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CLOSED: The Knoxville "Creel" Fly Shop Shuts its Doors. Whodunnit?

Posted by Tom Chandler 2/25/2008

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The closing of another fly shop isn't exactly news these days, and yet because I've been to this particular fly shop a few times, you might say I noticed.

The Knoxville-based The Creel fly shop was a friendly little place, and what's more, it served as a hub for a lot of the fly fishing stories that rolled back to me from Tennessee (the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly). In that sense, it was a landmark, so I was surprised to read:

From the Knoxnews.com site:


Monday, Rogers will begin selling off his inventory and close The Creel by the end of March. He had planned on closing late last year, but a relative talked him into keeping things going as long as he could.

"It's been death by less than a thousand cuts," Rogers said. "Across the country we've lost a third of the fly shops in a two-to-three-year span. The interest in fly fishing is there, we've just seen changes in the way people shop."


So the suppliers are to blame?

Bargain hunters have no doubt noticed that the "inventory reduction" begins today. Industry watchers no doubt noticed what came next -- the pointing of the finger:


When the big box stores like Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain moved into East Tennessee Rogers didn't see them as a threat. What he wasn't counting on was his suppliers offering their wares to the competition.

"As soon as the manufacturers started getting stressed they opened (the big stores) up to their lines," he said. "Manufacturers suddenly couldn't live through the independent retailer.

Or wait -- it's the customers?


Anglers who used to browse and buy at The Creel started browsing and buying from the comfort of their home computers. Rogers said its a change in consumer buying patterns that's being felt in a lot of areas, not just fly shops.

"And it wasn't just the casual fly fisherman," he said. "I had regular customers that now buy their (darn) toilet paper off the Internet."

In truth, there is a quantum shift occurring in this industry (and many others), and those who don't see it coming were doomed to become roadkill.

We're Screwing You, But It's Just Business

To many manufacturers, direct sales are the new black, and while it's a nice fairy tale, anyone who expects major manufacturers to support boutique shops while maintaining a "hands off" policy towards big boxes probably should take a hard look at a bridge I'm trying to sell.

Then there's the question of fly fishing's post-boom years; maintaining a business in a declining market is a hell of a lot harder than prospering in an expanding market, and survey after survey suggest fly fishing isn't expanding (outside of the growth in the women's sector).

What About The Internet?

Some stores leveraged the Internet -- either for sales, or just to maintain their profile -- and several didn't.

Little River Outfitters -- the other fly shop in the area (located right outside one entrance to to the Smokies) has offered classes, an expo, and an active online presence, and while it's far from the friendliest place on the planet, the owners have suggested online that Internet sales now account for the biggest chunk of their revenues.

So Undergrounders: Any Ideas?

This one's a grab bag, but let's hear it; are fly shops closing left and right because they remained static in a dynamic retail environment? Did they forget about service? Are they largely doomed because of the actions of consumers and suppliers?

Any fly shops near you gone the way of the homing pigeon? Care to comment?

The floor is yours.


