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?


owl said...

My thought is that you need to find another flyshop. I get frustrated too, at times, when I post something I think everyone would love to share and they don't. But I never "go after" them over it. They don't owe me anything, and a fly shop, like any other business - shouldn't expect anything from their customers like if their customer's money wasn't enough? But then, maybe that's their problem......?

James Cates said...

I buy most everything through other fisherman. I rarely step into any shop, and if I do need line, reel, materials, I buy on-line. I'm kind of tired of the whole fly shop run-around, and there is no mystique anymore. I have more than five around here, the Smoky's are inundated with fly shops, some I like and others I've never darkened the door. Anymore if I go to a shop it's to meet someone or talk to a friend there. I guess I'm a shop snubber, but, hey... if I'd received that post, I'd have taken a shit on their facebook page.

Mark said...

Thanks for the feedback guys!

Owl, I know what you mean, and I think it's especially tough for bloggers, as this is our primary outlet, as opposed to a storefront or even an online business through which to provide good service. As I said, I wouldn't have been offended by a request to re-share (I still may not have DONE it, but it would have been better than what actually happened).

I guess, more than anything, I just want to make sure I'm not overreacting. I just think that as competitive as 'the Industry' is, that retailers would be bending over backward, not scolding their customers.

Cofisher said...

In this day and age, there are many options for purchasing anything. I'm lucky and two of the finest sly shops are within easy driving distance from my house. I also don't hesitate to buy on line if I've got the time to wait. If I'd had your experience, they would have lost me as a customer. They have no right to expect anyone would repost their sale, especially without some reward for doing so.

Mark said...

I'd be irritated and would take my business elsewhere, even if that meant paying more. There are are a few fly shops within a half hour or 45 minute drive of home for me. The one closest is the best of them - the owner isn't in it for the money (he's retired, the shop was started as a way to spend his retirement years doing something he loved). He's got great prices on good quality tying materials and tools, and one of the most varied rod selections in a dedicated fly shop. Most of his rods are in the $100-300 range, instead of the $300 and up catagory that the now defunct Kaufmann's Streamborn turned into (which at least partially lead to their demise. $500 rods sold like hotcakes when the economy was booming. Bubble burst, and $500 for a plastic stick to wave at some subreptillian water dweller became an unnecessary expense equal to the car payment, or half the mortgage for a lot of people.)

I support my local shop when I can - I buy most of my tying materials there. I've bought rods from him. He doesn't always have what I want or need, and I don't feel bad for taking my business to Cabela's web site, or other stores, or even eBay to get what I want. I don't owe any business anything - but some have earned a customer for life, provided they don't screw me over or piss me off. If that day comes, I won't darken their door or click their website again. There's plenty of fish in the Great River - eager to snap up my little green pictures of old dead white men with funny numbers on them.

Mark said...

Cofisher, thanks. I guess, for me that's the biggest issue. I wouldn't have hesitated to recommend them to any fly fisherman (and in this community, often word of mouth goes farther than any other advertising)...but the idea that I'm somehow expected or obligated to drum up business for them rankles me.

Mark, funny thing is, you pretty accurately described the shop I'm talking about too. I was thrilled to have such a great place nearby, and it really bums me out that I have to have such second thoughts about returning there.

e.m.b. said...

I think it's really important to support local shops (and I do), but that would have lost my business, forever, quick smack.

David Mac said...

Hi Mark,

In any economy a small business survives through good customer service. It sounds to me like this shop has over extended itself and was expecting immediate profits for those products. Sounds like it did not happen and he struck out inappropriately. I would continue to go to them...but if the very same thing happens face to face, politely tell them that they just lost a good customer and go to one of the other three.

Mark said...

Erin, thanks for the candour. It's reassuring to see I'm not the only one who would take offense in this situation.

David, your appraisal of the situation may be exactly what happened. I'm not sure and probably never will be (their business is none of mine), but it sounds reasonable.

Knowing the personalities of the two owners, a bried, ill-advised outburst isn't out of the realm of plausibility. They're both good people, make no mistake...and I think that's also part of the reason why I'm reluctant to return. I can be mature and diplomatic almost to a fault...but that's when I have time to mull it over. In the heat of the moment, I've been known to hand out a piece of my mind a time or two...and despite how they might have made me feel reading that email, I dont think they deserve any nastiness.

