Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna L. Birkholm

January 4th, 1998

The Spin

There is something going on in the fly fishing industry that really concerns me.

Some of you may know there are two trade magazines published and aimed at the folks who have fly shops, or larger stores which sell fly fishing gear. One of those magazines over the past year keeps telling their readers the industry is down (even though the growth rate is over 9% according to American Fly Tackle Trade Association) and gives the impression gloom and doom is about to descent.

Most businesses would be thrilled with a 9% annual growth rate. What the magazine forgets to mention is there was an anomaly back a few years ago when "the movie" came out. (The movie for those who missed it was A River Runs Through It.) Supposedly some shops and manufacturers saw a huge increase in their business of 18% that year. Unfortunately some either expanded or got into the fly fishing business figuring they would carve a fat hog. Also unfortunately, those who did that did not take a good hard look at the historical information.

Fly fishing has never been a Fortune 500 business. Those shops who provided good service, quality products and information have survived - some have flourished.. Many because of the passion for fly fishing their owners exude - and pass on to their customers.

Well, the latest issue of Fly Tackle Dealer (FTD), one of the two fly fishing trade magazines has the solution to get all those businesses the growth they are losing. Yes, this is the same one which has been the gloom and doom magazine I just mentioned.

Their solution? Cater to women! Whoppee!

To prove their point, they published a 5 page interview with Lyla Foggia, entitled, "The writer & publisher talks about the women's market." For background on why Lyla Foggia is considered by FDT to be the expert on the women's market, the magazine prefaces the article with:

"Lyla Foggia is a writer and publicist whose resume includes a 1977 National Endowment for the Arts writing fellowship, as well as stints as West Coast vice-president of publicity for Tri-Star Pictures, and national consultant in charge of publicity for the daytime TV show, Live With Regis & Kathy Lee."

"In 1995 she published Reel Women: The World of Women Who Fish. The book helped to foster a spirit of sisterhood among women anglers - and sold more than 15,000 copies."

"Buoyed by the success of Reel Women, Foggia launched Women's Reel News, a quarterly publication, in the winter of 1997. But the angling newspaper folded after just three issues due, Foggia says, to a lack of advertising support. Along the way, Foggia learned a great deal about fly-fishing and general sport-fishing industries and the way they market - or fail to market - their products to women."

"In a November interview, we talked to Foggia about her years in Hollywood, about the vagaries of the publishing and the fly-fishing worlds, and about what she thinks are the best approaches to selling fly-fishing gear to affluent women anglers."

Having quoted that directly from FTD (without permission) here are Lyla Foggia's comments about her personal fishing background:

Foggia: "Well, the irony is that I grew up in a outdoors family that camped and fished every weekend during the summer, and I hated it! . . .In the early 80's I was the unit publicist of films in production for various studios, which meant I went everywhere the film or production crew went, and I'd get stuck in remote places for months on end. I was working on a film . . . in central Florida, and was the only woman on the crew. And there was nothing to do. . . The guys got into a bass-fishing frenzy . . .so I ended up getting into the fishing frenzy."

Foggia: "When I moved back to the Northwest and settled in Oregon in '87, I had great fishing right in front of my house, since I live on a fabulous steelhead river. But I was still doing it with conventional gear until 1992, when I saw A River Runs Through It. The movie was like a light bulb going off, and I said, "That's what I want to do!"

FTD" You were one of those people."

Foggia: "I was one of those people! If they had not made that film, to this day I would not have walked through the door of The Fly Fishing Shop here in Welches [Oregon], which is one of the best in the country - and, ironically, five minutes from my house. In five years I'd never gone through the door . . .I immediately got into Spey-casting for steelhead. . . . but in all that time I had never seen a woman fish. Patty Barnes, at the fly shop, is one of the co-owners, but I'd never seen her fish. I had never even heard of Joan Wulff or Maggie Merriman or any of the women who are in my book, at the point when I started that book." . . .I was really surprised at the lack of creativity in terms of how the industry was going to reach women, especially since women in fishing were the topic of the day in the industry through '95 and '96 and even into '97 . . .I was really surprised that the industry was making all these products just for women, but they didn't seem to understand that you can't sell them through the same old traditional avenues. They basically expose themselves to consumers through the big magazines and through the winter sportfishing shows. Well, the magazines don't have a lot of women readers and, especially in fly-fishing, you have very few women turning out for those shows."

So with her vast experience and background, here are Lyla's recommendations to the fly fishing industry and the retailers:

"For one thing, they need to make it a serious part of their marketing program. It needs to be a goal. Let's talk first about the umbrella industry level, which is AFFTA. I have not seen anything coming out of their declarations about their purpose that even mentions women. That alarms me."

"At the manufacturing level, somebody's going to eventually wake up to the fact that there is a void that's not being filled. . .somebody's going to become like a Nike in terms of figuring out how to fill it. One way is, of course, to establish a corporate idendity with women by, say, sponsoring workshops across the country through your dealers that are women-only workshops. Attaching your name to it. So that women see that that particular manufacturer really cares about women."

"Another thing would be like Orvis did with their program, Casting for Recovery [for women recovering from breast cancer]: to become associated with worthy causes. Worthy causes women care about, not just conservation of our fisheries."

"And by getting more women onto their pro staffs and into their advertisements. Particularly in the big magazines. Get enough women in the pages of those magazines."

"In terms of retailers, there are some very progressive ones out there who I have been in contact with over the last couple of years who are doing women-only classes. Even if you don't charge - and I highly recommend that you don't charge for them - they are a great way to get women introduced to the sport and let them know that you are the female-friendly shop in town . . . I really encourage fly shops to feature a women's display with everything they have for women in one highly visible place. "

There is a lot more of Lyla's comments, and to be honest, the last one above is a good idea. But I have serious problems with most of what she has said. And even more problems who she sees as the women the industry should be targeting. Or in other words, with whom we should be sharing our water. More on the next week.

I discussed the subject of women fly fishing, from the retailer's end with Al Campbell who is one of the featured writers here on FAOL. Al also manages the fly fishing departments for Scheel's All Sports. His answer was, "we treat women as equals." Any smart business should!

To ask for more than equal treatment is the most obnoxious, sexist, arrogant attitude possible.
~ Deanna Birkholm

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