AuthorPicture

Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

33 comments
I realize I am many years to late..but here is the problem with the creel. I was a high school kid during the creels time and my fishing buddy and I found it very hard to visit that shop without feeling a sense of "you don't belong here" There has been a transition in fly fishing from "that movie" to Temple Fork Outfitters. The creel didn't fit that mold.
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Dan: Still following this one. Most of your questions I can't answer. I'm not exactly part of the inner circle in the fly fishing world. Some of what you discussed might simply be endemic to a market that's not growing as fast as it used to (or perhaps even shrinking). In some cases, innovation (a better mousetrap) renders gear "obsolete" in the manufacturer's eyes, but there's also a fair amount ... more of marketing-driven upgrading going on. As to how some manufacturers relate to their dealers -- and the complaints that you'd hear when the gear in their shop gets dumped on the Internet at half price -- I wish I knew. I have heard this from a couple dealers, and I wonder how much pressure they can bring to bear on one of the big manufacturers.
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Tom: I don't know if you are still following this thread ( I had to take an emergency trip to Disneyland for my grand daughters 6th birthday or I would have responded sooner.) What your describing is a more insidious problem than I was thinking. It is one thing to have the soulless big box stores randomly destroying the local retailer, It is quite another thing to be squeezed by the very suppliers ... more that these retailers put on the map. Perhaps the real question is ; Why? What are the business pressures that the manufacturers are living that is driving these seemingly cannibalistic policies? Is there a role that the retailers can play that doesn't put an undo burden on them? What explanation is being offered by the vendors? If growth has plateaued for the manufacturer (I gotta believe that it has for many of them)then perhaps this practice is seen as the only way to squeeze out more profit - by making the retailer eat the over production. I wonder if the answer will be found out side of the fly fishing retailing industry? My guess is that this phenomenon has been seen before in other maturing specialty retail business's. Fight the good fight retailers!
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Dan: I received several emails from fly shop owners who didn't necessarily want to post publicly. One made a good case that it's not the big boxes crushing fly shops so much as fly fishing's bigger manufacturers tilting in favor of big boxes. For example, some manufacturers demand large pre-season orders from their dealers -- the kind of order that's harder for a small fly shop to absorb. At the end ... more of that season, a change is made to the product, and the manufacturer's entire remaining stock of old stuff goes into the sale bin (the Internet is dotted with closeout specialists) and suddenly, the small dealer is left with a pile of gear that's selling -- with the blessing of the manufacturer -- at half the price written on the tag. Interestingly, all the fly shop owners thought competition from big boxes was inevitable and not necessarily lethal. Still, the economics are daunting, and there seems to be a universal suggestion that the larger fly fishing manufacturers aren't helping one bit.
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It seems to me that we are seeing the same phenomenon that we have seen in many specialty retailer businesses They are getting Wall Marted. Their business model is not robust enough to withstand the onslaught of evil anonymous multi national. Lets face it all fly fishing shops are selling the all same stuff at the all the same price as every other fly shop. What can these business owners do to differentiate ... more themselves? It has been my experience that most fly shop owners are fly fishing fanatics that found or saved a little money and decided that they would open a shop. What could be better, right? Stand around the shop all day kicking the dog with your fishing buddies. Fishing buddies buy stuff and you get to keep your doors open another day! Fly fishing heaven. Now this "business model" may or may not have worked pre-EAMN (evil anonymous multi national)but unless you are just dumb lucky or you have been doing the fundamentals flawlessly, you are going down. I am not smart enough to know all of the answers. But it seems that we are witnessing a trend that will continue.Which in turn will require some damn savvy business people to keep the "good'ol" boys shops alive. Believe me, going to my local fly shop, kicking the dog with my fishing buddies and buying stuff that I don't really need is a ritual that I hope to continue for many years to come.
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IJ: Kinda missed your reference to the "friendly" passage in my original post. Little River Outfitters seems like a nice place, but several years ago (on a spring trip), I wandered in and innocently asked about Ian Rutter, who used to manage the place, and when I was (stonily) told he'd left, I then stupidly asked about his guide book as I'd left my copy at home. That's when I got an earful, and though ... more I didn't really know Ian at the time, it didn't sound right, and now that I know him, it sounds downright petty. Or unfriendly. So yeah, I apparently did walk into the middle of a local dispute, but no, it didn't make me feel the love. That's all. Lots of folks love 'em, and they're still the poster children for leveraging the Internet.
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"Fly fishermen are born honest, but they get over it." Ed Zern
