Fly Shops: "Where the Service Is"

In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, John Hayes raises some now old but still-interesting questions about the future of personal service in fly fishing gear sales. Are the eight percent of U.S. anglers who fish with flies spending their $805 million in fly shops, or are they buying online — where despite what Hayes reports an unofficial discounting system seems firmly established? American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) president Gary Berlin is confident that the need for localized information will continue to drive buyers smaller fly shops. “‘Fifty-five point six percent of total fly-fishing sales are made in single-location shops, and another 36.7 percent are at multiple-location shops, excluding national chains,’ he said. ‘It’s loyalty to their favorite specialty retailers who know the current water temperatures, what the hatch is and what to use on local streams.'”

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  • i luv a good indy fly shop! and i’ve always supported them with my purchases. but i’d much rather buy on-line than purchase at a bad one. and it is so easy to tell the difference, and there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. the diff doesn’t seem to me to just be customer service. i always see the double insult of lack of quality service and high prices that results in a complete lack of value. any business that doesn’t understand the value proposition of of the retail sales business is in trouble, but in a niche specialty retail biz like fly fishing, the impact is multiplied.
    the best fly shop i have ever visited is is reading’s fly shop at bennett springs, mo. in a conversation i had with charlie reading one day standing at his casting pond, he told me, “most people today go into the fly shop business for the wrong reason. they either do it thinking they are going to make money, or they do it because they love to fly fish. either way, they are going to be disappointed and that leads to problems. you can make a modest living as a fly shop owner if you’re in it for the right reason, but there are a lot of other far better business investments that are far less work. so making money is a bad reason. and if you love to fly fish, owning a shop is going to frustrate you because you’ll be tied to the shop or neglect it. the right reason for owning a fly shop or working in one is that you love the gear and people in fly fishing. it’s that simple. any other reason is the wrong reason.”
    and anyone who has ever visited charlie’s shop or knows who charlie is knows you cannot argue with success.

  • halcyonsancta

    I live in a small town in western Canada where the local independent shop is overpriced and less than service oriented. Oh, they’ll sell you a load of stuff and all the flies they can get you to succumb to, but pass on a bit of friendly local advice? Not unless you want to try your luck at Frenchman’s Creek…
    I find, in general, that fly shop employees tend to be less than… charitable… in my district, and even in the next province over. There is some myth in the concept of a quiet bit of advice being passed along in a collegial manner after dropping $50 on flies… even when asked in a low-key polite manner.
    One of the reasons for this is that folks are naturally reserved about letting all the neophytes in on the good spots. It’s hard for a salesperson, even when they are the shop owner to know who should be “in the club” and who shouldn’t… and I suppose the high regard folks have out here for fishing in solitude (a pretty big thing in the west) may be part of it as well. If you tell some gal or fella where to fish, they just might be there the next time you want be there alone…
    Maybe I just don’t spend enough, hell, I don’t know!
    One of the side effects of this is that there are many useful books on the subject, and one of the pleasures of the sport has come to be the aesthetic enjoyment of one’s locale. After kitting out, packing up, setting up…hell, I’d better just make the most of wherever the hell I am and enjoy the experience whether I am in the right spot or not! It’s too much damned work to drive anywhere else!

  • Destination fly shops will always thrive. Local info and patterns are a prized commodity for someone making pilgrimage to quality water.
    Their enemy is the short retail season, and when the fishing closes survival suggests they evolve into an online entity to continue sales.
    Urban shops have a year round season, and those with great customer service and a strategic location have a certain future in catering to the lunchtime cubicle crowd.
    I’m not sure “great” customer service is as easy to find as it once was. In part due to the dearth of service in all counter industries, and the truly great stores were always run by grizzled old characters with musty back rooms and a dirty coffee pot boiling in the corner.
    Dropping $50 on small items is part of the fly fishing ritual on my trips. I understand the limited season and always value their local expertise. It seems that the small town shops are just .. friendlier, and deserve our support.

  • Dave H.

    I empathize with the plight of the independent fly shop. I would like to greater support the local fly shop but being on a limited budget I can’t afford much of the premium gear they mostly stock. The five fly rods I own barely cost more than the least inexpensive rod found in two shops nearest me. So when I visit, I’ll only pick up a couple of inexpensive things that I need. I get the rest on the internet or in the larger chain stores that stock fly gear across a wider range of price points. I think many shops could help build a base of future, loyal customers by also having a line of reputable budget oriented rods and reels in their line up. I know this wouldn’t be very profitable for them but this would get the beginning fly fisher and those on a more limited budget into their shops who in later years would likely upgrade to something better. But I do like visiting fly shops to wonder around the aisles checking out a lot stuff I can’t afford at the moment and chatting up fly fishing with the staff. They’re almost always friendly and provide a wealth of useful information. But I can also say that customer service is also lacking in many fly shops I’ve visited. While the majority are great in that regard, I’ve been totally blown off in many of others even when I’ve gone out of my way to engage whatever staff is in the fly shop at the time.