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.