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We've certainly had threads that had more responses, but I don't know if we've had threads with more longer responses. Regardless of what happened to the Creel, it seems as if the state of the industry interests folks. I had little intention of publishing industry news on the Underground, but then again, it's either interesting (like now), or pure entertainment (AFFTA vs Furimsky consumer trade show ... more death match). More to come.
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This is a shame. The Creel was one of fly shops I frequented. I hate to here that they are closing I am starting to get into fly tying and didn't really want to order materials. I have always felt like the goods at most box stores were second rate, at the same time I am guilty of buying it(mostly because of my poor college student status). On the flip side, I think that they should have been ready ... more when the way the consumer purchases his goods changed. what I will miss the most is the loss of valuable info on the local water. They were able to help me find and catch fish many times, and that is something I have never found in a box store.
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As one who used to be in the Supply side, (I worked for "Weeks Howe and Emerson" Co. in San Francisco—at the time (1983) the oldest wholesaler of Fishing Tackle and Sailboat Hardware (250,000 item catalog) in the world.) At the same time, my friend Pancho Fairhurst purchased the old "Big Liquor" on Dunsmuir Ave. in Dunsmuir, Ca. I'm not sure this was his undoing, but something did and ran poor Pancho ... more to an early grave. He used to lament as I tried to sell him Pautzke's eggs and Hardy reels in the same trip... "People up here (Dunsmuir) want me to do special things like order a freaking spring for their 1946 Mitchell Reel but then go to Pay Less in Redding and buy all the rest of their tackle." Soon enough, after nearly 80 years of business, the Big Liquor closed it's doors and remains a vacant reminder of Dunsmuir's former glory. Pancho tried insurance for a while and finally put it all behind him in one night of despair and melancholy. Last fall I stopped in at my favorite local dive "A-1 fish market" in Oakland, up for sale and looking rather like a former soviet store, bare shelves and dust. The family has had enough, the store that Dad built years ago falling to ruin. Before that the largest Sporting Goods store in Oakland had closed as the Gun Laws simply made selling them impossible here. They had Sage Rods and lots for nice flys and gear... all gone now. I also remember well the day Bill Barth in Chico shot himself over the dying store and his brother followed suit two weeks later, forever orphaning the big brown trout which had been over their door for 30 years. Hell, I RAN a fishing store in Chico and we went under within 2 years. Whose fault? Ours. Mine. Yours. Your Wallet and your Credit Card. Our basic GREED to keep a penny from one man because he has the audacity to have to charge it in profit. We suck. We kill small business, while we stroll down the Aisles of Wal-Mart pushing a half ton of crap. Why is there no good hardware available in America now? Why is everything plastic made in the last 20 years decaying into the atmosphere leaving fragile, toxic crap which falls to dust in time, when I have 1953 Tupperware Glasses still pliable, colofrul and useful? It's because we have only loyalty to our pocketbooks, and screw my neighbor who has the balls to charge a fair price! Let him (and his family) eat Fish! I own up to it... it's all my fault and I'm guilty as charged. Hang me with a Sci-Anglers line with Sealy hooks in my nipples!
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I have been in the Knoxville fly shop and am always sorry to see a business go away. I spent over 30 years working with independent businesses and have seen them both flourish and fail. The dynamics affecting fly shops, such as internet sales and "big boxes", are found in most businesses today. The local lumber yard or hardware store or drug store all face the pressures. But, within a mile of my house ... more is a large Home Depot and two family owned Ace Hardwares. The Ace's are always full of customers because they add value to what they offer. And they have some unique products. While Home Depot is the largest retailer in many product groups, in many areas they are beaten by independent retailers daily. Carpet would be an example. Why? Because that is a "value added" product for 75% of the consumers. They need more than "product". The independent dealer cannot compete with the big boxes or the internet when the issue is just to buy a product in a package. Hardware, flooring, paint, plumbing, lighting, and other dealers compete successfully by providing the customer with some value added services that are usually missing at the big box. If a customer wants a spool of 5X tippet, they are likely to buy it at the easiest place. That may be the internet. I know I do. When I go in to the local Orvis store the shoppers there are buying a diverse assortment of items. Shirts, pants, luggage, and other "non-fishing" goods. Creating higher sales and attracting the spouses of the "fly-fisher". A lot of the money spent in households is spent by the spouse. For fly shops to prosper, they may have to offer products and services that the owner is not particularly good at themselves although they may be the better at fishing than the folks at the big box. Guide services, trips, classes, related products ( one person suggested digital cameras), clothing, sunglasses, etc. are items that many of the successful stores have to have to attract and sell a broader base of customer. I doubt Orvis would be a fraction of their size if they just sold fly rods. Ace Hardware and True Value offer the independent a platform from which they can compete better against the "big boxes". Maybe there is a place for a coop of independent fly shops. But, the independent fly shop owners will have to forego some of the very thing they want and that is to be "independent" and acknowledge that they do not have some of the very skills they need to compete themselves and will need to import them. I love the family hardware, the family fly shop and the local barber. Offering internet can help. But the issue is bigger than that single item. Good luck to all the ccourageous entrepenuers.
