Walk into any fly shop, even one loaded with high-end gear, and you’re looking at a very small business. The industry itself is very small.
Field and Stream’s Fly Talk blog (see link) reported last year that a study done for American Fly Fishing Trade Association found that sales for the entire industry were only about $750 million – less than some brands of candy bars.
And do you know what sells the most? The study found it was flies. And this wasn’t a one-time thing. I noted in a recent post (see here) that the highest percentage of sales in May/June 2013 was flies, followed by tippet.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I go to a shop I may buy three each of three or four patterns. Even for the saltwater patterns, that’s looking at a total purchase of less than $60. And I’ve seen plenty of people walk in, look around, and leave. I don’t always buy. Sometimes it’s nice to just go in, listen and see what’s new.
My point in the above is that every fly shop is hungry for customers – lots of customers. Because for every $800 Orvis, Sage, or Winston rod they sell, they’re looking at lots of sales at less than $100 – often much less.
Fly shops have to compete with each other implicitly whether they want to or not. When a customer can buy the same rod in two or three places (or from an online retailer) a fly shop wants that rod to be sold at their shop. Brands carried, events, classes, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a loyal customer base are needed to survive. And it is survival – with rent and utilities to pay, salaries for the hardworking but underpaid staff, and maybe being able to stash some money for one’s growing family.
So why do I bring all this up? It’s because of the event I attended today.
Many fly shops hold demo days – events where manufacturers reps are on hand, rods are available for casting, and everyone talks fly-fishing. Many times there are giveaways and prizes. And sometimes there’s even free food!
But not every shop hosts an event that includes other fly shops. Often fly shops will be at the same event that’s hosted by some other organization. But an event where a fly shop invites other fly shops, that’s something unique. And maybe it’s something we need more of in this increasingly hyper competitive society.
Puget Sound Fly Company (Tacoma Washington) hosted a demo day today with two other fly shops invited. When I got there later in the day, Orvis was still there along with Puget Sound Fly Company.
The shop owner from Puget Sound Fly Company (Anil Srivastava) was there. Orvis was ably represented by the beach fishing legend, Leland Miyawaki, and Jason Cotta, their fly fishing manager.
So here’s a couple of fly shops, admittedly separated by 40+ miles, still sharing an event and demonstrating that one can be friends with other people you’re competing against. The thing about it is that the only way all shops will survive is to promote fly fishing. It may mean a lost sale, but the more fly fishers there are, the more all will thrive.
On a planet of diminishing resources, two fly shops in the Seattle / Tacoma demonstrate the wisdom of cooperation in which all win or all lose. As individual, regions, and countries that might be a good lesson for us all.