Thursday, September 19, 2013

Grumpy Old (and young) Men

I know some fly shops get crap for their attitude. Folks with money to spend walk in, the fly shop owner gives them a half-hearted "hey" or worse/less and goes back to the web surfing/magazine reading that you interrupted. Other times you walk in and there's a BS session going on and you get ignored (Full disclosure: Sometimes I'm one of those folks in the BS session distracting the shopkeep from attending to your needs).

I know there's myriad reasons for why a shopkeep may not be as eager as you'd otherwise expect. Listed below are a few hypotheses:
  1. The last person in the shop had no interest in buying anything, they just wanted some free intel on river conditions.
  2. The last person they helped to select a rod thanked them saying "I can get it cheaper on the internet."
  3. The shopkeep is a guide doing indentured servitude behind the register cause he doesn't have a float today. He barely knows how to use the register much less how to sell you anything. He can tie a blood knot blindfolded.
  4. You're the forty-second person through the door today who can't spell Baetis much less understand how it's the best hatch to fish and only knuckle-dragging morons fish anything larger than a #22 dry.
  5. You're the forty-third person through the door today who clearly is not a local and will probably never return and actually buy anything. No extra attention for you.
  6. You're the 17th sun-dress wearing tourist to enter and ask if they have a public restroom.
  7. The shopkeep is a curmudgeon and should probably be in another line of business.
I'm sure there are others.

I walked into a West Yellowstone fly shop last week. It's one of the big name shops in town. Inside there were two shopkeeps. Behind the counter was a guide doing penance. Seated on a stool was a more senior member of the team, he looked managerial. I'm the only person in the shop. I'm dressed in full fly angling costume: requisite cap with fish on it, Simm's shirt, quick dry pants.

I had two interesting conversations in my short time in the shop.

Conversation 1: A fishing license.

Guy on Stool: Hey.
Me: Hi. I need a fishing license for Yellowstone. Can I get that here or do I have to buy it in the park?
GOS: You can get that here.
M: Great!

GOS: [This space intentionally left blank. Clearly my desire for a license does not seem certain or immediate. GOS is stoic]

Me: [Pause while standing in front of GOS looking hopeful, perhaps plaintive]

After a painful amount of time, perhaps only twenty seconds, I can take it no longer.

M: Can we do that now?
GOS: Sure. [GOS rises and a license is procured]

Conversation 2: Flies for the Lamar

I wander over to the fly bins and clearly seem bewildered.

Me: I'm going to fish the Lamar in the next few days. Would you recommend Hoppers?
GOS: That might work. Also, the Drakes are coming off. You might try a Green Drake.
Guide: Yeah, I fished Drakes there yesterday and they seemed to work.

Me: I have hoppers but I don't have one of those Drakes.
GOS: [Stoic yet again.]
G: [Silent]
Me: What fly would you recommend for a Drake pattern?
GOS: Over in the bin to your right on the bottom row you'll find some.

I continue to be bewildered.

Shortly GOS joins me to sort through an overwhelming selection.

GOS to G: Which ones were your fishing?
G: The ones with the shiny abdomen

I procure forty dollars worth of flies.

I felt in both conversations I had to ask for them to sell me something. I don't need someone following me around the shop like a puppy dog, but these experiences were unnecessarily painful. Worse, I was in this shop last year and got the same treatment. Clearly I'm a slow learner. I'll go somewhere else next time.

The flip side of all that

If you own a fly shop and you want to learn how they should: a) be organized, b) be staffed, and c) integrate customer relationship best practices (internet/mail marketing) visit Little River Outfitters in Townsend, TN. Those guys have their game on. Friendly. Courteous. Helpful. And they didn't let me leave without getting my email address.

When Mike and I visited they asked where we were fishing, recommended a few spots we should try and even pointed out some flies we should purchase. All without being asked. They made a quick sale and, more importantly, got me in the mood for buying. I picked up more flies than I would otherwise have done so and even bought supplies that I didn't need (though those extra leaders came in handy in Yellowstone).


  1. Yep, Byron and his staff are first rate in every way. They do it like it should be done. With knowledge and southern hospitality.

    1. There is something to be said for southern hospitality. And biscuits.

  2. Yup. We were treated well in Townsend. And perhaps to give the Yellowstone guys a little break, I suspect it's been a long season. They're probably ready to pack it up and get back to the Bahamas.

    I know I am.

    1. I didn't think of that, Mike. It has likely been a long season. And if I were facing their winter, I'd be grumpy too.

  3. First, lucky you for having been in West Yellowstone recently. Shame that you encountered slackitude from G and GOS. There's no excuse for it. Yeah, shopkeeps likely have seen it all since fishing in the Park opened on Memorial Day weekend. They're probably burned out. They're probably grumpy at the ensuing prospects of a very long winter. Still, no excuse for it. Recommend you go on opening weekend, when I go each year: the shopkeeps we encounter at Aarick's, Blue Ribbon, Madison River Outfitters, etc are all fresh, helpful and enthusiastic. Maybe you should name the shop—call 'em out and keep them honest.

    Assuming you stayed at the Ho Hum?

    1. I was none of the shops you mention but I'll give them a try next year when I swing through. I passed on the Ho Hum, though it was a back-up in case the campgrounds were booked. ;)

  4. I enjoy going into fly shops with you. It is a study in all sorts of things.

    1. Would you like to learn Spey casting?

    2. I like this post. It amuses me that we seem to equate the basic notion of having stuff sold to us as "customer service", like selling stuff is some added extra. Also, what's not to like about sundresses?

    3. You make a good point. As long as Roger isn't wearing one.

  5. So true. Some shops are absolutely first rate and just kill it in the customer service, others need a personality (or a trip to the Bahamas). I get tired of the "death of the fly shop" articles. Suck it up, change your model, and help your customers or get out of the business. Great write up Steve.


    1. One of the things that Little River Outfitters has nailed is that not only do they have a great store, but a great online presence as well. If you own a fly shop and don't have an easy to use internet store, you are one of those large lizards just waiting for the meteor to hit.

    2. I could not agree more. That lizard analogy is spot on.

  6. Replies
    1. I was trying to be silent and stoic.

    2. You have a bright future ahead of you as a customer service expert.

  7. Your visit to Little River Outfitters describes exactly why we like them so much here in the Smokies! Straight shooters, no fluff, with a smile, these are expierenced folks not only with fly fishing, and fly tying, but active particapants with what is going on in our mountains, from fishing reports to conservation. Hats off to them and to you for highlighting these people!


    1. I'd move there just to shop at the store.

      And to fish the streams of the Smokies.

      And the biscuits.

      And the biscuits, if I didn't mention those already.