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Steve: Don't know why, but something in your message kept the whole thing from appearing, so I cut and paste it. Viola! Great stuff. Today's fly fishing retailer is no different than most other retail establishments; if you're in the business to stand behind a counter and sell stuff, you're in trouble. I don't think that's very different from most other businesses. Hell, I'm just a copywriter, but ... more in order to succeed, I've had to become an engagement marketing expert, marketing consultant, blogger, etc.
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I thought I'd take a minute and add my two cents worth to the discussion here since I am a life-long fly fishing fanatic, former fly shop owner, and one who has witnessed the fly fishing retailer drama since the 1960's. I always wanted to own a small fly shop. I didn't care about becoming rich off the venture - I just wanted to be involved in something I loved immensely on a daily basis. I paid for ... more both my college and grad school education by tying flies for resale and working several large sporting goods stores in the fishing tackle department. The experience was a real eye-opener about supply/demand, consumer driven product sales, and the competitiveness of the sports-related industries. More on that in a minute. Fresh out of college I opened a fly shop in Utah (with a couple of partners). We all had other full time jobs but managed to keep the thing going with a lot of sacrifice and nights/weekends away from home. The experience was very challenging and rewarding even though I soon decided that making a decent living in this industry would be very difficult. The dream of the fly shop owner (tying flies, BSing with friends, testing new equipment, lots of fishing to keep up on local conditions) is hardly the reality of the daily grind of the specialty retailer. None of those things put much money in the pocket. A lot of you have talked about big box and the Internet driving the small shop owner out of business. The dynamics of changing markets and understanding how they affect your niche are certainly important factors in retail success in any market. But little attention has been directed toward the demand side of the fly fishing niche dilemma. It seems there is a ton of supply and a trickle of demand. The imbalance is not good for the retailer that can't compete, won't compete, or that refuses to recognize both the challenges and the opportunities in front of him. Most fly shop owners continue to bang their heads against the wall because they can't compete with the big boxes on price, breadth and depth of offerings, pizzazz, advertising, etc, etc. What they fail to see are the opportunities for income in other areas that the big boys haven't ventured into. Yes, one is outstanding service which has been mentioned several times in this thread. But there are many others. An obvious area with plenty of wide open space is innovation in flies, equipment, clothing, etc. Another is fly fishing education (long distance learning) - not just books, magazine, videos, etc that you now see - but live real-time instruction and entertainment. Another area with huge potential is networking and social gathering of fly fishers. There are lots of other opportunities as well to carve out a niche in fly fishing if the owner will pay attention to what the addicts in the niche really want to experience. The key is offering what the customer wants and doing it in a way that is unique so that you don't have easy knock-offs of your business idea and model. Let's face it - the demand for the usual fly fishing products (especially flies, but also rods, reels, lines, etc) is not unlimited. There is only a small finite number of prospects in the market, for say a fly rod, at any given time. I own a dozen or so rods (I'm really not sure how many) but I haven't purchased a new one in the past 15 years. Another factor is this: look at all the tackle that's changing hands on eBay alone. There has never been a secondary market like this for fly fishing equipment that significantly reduces the amount of sales of new tackle at retailers. Add the fact that fewer young people these days develop outdoor hobbies, natural resources are dwindling, the good streams and lake are becoming more crowded, gas is way more expensive than in the past . . . and you begin to see the picture painted for the typical "small guy" retailer gets uglier all the time. Here's an interesting exercise: do a free keyword se
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Last night laying in bed I realized I missed one good profit point for the metro store I hypothetically built yesterday... I'd also carry a line of digital photography equipment geared for the outdoors/active lifestyle crowd. Classes, classes, classes...offer free classes to teach people to use the stuff you sell (and to teach them WHY they SHOULD use the stuff you sell). Get a PE class at the local ... more college...or at least a continuing ed class. Set up a frequent shopper benefits program like the big box retailers all have. Host competitions of various sorts (folks seem to really dig those nowadays). Book signings, celeb appearances, etc. And don't decorate the place like your grandpa's garage. Oh yeah...and shave the freaking hillbilly beards and lose the gut.
