October 16th, 2006

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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I Must Have Missed...

By Joseph Meyer

I must have missed the Major Meeting where industry analysts told all of us independent shop owners that the sky was falling. Apparently, they told us sales were flat now that it has been 10 years since "The Movie" came out. Indie fly shops were closing, demand was down and all were scrambling to find new sales.

Sorry, I was out teaching fly-casting to some kids.

The growth in fly-fishing should come from women entering this sport. We've got to actively market to them: better gear in women's sizes, pink vests, purple rods, that sort of thing. Sales are flat, we're told. Gotta get more girls in the sport or more shops will close.

Didn't see that one coming, I was donating a week of my time teaching fly fishing with Reeling and Healing, a group that works with women with or recovering from life-threatening cancer.

No longer can we hang a sign in our shop window advertising the newest, fastest, lightest rod from Washington State right next to the sign advertising wading gear from the Giant of Gortex and expect anglers to flock in. We must aggressively market their products! Nobody told me five years ago when I bought this fly shop that the best business plan was to hang signs in my window and crowds would come in to be outfitted. Figured I would have to find that market, educate them with regard to proper fit and sell that product on its' merits just as I would do with any retail product. Sure didn't expect that the industry owed me a living, I had to work at it. Didn't expect the industry panic when sales fell, either.

Pardon me for not participating in the panic; I was giving a clinic on Wader Care and Repair to the local TU chapter.

Big Box stores are now our Friend/Enemy. This conflicting absolute is now being spewed at every Industry conference and in every publication dedicated to the Fly Fishing Trade. The manufacturers need the sales the Big Box stores will generate and in turn, the additional sales will keep their workforce active and more profits will bring newer goods to us little retailers. And this is good for me? The full-color catalogues that the Dark Lord of Outdoor Gear will blanket our market with will actually help us as the photos and text listed therein will do our advertising for us. We must as little retailers, be more cost efficient and more profitable by stocking our shelves with soft goods as they have more of a mark-up. The Big O has a 150-year history of selling a lifestyle and we need to emulate them. We must, however make our stores different from them and be more of a destination and provide more of a "shopping experience." The shopping experience that I provide consists of a coffee pot and some friendly free advice.

Rather than being partners with TU, FFF, or local fishing clubs be they general tackle folks or hardcore flyrodders, we should partner with our Big Box cousins that move more units than we do. I refer to them as cousins as we're all in this as a family or at least that's what came out of the meeting I missed.

I was working on a stream rehabilitation project with TU at the time. Oddly, I saw none of my cousins there.

We're told by the Industry Gurus: Sell Destinations! Sell a far away trip where the customer needs to re-vamp all of their gear, make more sales by selling trips!

I was leading a free clinic on Pond Fishing, pardon my absence. Bunch of kids caught carp on a fly rod and we all giggled like schoolgirls.

The closures of fly shops are a bother to me but I understand that the reasons are myriad. Overall fly fishing sales down? Yeah, not everyone is rushing out for $195 vests and $700 waders. The new entry-level priced stuff is pretty amazing, though.

Don't get me started on "Buy American." I fail to see how a rod rolled with graphite from New Zealand fitted with guides from Japan, a cork grip from Portugal and put into a tube made in Korea can be called an "American" rod. Jobs? Yeah, they're important to me. My sales rep is American, he makes money when I buy rods from an offshore producer, I'm American, and I make money when I sell them. Some of the biggest proponents of "Buy American" use Hardy reels. England is offshore, no?

How the Hell did retailers ever sell fly-fishing before "The Movie?" The same way we are doing it now. We are working damn hard to de-mystify this sport through education (fee based or free clinics, it matters not), and we are bringing more folks into fly-fishing.

The big score days are over. Gone are the days when folks flocked in to be fully outfitted. They still come in dribs and drabs and we educate them as we lead them through the process and help them every step of the way.

The sky is not falling in my little corner of the world. We're building sales and bringing more folks (men, women, kids, Gays, Seniors) into this sport the way it was done by successful retailers for ages: though education.

Education is the key and I cannot stress that enough.

To that end I never stop learning. At one of the three fly tying groups I belong to (all of which have growing memberships, by the way) I was asked, "What are you doing here? You teach this stuff and tie 600 dozen flies every year" My reply? I don't know everything; I learn something every time I come here. I study with every fly casting guru that comes through town, I learn from all of them, and not to be a better fly caster, I learn how to be a better fly casting teacher and it pays off. I am a better instructor of fly-casting than I was last year and I will be an even better casting instructor next year. I am not afraid of Big Box stores; I never see them at casting clinics.

Gotta get off of my soapbox now, I'm headed to a casting clinic for a bunch of spinning rod smallmouth anglers who want to see what a fly rod is all about. ~ Joseph Meyer One More Cast Fly Shop


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