'Redneck' Millionaires Built 'Duck Dynasty' in Duck Call Business
Stars of a new reality show, the Robertsons run a successful duck call business.
March 20, 2012— -- For Phil Robertson, the ear-splitting squawk of a duck call is the sweet sound of success.
A former college quarterback from Monroe, La., Robertson gave up a coaching career for his love of duck hunting when he discovered he could whittle a better duck call than any on the market -- a move that eventually made him millions of dollars and earned his family their own reality TV series.
For 25 years, Robertson said he stood in his dilapidated shed and handcrafted duck calls out of cedar trees native to Monroe-area swamps.
"I'd drive up to these Walmarts and they'd run me out, 'you think we're gonna buy old duck calls off the street?' I said, 'Hey man, Colonel Sanders started with one chicken and... that's good chicken, man," Robertson said.
His first year, Robertson said he sold $8,000 worth of duck calls, and his wife Kay somehow managed to feed four boys on that salary.
"Miss Kay says 'I've been poor with you and I've been rich with you. Rich is better,'" Phil Robertson said.
"But I stayed with you through both," she added.
Today, Robertson's company Duck Commander has sales in the millions, with contracts in outdoor stores across the United States. For the past decade, the Robertsons' third son Willie has been their CEO, which his parents say was an obvious choice.
"He was about 10 or 11, junior high, they called us from school, he had to set up a concession stand, selling candies, and he absolutely shut down the school's whole snack shop," Kay Robertson said.
"I said, 'he's our CEO,'" Phil added.
The company is still very much all in the family, with roughly 80 percent of its employees being related one way or another to the Robertson clan. Jase Robertson, another one of Phil and Kay's sons, also hand-makes duck calls for the company.
"I try to produce the sounds of the ducks I have heard in my ears, into this call. That's what I do all day long," he said.
This rags-to-riches story of a down-home family business with a heavily bearded band of hunting experts was too much for reality show producers to pass up. The Robertsons are the stars of the new A&E show, "Duck Dynasty," which airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT, but it was rough going at the start for these self-described "rednecks."
"When the Los Angeles people come down here first and we sorta clashed," Phil Robertson said. "I don't know who was the most shocked, the L.A. people or us. We're looking at them like 'man, I tell you what' and they are looking at us like, whoa I tell you what, somewhere in there is a television show. It's America, let it rip.'"
The show mostly follows Willie and his beautiful wife Korie -- who claims Willie was "preppy" when she married him but she hasn't seen his face without its long beard in 30 years -- as the couple tries to keep up the business his father built from scratch.
And this actually isn't the Robertson family's first soiree into television. Back in the '80s, Phil Robertson produce Duck Commander videos that featured his best duck hunts. His brother Jep still edits them.
"We were pre-reality TV, early 1980s," Phil said. "We had a reality show, but it was just a bunch of rednecks shooting ducks."
Those videos and especially their long breads made the family minor celebrities in the hunting world.
"The Robertsons have always been an open book," Willie Robertson said. "We've always invited folks in--and been hospitable. This way it's just more hospitable. We just invite the cameras and say, this is how we do it--like it or not!"
However, the family says the bigger message they portray on "Duck Dynasty" is that they are a brood that stays together and enjoys each other's company.
"I've seen enough train wrecks on TV, on these shows, It will be nice to see a family that sits down and has a meal together," Willie said.
"In the end, it's all about love, family and putting family first," Korie added.