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I never really thought about it before in terms of flyfishing geography, but it makes perfect sense: the babyboomers are moving south and getting in as much as they can before they can't any longer. Is it any wonder that the biggest growth in flyfishing (aside from the women's market) has been warm- and saltwater flyfishing in geographies with temperatures to match? Heck, the local shop in Hanover, ... more NH, is doing about even business between trout and striper gear and they are 2 hours from saltwater. Then you've been at your earnings peak for the last 10 years and now it's time for fun...who ya gonna call? Fishbusters? Naw, The Fly Shop in CA for one (or more) of those fancy lifetime trips to the only near-pristine locations left. Let's hope for the sake of the industry that all of these boomers start teaching their grandkids to fly fish. I agree with most of the other comments: --When I do go online looking for products or info, plain-Jane sites don't do it for me. Neither do out of date ones. Or those that just regurgitate the marketing blurbs supplied by the manufacturer. Tell me what you REALLY think for goshsakes. I want someone to cut through the hype and help me make a decision! --Stop with the attitude and start with the selling. It's quite easy to convince someone to pick up a few flies, some new tippet, or a magazine. Treat ALL of your customers with respect and interest, not just the one's you know, are in your decade, or have big hooters. Make them feel like they are special. Give them a reason NOT to go online. Start an email list to replace all tippet every Spring. Tying classes in the winter. Father's day packages. Mother's day packages. Sell people on how you are part of the community. Get involved with TU. Get involved with the fishing derby (stockers will eat flies just as fast as a worm or pellet). The list goes on. --Even good local shops don't carry every brand, so know your products and know the competition. Tell me why I should buy yours. And if you think yours isn't as good for me as another, send me to another, small, local shop within 1 hour drive and decent fishing. Your honesty will keep me coming back. Well there's more, but I gotta get back to work.
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I think the tougher fly shop to sustain is the metro shop you mentioned, Tom. The destination shops just have to be tuned in to their customers and have a decent website and comms. I think that if someone put a gun to my head and told me I had to open a metro fly shop I would open a fair trade/organic coffee shop-internet cafe-fly fishing, mountain biking, backpacking, and camping store. Hopefully, ... more I could find a location close to a university campus on a major street. Then I'd start the innovative, value-added marketing. Then again...maybe I'd just tell them to go ahead and shoot me now.
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I would like to make a comparison to another industry, which I think could be applied to this "local vs big-box" discussion. Remember when Wal-Mart started selling groceries? I don't know how it is in your area, but within 10 years Wal-Mart had driven one local and one regional supermarket chain out of business, and has just about finished off another (Winn-Dixie). However, while that was going on, ... more and interesting development occurred - very small (in some cases, neighborhood-sized) grocery stores started doing well, because they offered local products that you couldn't get anywhere else. Do you think Wal-Mart knows anything about stuffed mirlitons, or boiled crawfish? Not only that, have you tried to eat the meat Wal-Mart peddles? It's like the middle treads from your local puppy-squasher. So, I think that's the point everyone's trying to make - the small fly shop can make it, but he's going to have to offer services that the big boxes simply cannot.
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Here in the southern tier of upstate NY we had an Orvis shop that had a real nice selection of fly fishing gear for a number of years. The owner made a hard core go of it, moving from a small shop in a mini shopping plaza in town to a historic large house (still centrally located in town) within walking distance to the Susquehanna River. The owner offered his own line of fly rods and even had a small ... more casting / bass pond in the back yard. He spent a lot of money refurbishing the house and it showed. Originally, Dick's Sporting Goods was the only game in town. The company was founded here but their fly fishing department has always been terrible. Then Gander moved in and though they didn't match the selection offered by the local Orvis shop I believe they may have been the beginning of the end for the Orvis shop's business. Flies and other items like waders, wading shores, and leaders/tippet were cheaper. I also believe the internet continued to cut into the local shop's business more and more. In the end, the owner sold the shop, and it has recently relocated but it's future is questionable. I knew the original owner fairly well and when he told me he was selling out, he mentioned he had worked years with little rest trying to build his business, despite a locally struggling economy and the high burden of New York state, county, and town taxes. He also said he forfeited almost everything, including his 401K, to finance the business. I'm not a business owner so there may be more to the story in this case, but the one thing I always felt he could offer to differentiate himself from the competition was service - excellent all-out service. My experience in regards to service there was spotty. Sometimes he was helpful, other times, not. Sometimes I came in to his shop just to get help improving my fishing. How else could he compete against big business and their purchasing / pricing power? In my opinion, that's the omly way a small shop can compete against the big boys. I also do agree that even a small shop has to have some degree of internet presence.
