December 30th, 2002

Fly Shop Attitudes
By James Castwell


Once again something on the FAOL bulletin-board caught my attention and prompted a few observations. It has to do with the attitudes sometimes encountered at a fly shop. Not all by any means fall into this category, but some do; small, dealer, and pro-shop. None seem to be immune. I get a trade journal (yes, fly-fishing has them) and a few months ago there was an article on how to go broke running a fly shop. I agreed with it then and still do.

Over the past few years there was a near explosion of new fly shops. The 'movie' had something to do with it as did several other things. Many went into the business then. Why not, it was growing by almost 20% a year. Even lousy management could not screw up a fly shop or a manufacturer during that period.

I know some folks dream of opening a shop where everyone can congregate, kind of like 'around the pot-bellied stove' times of the past. A friendly place with a never-empty coffee pot, 'good old boys club,' sort of. Quite a few like that were opened and run just that way.

Before long most of the 'regulars' had bought all the rods and reels they needed or could afford and were spending more time than dollars. Wonderful chatter, good advise, tied some flies and 'hung-out.' Of course, sales volume dropped off. Lower income demanded that the operational money for merchandise be aimed at what ever customers he could find. New customers became the target market; all the old 'regulars' had all they could use.

What do new customers want? Sure as hell not the $750.00 rods and reels. Now the inventory gets further slanted to lower end gear. The 'good old boys' for sure don't need any of that stuff. A spool of tippet, leaders, a line perhaps and some new nippers. When one of them does decide they in fact really do want a new high-end rod or reel, it would have to be ordered.

By this time he has become a 'good buddy' of the owner, figures he should get a 20% to 40% discount. If he gets it, guess what, there goes any profit. If he doesn't get one, he feels slighted. A 'lose-lose' situation for sure. The atmosphere of the place starts to slide and with it the original comradery.

When anything new comes along, a rod for instance, the owner won't put it in, all his money is spent and besides, he has convinced everyone that (since he is a guru) the current top end 'widget-deluxe' is the only rod for any right-minded person to ever own. The owner is not making the fat profit he expected, in fact his money is tied up with no way to turn it but by staying open, maybe even at a loss hoping things will get better.

One day a new guy does come in. The owner needs to 'high-grade' him if at all possible. Only so many new customers come in, he needs to make as much from each as possible just to stay open. The newby is shown to the two or three higher end rods and reels left in the place. Sticker shock sets in. Regrouping to the entry level, the owner fixes him up with a learners outfit with little profit if any (after he loads the reel with backing or a cheap line and spends an hour teaching him how to cast the thing.)

The newby feels he is not up to par, he is surely not an equal with the 'good old boys' lounging around sucking up the free coffee. They are talking a language that is foreign to him, Latin words even. Talk about intimidation.

He stretched his budget, knows he got a low-end rig, felt left out of the chatter, was actually ignored by the bonded-boys, got some info on a fishing area which may not prove to be worth much and will not likely return. So, that is how easy it is to go broke with a fly shop. There are a few more ways, but that one is guaranteed to succeed.

Where can fly fishers find a place where they can 'bond,' that doesn't depend upon them buying stuff, where the new guy is even welcomed by the 'old timers? A joint that is always open, where he can find the comradery and companionship he needs? Where can he find pretty good information on where to fish, what fly to use, even how to tie it? Where can he find what we all think a great fly shop should have, but rarely does?

I'm sure you have caught on to me by now. Sure, this is the place, right here at FAOL. That is why this thing is growing so fast. The attitudes of the gang in the chat-room are most cordial. Talk about a welcome, that actually is the job of the 'Host' to make sure all are welcome, the first time and every time thereafter. And they are glad to do it. They are part of the gang too.

Those who use the bulletin board are the same way. Ask a question and stand back. The answers come pouring in, everyone is eager to help in any way possible. You ought to see our email, the glowing 'atta-boys' make us blush. Read the Guest Book.

Attitudes? You bet these guys have attitudes, and we love them for it. ~ James Castwell

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

All Previous Castwell Articles
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