Northwest Fly Tyer

The fly tying pages of Monte Smith

Why Local Fly Shops Could Lose to the Internet

Posted by nwflytyer on January 27, 2011

The ‘local fly shop’ is under fire.  The various online options for feathers, fur, steel, and angling gear are difficult competition.  We’ve heard the laments for years from traditional brick and mortar retailers, no matter the niche.  It’s not just the fly shop.  I worked for years in the golf equipment industry, and we faced the same problems.  So how to combat the online monolith?

Well, though it can be difficult to compete strictly on price and selection, the local shop has a huge advantage.  Tyers and anglers generally want to feel, shake, and view the gear and materials we want to buy.  Speaking as a tyer, I know I much prefer to handle the materials and select those that will be most useful for the application for which they’re intended.  I have definite preferences in many of the materials I buy:  the curve and color of a golden pheasant crest, the amount of web on body hackles, the feel and texture of bucktails, the list goes on and on.  You tyers certainly understand this.  But here is where the local shop blows it…

You make me feel like a trespasser when I’m in buying a few tying items that may total a paltry $20 or $30.  Here’s the rub…it might be a small amount this time, but over the course of a year, this trip multiplies many, many times. I tie a lot of different types of flies, and I tie a lot.   And maybe I need a nice Grade A dry fly neck, or some jungle cock, or perhaps I need the latest vise light or travel case.  And since I tie, I also happen to fish.  So I will need gear at some point:  rods, reels, lines, leaders, waders, boots, you get the drift.  But since I am a bit of a bother buying my stupid little tying items, I don’t feel comfortable in your shop.  Think I’m going to drop by, chew the fat, and drop a few hundy on a nice reel when I need it?  Nuh-uh.  You’ve already blown the deal.  Maybe I’ll pick something up at an Expo, or worse for you, do a little research and then go online and get a better price (online retailers generally have lower overhead, right)?

I write this because for the third or fourth consecutive time that I have visited a particular shop that I used to hold in high regard, I have felt as though I am a bother to the staff.  Oh, I don’t require any help (usually), because I just want to prowl through the tying area and find what I need.  It’s a candy store to me!  But since you have to be out on the floor and not shooting the breeze with a pal in the back, I’m bothersome to you.   I get really tired of listening to the non-stop droning of the resident ‘fly-jocks’ as they regale all who will listen (i.e, the shop staff) with their death-defying angling exploits; I just need to check out and be on my way.

Here’s some free advice, retailers:  never make it difficult for your customers to pay you!  Don’t make we wait for no good reason (rapt by the fly jock’s tales is not a good reason, by the way) to give you my money.  And if you just happened to pay attention to what I was buying, you’d realize I’m probably not a beginner.   This means more money spent on tying in the future…would you like it?

Oh now, some retailers get it right, of course.   This rant is not for them.  My favorite fly shop in the world is in Salem, OR – they understand fishing, tying and how to treat a customer well (if you’re curious, check out my links).  I wish I could make the trip up there more often as it is always an enjoyable experience.  If I still lived in Salem, my wallet would be continually emptied!  As it is, I just drop by shops that are within my family’s shopping circle (one of the drawbacks of living in small-town America).

The next time I hear a shop owner complain about the pressure of competing with the online retailers or how slow it is in the winter,  I hope he isn’t the one that didn’t appreciate my middling tying purchase.  Because it will be the last.

Think I’ll just suck it up and head to Salem when I need materials.


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