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"Little River Outfitters — the other fly shop in the area (located right outside one entrance to to the Smokies) has offered classes, an expo, and an active online presence, and while it's far from the friendliest place on the planet, the owners have suggested online that Internet sales now account for the biggest chunk of their revenues." Far from the friendliest? I have to admit to being a bit ... more puzzled by that expression. Since I live so far away from any trout water, I pretty much have to buy online, and LRO was one of the sites I discovered when I got into this sort of fishing. Now, the Smokies are more or less my home trout waters, and I always make it a point to swing by the store; I've always found them to be extremely friendly and helpful - I'll pass a couple of hours in there, just jawing back and forth. I never had the chance to visit the Creel, although I had certainly heard of it. It is a shame, and the owner certainly has a right to have a bad taste in his mouth concerning the big boxes and the manufacturers going to them; businesses go out of existence every day, and in order to survive, one has to be innovative. Walk-up business no longer drives things - foot traffic into a store is lagniappe...people want to buy, and buy now, from the comfort of their homes and keyboards. There's a brand new Bass Pro just outside of Baton Rouge, but when it comes to fly fishing stuff, I would rather buy online than drive over there to see what they have.
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Many good points have already been made here, but I'll put down a few of my own thoughts: -Retail is hard - seasonal retail can be brutal. It's not a hobby and you are very lucky if you can run a good retail shop and still have fun with the sport on your time off (what very little you will have.) -The local shop mantra "we do service better" is nothing more than a load of hot air if you can't back ... more it up with the other things that today's customer will demand. A pot of coffee and a load of smug attitude ain't service. Try to openly, honestly help everyone that comes through that door or clicks on your website - even if you only sell them a fly or two. -A solid, and always *UP-TO-DATE* presence on the Web is key to your survival. When it goes out of date because you or your web-lacky gets fired or lazy, customers will stop using it and guess what, they'll also stop coming to your store. Things that you *must* keep up-to-date include: the local fishing report (not some regurgitated form of things you find elsewhere on the internet), your on-sale items, free tying clinics, book signings, pay-for classes, and a regular newsletter that has a mix of how-to, fishing articles and maybe even a story or two. Sound like hard work? Yes it is. -This is a hard one: if you can somehow manage it, keep your *entire inventory* online with clear pictures and descriptions of each and every product. If it's out of stock, make it clear. Give a discount for coming down to the shop instead of ordering online. Sound like a pain? Yes it is. -Have a "hot local fly" section on your website and in your store. These are the local patterns that you can't get from blueflycafe. Make that a differentiator and tell your customers about them. -Teach your customers - but do it nicely. Fly fisherman are sponges for new information like few other enthusiasts of other sports - exploit that trait! -Have competitive prices. I'm not saying run a pure discount business, but face the reality that your customers will almost always know what it will cost them online. If the difference is too great, you will lose that customer. Can't find a way to make this a reality? Oh yeah - retail is super hard. -I dunno about most others, but I think you're going to make more sales and more profit emphasizing the lower-to-middle product range than the high-end products. BMW and Porsche make great cars, but Toyotas bring home the real bacon. This is especially true in areas dependent on local fisherman, not high-end tourist destination. I'm not going to get into the debate of which brands this is or isn't but I would expect that $700 rods aren't really Toyotas. Fish the middle-range products yourself and you'll be much more informed and credible when selling that product. Sure it's nice as the shop-owner to always use the best gear, but that doesn't really help the average Joe or Jane. -If you're lucky enough to carve out some profitable niche that doesn't require the above, you are very lucky indeed.
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I'm willing to divide the fly shop world into metro "anchor" shops and destination shops (some display elements of both), and frankly, the two have different requirements. There have been a lot of great observations made here, though one recurring theme has been an often-updated online presence. That might be as simple as a fishing report, or it might be as serious as a regional message board. If ... more you all you have to offer are the same rods and reels everyone else is selling (at the same prices), you're not adding any value to the transaction. Engagement marketing isn't rocket science; at its most basic, you're talking about using content to attract readers, building an e-mail list, and looking at the lifetime value of customers, not the profit from a single sale. Sadly, my contacts with fly fishing businesses suggest even an e-newsletter isn't valued (if you want to see an e-newsletter done right, sign up for Ian Charity Rutter's at RR Fly Fishing). With that level of marketing prowess in mind, it's little wonder so many businesses (and shops) are suffering at the hands of larger competition. It doesn't have to be that way. Anyway, again, lots of great stuff, and I appreciate you guys taking the time to write thoughtful responses. Looking forward to more. Maybe we can wake up a few sleepyheads in the industry...
