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Why Great Fly Shops Will Never Go Extinct

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April 15, 2013

Why Great Fly Shops Will Never Go Extinct

By Kirk Deeter

The other day I got a phone call from my credit card company asking for feedback on customer service. Thing is, it was an automated call, as in "press 1 if you are happy with our customer service." I'm not kidding, although at the time I thought, "you must be joking," and simply hung up. I don't think it takes an MBA to figure out that having customers talk to a recording is probably not the best way to assess customer service satisfaction, but I may be wrong.

I don't think I'm wrong, however, when I say that customer service is the key to a successful fly shop.  I've been covering the business of fly fishing for many years now, and during that time I've seen a number of fly shops close their doors throughout the country. Some of them were great shops, and it's a shame to see them gone. Some of them were run by crusty, rude people who wanted money. They didn't care about the rivers or making customers into better anglers, and that's why they're gone. While some people may be quick to point out factors like big box stores, discounted products that anglers can buy over the Internet, and even direct sales by manufacturers, I really don't think those things are going to snuff out businesses that make going into a fly shop the unique and interesting experience many of us enjoy.

In my mind, there are two types of fly shops. The shop by the river that literally lives up to the name "fly shop" because it primarily sells bug patterns to people who want to fish local waters. In many cases, those shops are bulletproof. So long as there are fish in the water, and people who want to catch them, they'll do fine (unless a competitor decides to open nearby and do that better).

The other type of shop is a "lifestyle" shop, and we find those in more urban and suburban areas. The best of these shops have an uncanny ability to fuel the angler's imagination, whether that be getting them ready for a long-awaited trip to Montana, or helping them load a box with carp flies (pictured above) so they can chase adventure close to home. It's all about supporting the angling ideal. And I think that ideal is very strong—it's why people go to the Fly Fishing Film tour events, or dare I say, read blogs about fly fishing when they're at their desk at work (don't worry, I won't tell on you).

Whether or not you decide to get qualified, exert help and support in choosing the right fishing gear—based on your budget and casting style—is up to you. I just hope people will at least take the time to swing by their local fly shop now and then. If the service and expertise are genuine, the sales stuff tends to take care of itself. If not, there are plenty of other options available. I think that's ultimately a good thing. Because the fly shops that are still standing are stronger, smarter, and more in tune with the interests and needs of anglers than they ever have been.

Comments (16)

Top Rated
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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 3 days ago

Rent goes up, economy goes bad, and anglers use the shop for good information, and then buy on the internet. More and more business is being done on the internet. I just bought a Hardy graphite flyrod, a 4 wt. that was $100 off, and they threw in a wide arbor reel, and a 4 WF flyline, and put it on for me with backing!! And the clincher...no state sales tax! Should be at my doorstep today.

-2 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 1 year 3 days ago

Clinch, I wouldn't buy my wife off the internet so why would I buy a fly rod off the internet?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 1 year 3 days ago

I do the same Clinch, except I talk to the guys at the shop on FaceBook for information, then order from their online site so I don't have to drive 90 minutes to get there. :)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 1 year 3 days ago

I do the same Clinch, except I talk to the guys at the shop on FaceBook for information, then order from their online site so I don't have to drive 90 minutes to get there. :)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 3 days ago

Buckhunter...I have no idea why you do what you do. But just look at the dollar amount ofinternetsales..staggering, and it keeps getting bigger, and bigger.I have XMAS, and birthday gifts bought and sent of the internet. You need to go out on the street, and get one of those 3rd graders coming home from school to come in and show you how to do it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rjw wrote 1 year 3 days ago

After many years away from a fly rod I actually picked it back up last year and stopped at a local shop while in Montana. Walked in and got completely confused at the selection (only ever fished a dry fly and had no idea of all the other choices). Sign on the door read “No Snobs Allowed”, there was literally no sales pressure and a ton of advice simply by just asking, I walked out with a small selection of flies, dries and other wise, headed into the high country and caught fish. You just cannot get that online. This was not the only shop that I stopped at during the summer or the only state I fished and each experience was as good as the first stop. Do I shop online, of course, but I will say that when it comes to fly fishing you can bet I will find and support a local shop when I am in need of a pattern and up to the minute advice. I was also offered casting lessons (at no charge) to help me get back into the swing of things, now that is something you will not get online, naturally you can watch casting videos online except the video cannot watch you and tell you what you are doing wrong or right. Personal customer service is like fly fishing, it is an art.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 1 year 3 days ago

Clinch, Have purchased plenty of rods over the internet and even Ebay with some success but all of my go-to rods were hand picked off the shelf with more care than a doctor would use picking a heart for a transplant patient.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from William Romeis wrote 1 year 3 days ago

