My fellow trout bum Brendon and I spent the last week fishing our way across Montana. While April isn’t the most ideal time to fish the Big Sky region, one has to take every opportunity that they can get! We drove from NorCal through Nevada and Idaho and ended up fishing the Madison River (upper and lower), the Big Hole, the Bighorn River, and the Gallatin River. Since we were fishing a lot of water new to us, we stopped at quite a few fly shops.
Having spent three decades as a trout bum, I’ve been in fly shops all over the United States (and Canada and even in Africa). From Alaska to Wyoming to Colorado to California to Wisconsin and beyond, I’m a sucker for fly fishing gear and I can’t help stopping by fly shops in order to support local businesses. But I got to tell ya, not every fly shop is helpful!
In fact, while in Montana, we had the chance to check out two fly shops in the same city within the span of an hour and a half and the quality between the two fly shops was separated by a distance the universe wide… even though they carried essentially the exact. same. gear.
Several things stood out as being different between the two shops we visited…
Minimizing customer service.
Listen, fly shops are retail stores and if you want to sell retail, you’d better invest in customer service. When I walk into a fly shop and the employees are sitting around and don’t acknowledge new customers (or better yet, potential customers), I wonder if they understand this basic reality. Friendly smiles and a bit of focus on customers is what sets great fly shops from closing fly shops.
I just don’t find the person working at the shop who doesn’t care to take the time to even pretend that I exist all that helpful in getting me to spend my hard-earned money on some flies.
Being unfamiliar w/ local water conditions.
Maybe it’s too much to expect, but I can’t imagine having a fly shop that can’t point customers in the right direction when it comes to local fisheries! Listen, I’m going to spend a minimum of $50 on flies so the least you can do is tell me if the local river is blown or not! You’re a fly shop for crying out loud!
Since this is the Tale of Two Fly Shops, it was interesting that one fly shop was full of people who couldn’t answer any questions about the local rivers and the other was full of guys who know very specific details. Which fly shop do you think I’d go back to? I don’t expect you to guide me or give me all of the intel that’s needed to ensure that I catch a hundred fish, but it sure would be nice! 🙂 But seriously, you should be able to give some basic river updates, fly pattern recommendations, and river conditions.
Pretentious arrogance is not helpful.
Maybe you don’t want the sport to grow? Maybe had a bad day? Maybe you’re unaware that customer service is an important part of retail sales? All I know is that pretentious arrogance is not helpful. I’m sure you can double-haul with the best of them and you are a beast on the sticks when rowing people toward catching thirty-inchers! I believe you… but being pretentious or arrogant doesn’t make me want to spend money in your shop… not even a little bit.
Plus, I’m told that entering the fly fishing world can be kind of scary and overwhelming for new people. With the need for eighteen different fly rods, multiple reels with spare spools armed with floating and sinking lines, and enough fly boxes to sink the Titanic, it’s no wonder that beginning anglers feel a little overwhelmed! And we haven’t even begun talking about leaders and tippets and mono versus fluorocarbon!
So when customers ask a question in a fly shop, a friendly answer from someone who appears excited to help point in the right direction can go a long way! And it can also lead to some big dollars spent (have you seen the retail price for a Sage X?).
Fly shops can go right…
We had some great experiences in Montana at some amazing fly shops filled with friendly and helpful staff. Frontier Anglers in Dillon (shout out to guide Cody Benzel), Bighorn Angler in Fort Smith (shout out to David Bower), and the legendary Galloup’s Slide Inn provided helpful, informative, and friendly service to us (and a bunch of flies and leaders and hats and…). So clearly not all (or even most) fly shops need to do some customer service training.
When Brendon and I were discussing fly shops and their usefulness, we both were very thankful to have in our own home waters The Fly Shop in Redding and Ted Fay Fly Shop in Dunsmuir, two of Northern California’s finest fly shops. Their friendly service is top-notch and there’s a reason why I both use and recommend these fly shops so often. And I should give a huge shoutout to Mossy’s Fly Shop in Anchorage, The Peak Fly Shop in Colorado Springs, Ark Anglers in Buena Vista, and Super Fly Angler. Numerous trips to these shops with numerous fantastic experiences tells me that most fly shops get it!
What do you think? What are things that annoy you or that you find helpful when going to fly shops?