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"In truth, there is a quantum shift occurring in this industry (and many others), and those who don't see it coming were doomed to become roadkill." Nailed it right there. Guy around here closed a couple years ago. Thought he could keep going the way he had for 30 yrs. No clue about what hit him. He and the guys that worked for him were still doing the typical "locals rule" routine and he didn't even ... more have an answerinng machine. The internet is where it's at and if you ain't then you're out. Only guy selllinng anny fly gear within 200 miles of here now only has it as a bare minimum to his bait shop business. The bait shop is where the dough is and what keeps the people coming in. the fly shop is nothing.
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Everybody had good comments to post and it's interesting how they vary somewhat from region to region. Here is Cincy we are are down to 1 or 2 fly shops and a Bass Pro. Is Bass Pro any cheaper here? No way. Their prices are right along the same lines that I pay in a local shop anywhere else I have been. I always visit a local shop to find out where the best fishing has been and pick up on any local ... more flies that have been working, not to mention using shops that have web sites for advance information before I head out. Since I only get to head out to good trout water once or twice a year if I am lucky, I want all the info I can get before I arrive. So I hope the local independent guys can hang in there. I buy flies off the internet like many, hey, it's hard to reist flies for under a buck. Note to Loon: stick a bottle of Gorilla glue in your vest pocket and hit the tie in points with a little-those cheap flies hold up a whole lot better!
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Well, around these here parts we live in the immense shadow of Bass Pro Shops HQ, their flagship store, and another store 35 miles away in Branson. The area draws heavily from Little Rock, St. Louis, and Kansas City...all of which have their own Bass Pro Shops and a Cabelas, usually a Sports Authority tossed in for good measure. The Wal-Marts around here even sell fly fishing gear like Orvis and Scientific ... more Anglers. Yet, folks are still OPENING fly shops, not closing them. There's a fly shop in every town in southern Missouri with a river running through it...or near it. Feather-craft is in St. Louis and they have another indy fly shop. KC has a couple of indies as well. Drop down to the Mountain Home/Cotter area across the state line, and there are 3-4 more booming fly shops. River Run Outfitters in Branson was the Orvis Outfitter of the Year for 2006. They're still running shorthanded on qualified guides. Why is it so different around here? I don't know for sure, because I don't know how it is everywhere else where they are failing. But I will tell you this: the prices for fly tying materials, rods, reels, etc. at Bass Pro are as high or higher than they are in the indy shops. The independents around here ALL seem to be TFO dealers. Then they sell either Winston, Loomis, Sage, or Orvis as their upper tier rods. And they all have free coffee. Other than that, they seem pretty much like any old fly shop anywhere. Most are close to the WATER instead of the population centers, and they offer guide services and beginner's classes. I rarely see anyone buying a rod/reel in any of these shops, but I see tons of people hitting the register renting waders, buying tippet, strike indicators, local fly patterns, leaders, fly boxes, hats, sunglasses, gloves (in winter), nippers, hemos, fly lines, and all the other add ons. As a result, you don't see very many rods on display in our fly shops...maybe a dozen. If you want to buy a rod from them, you may have to have them order it. They all seem to have a reel case containing 1-2 dozen reels. Most run in the $50-200 range. This is $100 rod and $50 reel country around here. None of the shops carry bamboo. And even River Run Outfitters doesn't have a Helios on display. Most have websites with e-commerce. They post frequent fishing reports. But I suspect what is truly different in the Ozarks isn't the fly shops, per se. I think it is the fly fishing "community" we have here. Our town of 150,000 people has two FFF clubs with about 100 members each. Monthly meeting attendance averages about 30 for one and about 15 for the other. We teach beginner's classes through the public schools, colleges, Bass Pro Shop, and at Missouri Dept. of Conservation events. We participate heavily in Casting for Recovery, Project Healing Waters, and Stream Teams. There is another FFF or TU club about every 100 miles or so, or better. And we are all exceptionally active at recruiting and education. EVERY business needs a steady stream of new customers to survive. If you're not growing you're dying. And in far too many places around the country, fly fishing is DYING. When all of your customers are living on pensions and own a lifetime of fly fishing gear, it's going to be hard to keep the light bill paid.