I agree with KD... I will go out of my way to visit a good fly shop. I not only want to know them, I want them to know me.Sadly, I'm finding that many of the fly shops are struggling, therefore can't afford to hire and pay good help, and thus the service is lacking. Its a sad spiral. But, it is a real treat to find that full service fly shop, dedicated to fly fishing, and the local waters.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from badsmerf wrote 1 year 3 days ago

I love walking into local fly shops. The fly selection is usually unique in many ways and the advice ranges from completely useless to fantastic. The best fly-shops I've found, are the guys that tie their own flies right there in the shop, spend a ton of time on the river and love helping other anglers. I walked into one in Superior WI, 400 miles away and was so impress with the customer service and desire to help that I bought my pair of waders from him.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 2 days ago

For the guy that said you can't get that online? Oh yes you can. I confer personally with sales personnel online. Some have 800 phone numbers I can call for info. What I am finding is the fact ONLINE contacts will take more time in answering my questions, and providing me the answers than the flyshop is willing to take the time. There can be few shoppers in the shop, and the one guy working is busy doing something else. But I use both. When it comes to big ticket items like an expensive rod, pontoon boat, etc. No question, I go online. And a number of the successful shops are now ONLINE!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 2 days ago

And for the guy that says "unfortunately shops are struggling" it is because of the fact time is money. Too many guys want a paid employee to spend all kinds of time with them, and then they spend very little money in the shop. The cost of just keeping the doors open for the day means a shop owner has to do a pretty brisk business to stay open.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Rhythm Rider wrote 1 year 2 days ago

Pretty accurate fly shop assessment. I don't think most fly shops can compete on price only, or complain about direct sales. You survive the market by knowing your customers. Look at the hardware stores that thrive next to home depot.

I mostly buy used gear when the price tag gets up there, but buy tons of smalls at my favorite local shop. I'm also guilty of frequenting Cabela's to spend my ca-bucks, but so be it. Big boxes won't touch the good shops. And by the way, shops that complain about big boxes are poor shops in my mind. You don't get business by bashing your competitor (maybe not directly). The good stores will thrive while weak shops will fall away.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 1 year 2 days ago

Clinch, I am a little surprised of your online buying thoughts. I feel one of the greatest rituals in all of fly fishing is walking into a shop with a wad of cash in your pocket and picking out THE fly rod. I cannot imagine someone else knowing what wiggle or waggle I want in a rod.

I feel the successful fly shops are diversified. They carry different lines of clothing, have a guide service and offer trips, are active with tying and casting classes, offer local expert advice and offer a wide selection of fishing gear.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 1 year 2 days ago

I love the multipe posts! Don't know why it does that to me.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Joel Ede wrote 1 year 2 days ago

I agree with Kirk completely. I worked at a fly shop, learned almost everything I know from a fly shop and bought most of my gear from a fly shop. Maybe I'm biased but I know that no matter where I fish, I have to visit the local fly shop. Sadly, there are those that don't abide by the "no snob" rule. But I'll say that even shops like the ones Kirk alluded to in commercial spaces—like the Orvis on Santana Row in San Jose which I actually enjoy frequenting—are not quite the same as say a Kiene's in Sac or a Herb Bauer's in Fresno.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 1 day ago

Wonder where that "snob rule" ever even came from? I've been in a hundred flyshops, and was a manager of a very large shop, and have NEVER seen evidence of that. The profit motive takes care of any snob approach. Most of your customers are entre level fly anglers why would you appear to be a snob? That comes from the folks with little disposable income that can't afford fly gear, and they make that up portraying those that can afford the gear to be rich folks that are snobs, and thus the shop appeals to them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from buckhunter wrote 1 year 3 days ago

Clinch, Have purchased plenty of rods over the internet and even Ebay with some success but all of my go-to rods were hand picked off the shelf with more care than a doctor would use picking a heart for a transplant patient.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 1 year 2 days ago

Clinch, I am a little surprised of your online buying thoughts. I feel one of the greatest rituals in all of fly fishing is walking into a shop with a wad of cash in your pocket and picking out THE fly rod. I cannot imagine someone else knowing what wiggle or waggle I want in a rod.

