs to talk to me, they know where I live." Phil killed his first duck when he was 11. The event was momentus for Phil; it shaped the rest of his life and he believed he could live off the land.
Phil and Kay met in high school when he was the quarterback of the football team and she was a cheerleader. He was in 10th grade and she was in ninth. It wasn't long before Phil took Kay on his hunting expeditions. Her father, who died when she was 14, loved to hunt and fish so Kay was naturally drawn to Phil. When he got a football scholarship to Louisian Tech, they rented an apartment. On days when he didn't have class, Phil would hunt and fish. His interest in football was waning. "My interest in football was secondary to ducks," says Phil. "But it was paying for my education."(The backup quarterback was Terry Bradshaw.) After college, Phil took a job in Arkansas teaching tenth grade English and Physical Education, but still went hunting, drinking and running wild. By then, Phil and Kay had 3 sons and Phil's only worries were how many ducks he could kill and when his next drink was coming.
After resigning his teaching position, Phil took a job managing a bar. Kay worked as the barmaid to make sure he stayed out of trouble and watched him slowly drink their lives away. Kay hit rock bottom. One night, Phil accused her of cheating (but she hadn't) and she didn't know how to fix their marriage. The next day, she was watching a TV show and called the number on the screen to meet with the preacher, Bill Smith. The preacher shared the gospel with Kay and she gave her life to the Lord. Kay tolerated Phil's behavior because she knew God would help her through it. One night, Phil called Kay a Bible thumper and holy roller. He accused her of cheating again. Kay left that night with the boys for three months. One afternoon, Phil showed up in the parking lot where Kay was working. He wanted his family back. Kay told him to meet her at her apartment and invited her preacher over too. The preacher studied the Bible with Phil for several hours. The next day, Phil, then 28, gave his life to the Lord and was baptized! Phil started going to church 3 times a week, studied the Bible the other nights and took another job teaching at a Christian school. "It was about 5 years after I was baptized before the pull of sin finally stopped," says Phil.
After a couple of years, Phil wanted to return to hunting and fishing so they moved to Louisiana and Phil started a commercial fishing business. They purchased 6 acres of land just off the Ouchita River. "When I saw the site...," says Phil, "I knew it would launch my career as a commercial fisherman and it was where I would teach my sons the survival skills I learned from my father." It didn't take long for Phil to become profitable. While the fishing business was lucrative, Phil didn't believe that was his calling in life. He kept going back to a memorable hunting trip he made with his friend, Al Bolen, a few years earlier. A large flock of mallard ducks had flown high above them and Phil hit them with a long, hailing call. The flock turned and circled, landing in the water directly in front of them, in perfect gun-range. When the shooting was over, Big Al said, "You weren't calling those ducks, you were commanding them!" Al knew Phil tweaked his duck calls and urged him to make his own and sell them. Al came up with a name: Duck Commander.
THE DUCK COMMANDER
Phil told Kay he would continue the fishing business until he could launch his new company. One day, a church member, Baxter, was curious as to why everyone was asking Phil about hunting, fishing and duck calls before and after church. Baxter was impressed and encouraged Phil to build a duck call. Phil told him he had the design but no money to make it happen. Baxter gave Phil a copy of his financial statement and told him to take that to the bank as collateral. He bought a lathe, a woodworking machine, to build the barrels for his duck calls.
When Phil learned to use a duck call, it was a design from the early 1900's. He always tinkered with them to make them sound more like a duck. In the beginning, it was just Phil, Kay and the boys building the duck calls in the small woodshop outside their home. The assembly line was out on the porch of the house. People would stop by amazed that Phil, with his master's degree, gave up a professional football career to make duck calls. From day one, Phil blew each duck call after it was made to be sure it sounded like a mallard hen. A faulty call was fixed or rejected. Rejected ones were used as fire starters in the wood heater.
The first sale of Duck Commanders was to a sporting goods store in Monroe. The first year Phil sold $8,000 worth of duck calls. The second year, they sold $13,500. The third year, they sold $22,000. Today Duck Commander is a multi-million dollar company. Each callx is still made by hand today and they still blow on them to be sure it sounds exactly right. The calls were originally made from wood but today they are made from wood, plastic, polycarbonate and acrylic. Some of them have single reeds, double reeds, triple reeds and some are even reedless.
In the late 1970s, Phil knew he needed to get his products into Walmart so he got one of the store managers to buy 6. So he went to other Walmarts and showed them the order form for 6. Soon their orders grew to $25,000 a year and eventually the account grew to $500,000 annually. When Walmart scaled down their waterfowl hunting business, Duck Commander had already expanded to Cabela's, Bass Pro Shops, etc. Specialty hunting stores were also stocking up on their hunting DVDs and other hunting gear. Evenutally the DVDs caught on and became popular enough for Willie to get them on the Outdoor Channel, which led to bigger things on A&E.
"There is a God and He blessed us because we did what was right: we loved Him, we loved our neighbor, and we hunted ducks," says Phil. It took 40 years for their success, but Phil says even before they had money, he says he was still as happy, happy, happy and content as he is today. "As long as I was doing what God said was right and living my life for Him, I knew everything would work out in the end - one way or another," says Phil.
Duck Dynasty first aired in 2012 and just completed their 3rd season. The finale set an A&E record with 9.6 million viewers. Originally producers wanted the Robertsons to look more edgy and insisted on editing out the word, "Jesus," from their prayers. Phil said no. Each episode ends with a prayer before the family dinner.