Monday, August 29, 2011

Fly Shop Ethics (or When Is It Okay To Not Support Your Local Fly Shop)

Hi everyone.

It's been a while since I've made regular posts, but that's to be expected of any self-respecting fisherman in the warm months.  As the kids head back to their desks, and mother nature starts to think better of broiling us alive, though, I should be back here more often, taking up your free time with more nonsense.

On that note, I'd like to pose a bit of a moral dilemma to my readers.  It's not the typical 'Should I continue to buy at my FLFS (friendly local fly shop) when I can get it cheaper online?' dilemma...but in fact, maybe the opposite...

You see, I'm blessed with no fewer than five fly shops within a reasonable drive.  One is an 'Orvis approved corner' consisting of bits of dead animal seemingly added as an afterthought in a store clearly wanting to sell you only high-ticket items at ridiculous prices.  I don't like this shop much, but their sales are worth checking out from time to time.  The other four shops, however, are all much better than that.

One shop in particular, though, is the subject of this post.

See...this shop...a small affair, run by a couple (which constitutes the entire staff), out of the finished garage and basement of their home, prides itself on providing that brick and mortar X-factor in droves.  The 'remember your name' familiarity, the local knowledge, the unbiased personal opinions...and that last bit has become the fly in the ointment for this customer.

So the fly shop (for the owners) is a labor of love.  They aren't in it to get rich (wisely), and they enjoy the freedom of being able to run their business however they like.  That's great.  I applaud that.  I've been to their shop many times and never had a bad experience.  Never bought any high-end items (rods, reels, vises, etc.) but plenty of hooks, materials, fly boxes, etc. Over the past year or two since a friend and fishing buddy suggested their shop.  Being on their mailing list is a mixed blessing, as you get a healthy dose of political rhetoric with every product release announcement or shop gear review, but I've always been one to say of the music industry "If you don't like what you're hearing, change the channel!", so I feel that it's up to me to unsubscribe if the rhetoric ever outweighs the positives of the mailing list.  To this point, I'm still getting their emails.

One of those emails, however, is what has put me in my dilemma.  You see, this fly shop posted a review of something...a rod or reel, on their site, and made a facebook post to announce it's presence to their fans.  I saw  the post, but i'm not in the market for a big purchase right now, so I didn't really give it much thought in my internet travels.

A few days later, I received a short, tersely worded e-mail, to the effect of: "A few days ago we posted a review.  Since none of you could be bothered to share it with your friends, we went ahead and posted the story to all of your walls.  Heaven forbid you'd try to help us out."

My first reaction was confusion.  Maybe I'd received this by mistake?  But no.  I checked with the aforementioned fishing buddy and he confirmed that he'd received the same email, along with everyone on the mailing list, most likely.  So at that point I was pretty ticked off, and removed the story from my wall and ceased following their page.  After that, I decided to give myself some time to mull things over before doing anything rash...and now, a few weeks later, I'm still not completely sure where I stand.  (Which is part of the reason I'm sharing this with you.)

Make no mistake, I'm completely disgusted by that kind of guilting/shaming/badgering of one's customer base.  So you're running your business as you like?  Fine, that's your prerogative, but don't expect me to tolerate that kind of abuse and still hand you my money.  In this time of e-commerce, big box, and direct to consumer sales, I'd think that the mom and pop shops would be bending over backward to maintain (let alone expand) their customer base.  As much as it's a bad time to be a small local shop, it's a great time to be a buyer, with e-commerce and the economic quagmire putting the squeeze on retailers, the fly angler with a bit of disposable cash has no shortage of options when it comes to parting with it.

While I think that sure, it's a kind gesture to help the little guy promote their business, I also feel it's more than a little rude to expect your customers to provide you with free advertising. Especially (in this case) to expect me to implicitly vouch for a product I've not seen or handled personally.  The way I see it, the customer's continued business is, ultimately, what fair prices and good service is rewarded by, with any recommendations or testimonials serving as icing on the cake for a truly outstanding experience that exceeds expectations.  If you want the free advertising, that's fine, but let em do it on my terms, and at the very least ask, don't force.

Now, as we progress toward steelhead season, I find myself in the market for a few specific items that I'll be needing soon...that I know this shop carries, and sells at the going rate.  So it's kind of the reversed situation of the classic 'online or brick and mortar' debate: it's faster and (considering shipping) cheaper for me to buy locally...but after this experience, I sort of feel like I'm selling out by doing business with them, and I'm seriously considering buying online.  It's not any huge order...tying materials for steelhead, some leaders and tippet, maybe as big as a pair of wading boots...but it's business.  And in my mind, I'd rather give that business to someone that, while they may not have done anything to earn that business, they've also not done anything to lose it either.

Your thoughts, readers?

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