By Neil Taylor, Strike Three Kayak Fishing
It seems like a “dream job”, surrounding yourself with fishing equipment and selling to the fishing folk who are going to come in and drop their entire paycheck on everything you have in your store. You get to “talk fishing for 12 hours a day with the hordes of customers you’re sure to get coming through the doors. You figure you will delight in the fun of the industry and enjoy countless hours of great conversation with all the fishing folks of the world. Well, the countless hours part is probably correct. Most shops are open early in the morning and stay open until the evening. The independent “tackle shop on the corner” places are usually staffed with the owners and occasionally local guides who put in some part-time hours to give the store owner a break from the “everyday.”
Tackle shop owner Pat Rice is the man behind the counter at Dunedin Fishing Center. He’s been running that shop for years after retiring from the corporate side of the grocery business. It is a lot of time invested being a tackle shop owner. Pat’s store is open 364 days a year for 12 hours a day. He has a few assistants that give him on average, one day off per week. Doing the math: Pat is tied down to his store for 72 hours a week. Without a doubt, it takes a real “people person” to be able to do it. His knowledge about fishing is strong making it a great destination for people to stop in to get advice on tackle purchases, “where they’re biting” and anything else anglers of all experience levels require.
Hired help is a critical item. Left in the hands of the wrong person, that “day off” could be costly. Pat’s staff of fill-ins are dependable honest men who are “help that you can trust” and capable of taking care of the functioning of the shop in his absence.
The economy is something that has affected everyone in one way or another and the tackle shop proprietors have seen that too. What is also very much a variable on the bottom line for the store owners is the winds and weather. Forecasts of any kind of significant wind translates to much less traffic going into the store.
Instead of 100% great interaction with people there are some people who take up part of your time everyday just calling to ask what the tides are today (ever heard of a newspaper or a tide chart?). The smart tackle shop owner will take it all in stride. Every phone call is a potential customer, every customer should be given excellent attention.
Back when I was first getting acquainted with local anglers and people who are knowledgeable about the sport, Captain Mel Berman asked me “Do you know how to make a small fortune in the fishing business?” I eagerly wanted to know and got a dose of reality with the answer: “Start with a large fortune.”
It’s not that there aren’t opportunities to survive in the tackle industry but it takes the right connections and proper asset management to be successful. In a tough economy, it has made that even more critical than times where people had more disposable income that ended up going to the tackle shops. Tackle wholesalers help the process. Knowing what lures and other things the professional guides use also helps with having the right items in stock. Other suppliers include the “bait guys”, who bring shipments of live shrimp and pinfish to be sold to customers. Pat’s decision on quantity of orders is based on a triangle of guesswork based on a number of factors but primarily heavily weighted on “day of the week” and “the wind forecast.”
“I’ll take selects!”
The thing that the customers don’t realize is that the “shrimp” situation (and pinfish) as far as the size of the baits available, has nothing to do with the shop owner but is “at the mercy” of whatever the shrimpers nets catch. If live bait is a “must” for you and large live baits are your preference, a lot of the year, you’d better get there early! They don’t arrive sorted, your tackle shop owners and workers go through and “hand pick” the largest shrimp and separate them from the “regulars.” Much of the year, all the shrimp that come in are very nice. Luckily, only a short part of the year, the shrimp are much smaller.
There are the long, lonely hours spent during the “slow times.” While some tackle shops will say “I’m locking it early and heading on home” Pat will stay for his posted hours, and people know it. If there is anyone going fishing, they have a place to stop for their tackle, bait, lures, ice, drinks and even get a rod and reel that can be filled with line right in the store. Pat’s logic on this one pays off. “Between all the other store competition, internet and other sources for fishing equipment, bait and supplies people know that I’m always open and that I have what they need.” A loyalty is built. Other shops that put up a sign “Closed, back in the morning!” run the risk of people skipping that location in the future over going directly somewhere they know is going to be open.
In addition to everything else, Pat will also do some rod repairs on site a “drop off” service that his regulars are happy to have available. That is a service that he enjoys offering and gives him something to do during the slower times of the day.
I interviewed Pat for the article and asked him “How much do you make an hour if you figure in profits divided by hours worked?” His answer was more interesting than I expected, “Before or after I’ve paid the rent, electric, phone, water, taxes and other miscellaneous expenses?” He is a businessman, a smart one at that. It is, in fact, a business and not just a hobby. When you put it all together, you realize pretty quickly that it isn’t as glamorous or easy as it sounds and definitely “not for everyone”. Will you pay out wages in place of earning profits? Can you personally handle that much time in the building? Do you really enjoy people that much?
For the right person, it is a great situation. The right person has to have the energy, the drive, the patience and the longevity to build that loyalty in the community and just “hope” that the weather and economy are both agreeable. Without it, another guy may just want to “keep fishing as my hobby.”
Support your local tackle shops!