JT's Fly Shop has been open long enough for us to have our share of successes and some equally big fails.
Here are a few of the things I've found are important to success as a fly shop when it comes to becoming a go-to destination for fly tying materials.
1. Don’t be "that shop guy"
While you may be working in a fly shop (or may even be the shop owner), you really don’t know who that new customer is walking through the shop entrance. Don’t assume you know everything about your area and what people are tying.
We make a point to listen to what the customer needs no matter their question or what they may be looking for. Not everyone ties like we do or ties the flies we do, so we make sure to keep an open mind when first engaging a customer. A perfect example of this is an older gentleman who is one of our regulars; the first time he walked into the shop was the day before we actually opened 10 years ago. That day he was more excited about the shop than me or any of the crew. He's a lake fisherman who trolls flies for trout and salmon in a few of our local lakes. When he came in looking for materials we only had a few of the materials he was looking for. But by engaging him and tapping his knowledge we found out there is a large number of other lake trollers who tie their own flies. So for one of our first reorders we brought in 6 and 7X streamer hooks and other supplies for this customer segment. These are still some of our best-moving products and have drawn customers from as far away as Rhode Island.
Another good example of this happened a few years ago when we were getting a lot of requests for our guides to do a class on Czech nymphing. We put the class together and it was one of the most popular classes to date. Our guide who put on the class was also requested to do presentations at a couple of local clubs. With that in mind, and because many of the students had also taken some of our tying classes, we set up a section with some of the specialty items needed to tie those flies.
By listening to your customers (even newbies) you can get a better idea of what they are tying so you can make sure you have the materials they're looking for.
2. Don’t get stuck on a treadmill with your ordering
This can easily happen without you even realizing it. Empty pegs bother me so we order fairly frequently during the late fall, winter, and early spring; however, this can lead to ordering the same old items over and over again.
Keep an open mind to what stock moves and what doesn’t. Nothing is worse than stale stock. Recently I found this out the hard way. Our shop was in the middle of an expansion and when we were moving stock around I found several odd-colored kip tails from our original order. Lesson learned — those colors are off the stock list for now. I can’t remember who ordered them or why, but they got moved so many times they eventually ended up stuck at the bottom of a thread back-stock drawer.
Communicate with your customers at events and shows as well as at the fly shop. The more ideas you can get to expand or improve your stock of fly tying materials the better. Most of our distributors will send along samples of new materials from time to time and we make sure to consider them.
3. Keep up with the industry as a whole
Flymen Fishing Co. is all about innovative materials and tying methods!
Although we're located in a small corner of Connecticut, the fly fishing and tying community has gone global, largely due to social media. If a fly tyer in Sweden posts a cool new fly pattern, tyers in the US will be walking into their local fly shop in the following days looking to buy the materials used in the fly. Keeping up on trends and new techniques allows you to make sure you'll have the materials when customers inevitably ask for them.
New trends in fly fishing eventually trickle down to the tying materials. The big movement of fishing articulated streamers for trout, pike, musky, and steelhead has led us to stock many of the new Flymen shanks, heads, and eyes to tie the big streamers used for this type of fishing. While we already had many of the materials in stock, we moved them all into a concentrated area when we decided to create a focus on this popular type of fishing. This makes it much easier for the customer to find them. Not every trend is going to drive business, but if you're not aware of them you’re likely to miss out on some added sales.
Another point is to build on your strengths as a staff. The group of guys who work or help out at the shop all love local fishing but we also have an addiction to Great Lakes steelhead fishing. Having been making trips to Lake Ontario for almost 18 years now, we as a group have the place pretty much dialed in. Although we are almost 300 miles from the nearest steelhead fishery, our shop receives a great amount of traffic from fly anglers heading off to chase chrome.
4. Location, location, location
Not only is your shop location important, but so is the location of your fly tying material section within the shop. I've been in a lot of really great fly shops where it seems like fly tying materials are an afterthought. Our fly tying section is right at the shop entrance to put it front and center for our customers rather than buried in a back corner.
The reason for this is twofold:
- It makes it easy for staff to help customers find items without being too far from the front counter.
- It is the best place in our shop to keep the materials protected from direct sunlight, which can lead to some material colors becoming bleached.
We try to arrange the fly tying materials in categorical sections. By keeping the materials organized it is easier for the customer to find what they need amongst the thousands of items. One idea I've used is using the aisle ends for new items, vises, and impulse purchases because most customers will walk past them a few times while shopping.
We use the same strategy with all of our fly fishing and even conventional tackle items. Fly rods, reels, lines, tippet, and leaders are all together in one section. This is a basic retail tactic but sometimes it seems like some shops have forgotten it.
What have you found works for your shop?
Stay tuned for new posts on the Flymen Partners Blog.
About Jim Trinque:
JT is a lifelong fisherman and resident of Northeast Connecticut. In 2008 out of frustration for the lack of a local shop he decided to open his own business, JT's Fly Shop, where he also works as a fishing guide. Jim enjoys fishing out of his bass boat as much as he does wading in the river. Being an all around fisherman, JT can answer almost any of your questions on fly fishing, fly tying, ice fishing, and spin fishing.