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Why You Should Support Your Local Fly Shop

Angler and Guide in a fly shop picking flies from the shop box

Local fly shops are going the way of the dinosaur and are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Small local fly shops were once the backbone of the industry. These shops have always been the best resource to learn about local waters, how to fish them, where to fish, which flies to use, and when to fish them. Your local shop has deep expertise in all things fly fishing, because it's literally all they do. They are the cultural center of each local fly fishing community. They bring people into the sport, share knowledge freely, offer advice, and facilitate development of their angling skills. Friendships and long-term relationships are forged. Information and experiences are freely shared. Therefore, the local shop is the only place you should buy your fly fishing gear. If you're fortunate enough to live within driving distance of a good fly shop, please don't take it for granted. It is a special resource and unless you help support them as a small business, they may not be there the next time you visit. The reality is far too many anglers visit their local fly shop as a place to gather free information, and if they buy anything, it is usually a few flies and some leaders or tippet. Many of the walk-in customers that do make larger purchases are looking for a good deal or a hefty discount. This behavior is not really supporting your local fly shop. It is actually very time consuming and counterproductive to keeping you local shop in business.

The internet and Amazon have changed the shopping landscape in a very profound way, much to the detriment of small business owners across most industries. When you add big box stores with vast resources into the mix and fly fishing manufacturers that are more and more frequently selling direct to consumers, it's no wonder why the local fly shops are failing in record numbers. Some people feel that walking into an actual brick-and-mortar store is an unnecessary trip. For many, it’s easier to scour the Internet for fishing tips and good deals while in front of a computer screen. While there is a ton of information online, much of it is worthless garbage with opinions all over the place, leaving anglers confused or buying inferior gear. A good fly shop employee can quickly determine someone’s experience level, physical condition, destination, budget, expectations and find the perfect gear while eliminating the guesswork and risks of ending up with the wrong gear. Many employees guide out of the shop and are more than happy to take a customer out for a half-day or full day guided trip and bring sample gear that they can try out before making a purchase.

Fly shops also have a vested interest in the community and can be ground-zero for like-minded people to gather and exchange information. Many shops regularly host cookouts and fly tying nights. They also tend to participate in conservation efforts, river clean-ups and educational events, making the employees the best available resource for quick and reliable introductions to gear, fisheries and people.

Most fly shops are owned by families or anglers that have a deep passion for fly fishing and chose to pursue a dream to work in an industry they love. Business acumen or experience is not always their strong suit, and the proliferation of technology has left many of these shops falling further behind. Granted not every fly shop is a good shop, or a well run business. There is a natural selection process where the strong survive and the weak cease to exist. In the past, a certain segment of fly shops earned a well-deserved reputation for high-brow, condescending treatment of customers, making them feel stupid or inferior, simply not caring, or a combination of all of these. This reputation and poor service has also been a barrier for women in the past, who happen to be entering the sport in record numbers. If you experience this type of service at a fly shop, move on to the next one. There are plenty of shops that would love to help you and earn your business

The entire fly fishing industry is quite small. In fact, total sales generated by small to medium-sized businesses in the fly fishing industry generate about $750 million in revenues annually. The national average for a fly fishing retail location is $315,000 in revenues. When you consider paying for rent/lease, cost of goods sold, maintaining inventory, paying employees, utilities, supplies, shipping/freight, and taxes, the average fly shop owner is barely hanging on. These are small business owners working very hard for you, to earn a living wage and support a family. So please don't beat them up on price or push get the best possible deal. Fly shops operate on very narrow margins. If you understand the real benefits of having a local fly shop and all the value they provide: trust, knowledge, friendships, and peace of mind, isn't spending an extra $20 or $30 a small tradeoff? Wouldn't you rather support a local small business that sees value in you as a person than save a few bucks buying gear from an internet warehouse that knows absolutely nothing about fly fishing?

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