the internet and fly shop love

No this isn’t the title of a racy new direct-to-Skinemax movie about a buxom, broad faced Finnish girl of 19 years living on the lonely Keweenaw penninsula with her thick Yooper accent and her racy webcam shows streaming live from her father’s seasonal fly shop. Though sure, I kind of wish it was too.

Does the Skinemax reference even work anymore?

There’s been some chatter on the interwebs lately about fly fishing manufacturers moving away from bricks and mortar stores towards an internet based direct sales model. Tom Chandler at the Trout Underground notes that there is a widening gap between companies that use the internet to drive direct sales from their website, companies like Patagonia and Orvis, and companies that don’t, he mentions Scott, Winston, and Sage in particular.

Buster Want’s to Fish picks up on Chandler’s piece and Salty writes that independent bricks and mortar fly shops are in trouble, but that they have a distinct edge against the big, impersonal direct sales giants. Namely, service. Quality customer service is a reason why customers actually patronize physical stores.  And oftentimes, as Salty notes, the smaller, independent stores have better service.

As a person who currently manages a small, independent fly shop (until late May at least when I move to Michigan), I have to say that I don’t have much confidence in the small shops’ ability to compete with manufacturer’s direct sale business. But there is a finer distinction to be made here too. Salty’s and TC’s discussion focuses on the difference between direct sales from manufacturer websites and sales from independent retailers who also have significant e-commerce operations and manufacturers who do direct sales and those who don’t.

What about the shops that do it all on the ground? That have no e-commerce operations whatsoever? They are surely screwed. Yes, people want to and should want to come into shops to try products out, cast rods, try on waders, etc. But as one commenter on Chandler’s piece notes, pretty soon there will be only brand showrooms. What’s an Orvis store now anyway, besides a huge clothing and pet-accessory outlet?

I tend to think that the only space left for small, independent bricks and mortar fly shops without a significant online presence is in the destination fly shop business. As long as there is fly fishing, people will travel to fly fishing destinations, from Penns Creek in PA to the Conejos in CO to Key West FL and Baldwin MI, people want to stop in a local shop, get some up to date info, pick up the local flies, some leaders, some tippet, maybe a hat, $75 ka-ching, and then get fishing. Most destination shops carry rods and reels, but they don’t sell a whole bunch. But they don’t need to. They sell two hundred thousand flies every season.

So here’s to you destination fly shop, may you keep the independent spirit alive long after the rest of us are scraped off Orvis’ boot heel.

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