Apples and Oranges
You can't compare fishing industry to the computer industry. The time that computers have been around to the open market compared to fishing is a moot point. Especially being someone who has had to be front lines of this damned "direct sales" thing.
With Dell, or Gateway, etc, it is a comparitively new industry. Computers have been around for awhile, but a good workable computer hasn't been out to the public affordably until the last decade or so. Only Apple/Mac's I was ever able to see were at school, and never allowed to touch. Makes alot more sense for them to go direct. Why? Because of the shipping/handling costs. Ever ponder how much shipping plays a part in this industry? They don't have to go through all the hassle to bulk ship a "set" amount to a certain distributor. They build when they want, and then can fix prices that way (and yes, Dell cuts prices, but still pretty much making same money because they don't have the inshop markup). But, guess what? How many Dell computers do you think I see returned, or have customers who have problems with them? Well over half. But, the one big difference between a computer and fishing rod is availabitilty. Chances are, you can find someone close by who has "new stuff", or still find a shop nearby who has it. You can get a feel for it that way. Plus, in end, takes less to build a computer (I know, I've built one and I'm a layman if you ever saw one with computers). Someone who knows what they're doing can take the parts and put it together fast. Since Dell doesn't have "in house" production of parts, that I know of. Chances are, they only assemble what they have shipped in.
BUT, a flyrod is a different beast. So many more companents then "plug and play". If you have a favorite line you like to use, with a certain action rod. Well, chances are, if you buy one direct, you could be SOL. Powell's "fast action" could be similar to others mod/fast action. This is an example mind you. Well, the line you have (which everyone knows there isn't much of a standard in line construction either) won't load the rod the way you like. Plus, I don't know many people at all who own Powells. So trying to find someone close to me that has the model I want to try out will be tough (normally, if I can't test from a shop, I'll test someone who has one, but I prefer to water test, not grass test). Personally, I feel it's more of a "cutting costs" aspect of possibly a company that may be downsliding, IMHO. Basically, you would produce as needed. Which means not producing a ton of rods that shops buy. Which cuts down personal needed to produce them. I've seen this many times before (one bonus of working for a shipping company, you see more behind the scenes then those who only walk through the front doors). I get to know my customers, and also find the inside scoop. So far, the majority of companies that have done similar (and, have dealt with tackle companies through my job as well) are downsizing to try and bring profits up. But, anyone associated with a company doing this, will not say "we're dying/losing money". Chances are they'll make a plea with the consumer that they are "their friend and saving them money". Easy way to gain sympathy and get guys trying to save a buck to buy into this.
But, I don't know Powell, except for the exceptional cane rods he once produced. But from what I've read, the Powell family no longer owns it anyways. So I have no idea who the newer owners are running the company, nor do I know much about their newer products. So have no idea what their plans are. I can only assume from what I've seen in my business dealings and judge that way. Hopefully, the new Powell is doing this for the customer. But I won't hold my breath until all the cards are on the table.
"Good angling ethic is not a monopoly practiced just by fly fisherman" - Bill McMillan