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I can speak as someone who doesn't live close enough to a fly shop to buy in person very often. An nice, professional website makes all the difference. Forget catalogs and save the paper. If you must send paper, send me a postcard or brochure with website info. If I can, I'll buy from a small shop's website every time as opposed to the big megastores, but the list of small fly shops with good websites ... more is fairly short. Don't even bother tossing up a crappy site. That discourages me from even visiting the store. I buy from the Little River Outfitters website mentioned above a good bit, among others. I guess I could order from shops without a website by phone, but, being a fly fisherman, I'm antisocial and would rather click buttons at my leisure. I could and sometimes do wait to buy gear when I'm at the stream, but I prefer to have everything in order before I even leave for a trip. I'm certainly not buying a rod when I get to my destination, but I might buy it through your website before I leave on the trip. If I buy something in person, it's usually low profit stuff, like a handful of flies and a leader. IMHO, there typically just aren't enough people living near the streams to support the small shops properly. The net will allow all those folks out there like me, who only get to go fly fishing in your area a handful of times per year, to access your store any time the bug bites. A nice message board and a regularly updated shop blog/fishing report would be great as well and keep people checking back often. I really hope small shops begin seeing the net for the opportunity it is and prosper from it. Take care, hawgdaddy
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I'm always sorry to hear when a small retailer goes out of business, for whatever reason. While I'm sure you're right, TC, that the manufacturers aren't gonna ignore the Bassmasters stores, and the internet market, I still buy most of my stuff from The Fisherman's Spot in VanNuys. I dropped a nice hunk of change there in 2007, and I'm a long way from being able to afford exotic trips to Alaska or ... more Patagonia. For me it's worth it to exchange information. Every time I've taken Ken's suggestion about some aspect of fishing, it's paid off...every time. And I enjoy the camaraderie of being with other fishermen. But then again, I'm becoming a relic; hell, I still like White Castle hamburgers. 67 Days to Derby Day! Regards, Kentucky Jim
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What a bummer, but business is competitive and as the owner pointed out the market is dictating change. It truly sucks because small shops have the clear advantage when it comes to providing higher quality service. I feel eventually there will be a move back in the other direction (towards small boutique shops), but I'd guess the big retailers are here to stay. Its pretty obvious that most fly fishers ... more desire high quality, personalized service. A good example of how big and small work and don't work in the fly fishing industry is flies. You can buy CHEAP flies online now... but as you may or may not know (or want to admit) the cheap flies tend to fall apart after a couple of hook ups... and forget about getting that odd colored, on the small side BWO that you like to fish from some discount online fly shop as they probably only stock down to a #18.
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It's a shame that we are loosing so many local shops. I think that there will always be enough economic value for at least 1 in every region, but that may be the limit. I like to spend dollars with the locals to thank them for being there, but sometimes can't pass up deals online like everyone else. The specialty shops did have a niche when they were the only Orvis, Sage, Scott, Winston dealers, but ... more if that stuff is offered at MEGA retailers the little shops can't compete.
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Anyone who wants to open a fly shop these days needs to decide right off the bat – is this going to be a hobby or a business? If the former, you'll need another source of income to pay for the groceries, since the best you can hope for is to break even. If the later, you need to follow the example of The Fly Shop, and offer the following: high-quality color catalogs and a great website offering top ... more of the line products, instruction, guiding, and travel. Regardless of what you think of their ethics, they run a very successful business. To get there, expect long hours and be prepared to assume a mountain of debt.
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Local fly shops to setup online stores AND message boards for locals to chat and swap stories. Keep fishing reports in a 'pay to play' area for customers who purchase from the online store... or some variation on that theme. Also, IMO offering classes is key, especially for beginners, etc... Cater to the people that are new to the sport, need more help getting things dialed in, and are hungry for ... more information.
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man i sure hope bob grace can keep it together for the next fifty at least. the only fly shop around here and i sure do like buying through him. even if he doesn't have it in stock, he can order it(most of the time) its cool to find a clearance item or two here and there on the internet, yet nothing compares to a shop---fish reports, friends, casual conversations, you know the kind of thing you might ... more find at your favorite watering hole. long live the fly shops and the people who sacrafice big dollars for keeping it real.....
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The stuff costs way too much, the economy is headed south, and the little fellow is the first to go. I purchase all of my big ticket tackle on the Internet, but always drop fifty in the local shop - on sundries and expendables. I think this is a microcosm that's the first real proof that the "Internet is gonna change everything" - it did, and those slow to reposition their business will be the worse ... more for wear.
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