I feel the successful fly shops are diversified. They carry different lines of clothing, have a guide service and offer trips, are active with tying and casting classes, offer local expert advice and offer a wide selection of fishing gear.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 1 year 3 days ago

Clinch, I wouldn't buy my wife off the internet so why would I buy a fly rod off the internet?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 1 year 3 days ago

I do the same Clinch, except I talk to the guys at the shop on FaceBook for information, then order from their online site so I don't have to drive 90 minutes to get there. :)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 1 year 3 days ago

I do the same Clinch, except I talk to the guys at the shop on FaceBook for information, then order from their online site so I don't have to drive 90 minutes to get there. :)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 3 days ago

Buckhunter...I have no idea why you do what you do. But just look at the dollar amount ofinternetsales..staggering, and it keeps getting bigger, and bigger.I have XMAS, and birthday gifts bought and sent of the internet. You need to go out on the street, and get one of those 3rd graders coming home from school to come in and show you how to do it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rjw wrote 1 year 3 days ago

After many years away from a fly rod I actually picked it back up last year and stopped at a local shop while in Montana. Walked in and got completely confused at the selection (only ever fished a dry fly and had no idea of all the other choices). Sign on the door read “No Snobs Allowed”, there was literally no sales pressure and a ton of advice simply by just asking, I walked out with a small selection of flies, dries and other wise, headed into the high country and caught fish. You just cannot get that online. This was not the only shop that I stopped at during the summer or the only state I fished and each experience was as good as the first stop. Do I shop online, of course, but I will say that when it comes to fly fishing you can bet I will find and support a local shop when I am in need of a pattern and up to the minute advice. I was also offered casting lessons (at no charge) to help me get back into the swing of things, now that is something you will not get online, naturally you can watch casting videos online except the video cannot watch you and tell you what you are doing wrong or right. Personal customer service is like fly fishing, it is an art.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from William Romeis wrote 1 year 3 days ago

I agree with KD... I will go out of my way to visit a good fly shop. I not only want to know them, I want them to know me.Sadly, I'm finding that many of the fly shops are struggling, therefore can't afford to hire and pay good help, and thus the service is lacking. Its a sad spiral. But, it is a real treat to find that full service fly shop, dedicated to fly fishing, and the local waters.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from badsmerf wrote 1 year 3 days ago

I love walking into local fly shops. The fly selection is usually unique in many ways and the advice ranges from completely useless to fantastic. The best fly-shops I've found, are the guys that tie their own flies right there in the shop, spend a ton of time on the river and love helping other anglers. I walked into one in Superior WI, 400 miles away and was so impress with the customer service and desire to help that I bought my pair of waders from him.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 2 days ago

For the guy that said you can't get that online? Oh yes you can. I confer personally with sales personnel online. Some have 800 phone numbers I can call for info. What I am finding is the fact ONLINE contacts will take more time in answering my questions, and providing me the answers than the flyshop is willing to take the time. There can be few shoppers in the shop, and the one guy working is busy doing something else. But I use both. When it comes to big ticket items like an expensive rod, pontoon boat, etc. No question, I go online. And a number of the successful shops are now ONLINE!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 2 days ago

And for the guy that says "unfortunately shops are struggling" it is because of the fact time is money. Too many guys want a paid employee to spend all kinds of time with them, and then they spend very little money in the shop. The cost of just keeping the doors open for the day means a shop owner has to do a pretty brisk business to stay open.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Rhythm Rider wrote 1 year 2 days ago

Pretty accurate fly shop assessment. I don't think most fly shops can compete on price only, or complain about direct sales. You survive the market by knowing your customers. Look at the hardware stores that thrive next to home depot.

I mostly buy used gear when the price tag gets up there, but buy tons of smalls at my favorite local shop. I'm also guilty of frequenting Cabela's to spend my ca-bucks, but so be it. Big boxes won't touch the good shops. And by the way, shops that complain about big boxes are poor shops in my mind. You don't get business by bashing your competitor (maybe not directly). The good stores will thrive while weak shops will fall away.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 1 year 2 days ago

I love the multipe posts! Don't know why it does that to me.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Joel Ede wrote 1 year 2 days ago

I agree with Kirk completely. I worked at a fly shop, learned almost everything I know from a fly shop and bought most of my gear from a fly shop. Maybe I'm biased but I know that no matter where I fish, I have to visit the local fly shop. Sadly, there are those that don't abide by the "no snob" rule. But I'll say that even shops like the ones Kirk alluded to in commercial spaces—like the Orvis on Santana Row in San Jose which I actually enjoy frequenting—are not quite the same as say a Kiene's in Sac or a Herb Bauer's in Fresno.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 1 day ago

Wonder where that "snob rule" ever even came from? I've been in a hundred flyshops, and was a manager of a very large shop, and have NEVER seen evidence of that. The profit motive takes care of any snob approach. Most of your customers are entre level fly anglers why would you appear to be a snob? That comes from the folks with little disposable income that can't afford fly gear, and they make that up portraying those that can afford the gear to be rich folks that are snobs, and thus the shop appeals to them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 3 days ago

Rent goes up, economy goes bad, and anglers use the shop for good information, and then buy on the internet. More and more business is being done on the internet. I just bought a Hardy graphite flyrod, a 4 wt. that was $100 off, and they threw in a wide arbor reel, and a 4 WF flyline, and put it on for me with backing!! And the clincher...no state sales tax! Should be at my doorstep today.

-2 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment