Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

April 3rd, 2000

Market This!

If you owned a fly shop, what would you do to promote business? It would probably help if the shop was in a region which actually had fish - don't think I would be interested in opening a new fly shop on the west coast area of Washington. But that aside, there are only so many things a shop can offer. Good merchandise certainly, a variety of rods in more than one price range, something for the person who is just getting started in fly fishing, a mid-range rod, and something on the upper end. The same for reels, lines, and gear. Beyond that?

I'd want the merchandise to be quality, even on the least expensive, something I could personally use and recommend without reservation to my customers. That might mean I would have to develop a relationship with the sales rep or the company so I knew what they told me was true. Too much hype out there for my taste.

Seems beyond that, about all a shop has to offer is service. A friendly atmosphere, making the customer feel welcome, and knowledgeable people in the shop. The shop should be able to tell the customer about the merchandise, what would be best for their conditions, and do it without an 'attitude.' How I hate the 'experts' and 'Holier than Thou' idiots. I don't patronize those shops.

Knowing where the good fishing is, what hatches should be happening, changes in regulations are all things which should be readily shared by the shop with its customers.

OK, what else?

How about free or very reasonable tying classes? Held at the shop if possible, if not through the local schools evening continuing education programs. The county we live in has all sorts of programs for seniors as well, but there are no tying classes. The only local tying class I've seen was for Atlantic Salmon flies, and quite expensive. Opps, correction, our friend Mike Croft did a class on saltwater flies for fishing the Baja last winter too. But none I'm aware of on salmon flies, flies for sea-run cutthroat, or steelhead. Seems that would be a likely way to build a following of customers.

Casting seems to be a problem for those new to fly fishing, (not to mention a few of the older anglers) - how many shops offer casting classes or tune-up clinics? Another opportunity?

Instead of concentrating on expensive trips for foreign fishing, why not put together regional weekend trips? Get a bunch together, go fish somewhere on the other side of the hill? No, the shop won't make as much money from a 'local' trip - or would they?

One of the problems I see in the business of fly fishing is the attitude that everything has to pay off right now. There is no long term vision. It is all about instant gratification. Sure the shop owner has to make a living, just not off of every customer today. How about building a long-term relationship with the customer? Who knows, he or she may have kids, friends, family, folks they work with who just might find the customer's obvious enjoyment of fly fishing something of real interest.

There are a lot of things a fly shop can do to get people in the door. Inviting a 'celebrity' tier to tie, (while selling his flies) is a winner, book signings are neat if the author is local, evening programs featuring slide presentations, or videos really work. People are sick of most of what's on the telly and don't need much of an excuse to go down to the local fly shop. Assuming of course they feel welcome there in the first place. Build a mailing ist of customers, send them a personalized monthly newsletter with some neat tips, where to go, how to fish, hot flies, useful information. Not just "hey we've got a sale, come spend some money."

What I find interesting, in reading a couple of the new fishing trade journals, is how the experts view our sport. The folks with all the bucks from the 10% excise tax have targeted who are likely to be fishermen. Note, fishermen, not particularly fly fishers. Among other things they have decided the 'women' are not as likely a group as once thought. No explanation, but they now consider women as a "conduit" to reach the family. Whatever that means. The same study (paid for with your tax dollars at the cost of $200,000) says those most likely to become fisherman are:

  • hunters;
  • wildlife/bird watchers;
  • campers;
  • target shooters;
  • people who don't have a high school diploma;
  • rural residents;
  • kids ages 12 to 15;
  • native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders;
  • males;
  • people of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity;
  • mountain bikers;
  • jet skiers.

While you are chewing on that, AFFTA, (American Fly-Fishing Trade Association) is also trying to get folks involved in fly fishing, or at least so they claim. And the big new promotion?

Quoting from the March/April issue of Fly-Fishing Retailer, "The AFFTA strategic partnership program has developed a list of fish-fishing promotional opportunities for consideration by corporate marketing executives. The list includes a new concept - an after-work bar promotion called 'Fly By Night.' The association tested the concept in South Norwalk, Conn., on Jan. 18, working with Jeff Northrop of Westport Outfitters. The event, covered in local newspapers serving the Connecticut shore and attended by a number of corporate executives from local companies, attracted 50 people and raised $260 for the AmeriCares international relief agency."

I have no idea of what was 'taught' to these corporate executives in the bar. Frankly I don't think I want to know. At least they got the name right. Do you get the idea that something is wrong here? Is this the direction fly fishing is going? If so, how the heck did we get here?

If the business of fly fishing is suffering, and frankly I think that is a debatable point, there has to be a better way.

Sorry, I don't have the answers - unless you agree with the previous points on what makes a fly shop work. It sure isn't fly tying or practice casting with a Fly-O in the local bar. Although a few drinks might produce some really creative flies.

Beyond that?

Beyond that is the fact that fly fishing is a personal sport. We can have fishing companions, but it still is a very personal, individual thing. It isn't gonzo combat, it really is a mental and philosophical exercise. It is putting all the parts together correctly.

Fly fishing is the saving grace which allows most of us to live in this world. It is a personal challenge, and sometimes it is just being there.

Market that. ~ LadyFisher

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