Sanders said...

I will always try to support local businesses first and foremost, fly shop or other. Hopefully this is an isolated incident, caused by a moment of weakness by the shop owners. I would probably give them another shot, but if they keep acting like you owe them something, I wouldn't hesitate to take your business elsewhere.

...enjoyed the read...sorry to hear about your dilemna :-)

Kev2380 said...

I don't like to assume things but if I put myself in their shoes I can see why they did that. With this economy everyone is feeling the squeeze, if no one is buying anything and there's no obvious answer it's easy to think maybe people just don't like my business. Reacting the way they did won't help things. Just because you didn't spam your buddy list with their add doesn't mean you don't care about their business. Many people try to use social networks to push their own agenda. It's a sign of the times but I think it turns a lot of people off. Just because I'm your friend doesn't mean I have to advertise all the stuff YOU like on my page.

Fontinalis Rising said...

Mark- I own my own construction business. If my price is too high people use someone else. If I don't return phone calls, don't show up when promised, don't do my job right, then customers don't use me again. It's a point of pride that most of my business is word of mouth- I haven't advertised in years. It sounds like that shop has lost focus on core business principles and somehow thinks you owe them instead of the other way around. I'd go elsewhere, and let them know why.

Jay said...

Great post. I've never felt sorry for the local fly shops. In my experience they pretty much appeal to their wealthy clientele and are never all that they could be in my opinion. There is typically a snooty attitude, an arrogance, and a judgmental look as soon as you walk in the door. I have encountered exceptions, but they're rare. Your experience seems like the cyber age manifestation of some of that age old arrogance. I typically buy from other anglers on Ebay, buy a little from the local shops, and go to Bass Pro for things like tying thread, tippet, and leaders. I spread the love.

Michelle S said...

First, I can't believe they did that. Obviously, they are ignorant to the usage of social media. Perhaps you could offer them some tips? Or even offer to help with their enewsletter? (for pay) Sounds like you kind of know them, so I'm curious how they'll take your offers.
Second, should you allow their stupidity to overshadow the fact I keep hearing in this post? That is, you love buying local - it makes you feel good, in essence.
It is like having a good friend who every once in awhile says crazy crap. And you look at them going, "you hate kittens? How can you hate kittens?" It just goes to show people be crazy.

Mark said...

Sanders, thanks for your input, the level-headed approach is appreciated. Glad you're enjoying the blog!

Kev, you make a great point about social media. I believe that it's a great tool for businesses, but used in moderation. There's businesses that I follow on Facebook that I might as well not follow, because I get 1 or 2 updates every 6 months...then there's others that I ignore because they post 5 times every day. The key is finding the middle ground and posting things your customers are interested in.

Fontinalis, I'm in the construction industry as well, and I definitely know what you mean about the value of maintaining a good reputation. I'm not sure they lost focus on core business principles as much as they don't take the business professionalism as seriously as they should, because it's a labor of love, and they really push the "we're not a fly shop business, we're your friends that happen to sell fly stuff" angle. Unfortunately for them, they are still very much a business. Good point about letting them know why, too.

Jay, it may be a different brand of that arrogance, but it's not a catering to the wealthy situation either. It seems (to me) like they really think they're providing every customer with a special and unique experience that they can't get anywhere else, and that they think that gives them a lot more freedom to drop the professional courtesy and be blunt as they might with friends as opposed to customers. I happen to think that professional courtesy is a basic necessity of a positive customer experience, though, not some special quality that will keep me coming back forever.

Michelle, I like your points, but at this juncture, getting more involved with them and the workings of their business are the last thing I want. I do like buying local, much as any 'foodie' might prefer buying local produce as opposed to the supermarket imports. Luckily for me, this shop is not my only option. In fact, I've already been to a different local shop 2-3 times since this all went down. Business lost, due to bad PR.

Also: I hate kittens. ;)

Anonymous said...

Local fly shops are part of the tradition of fly fishing. They only add to the fly fishing experience as a whole. It doesn't matter how much you buy or have to spend. To not support them now will only hurt the sport in the long run.

Mark said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous!

While I do agree they're part of the whole experience, I don't believe that they 'only' add. I'm sure many have had experiences both good and bad with various shops. Overall, yes, I believe their existence is a positive impact, though.

Also, the intent of my post wasn't that I was going to withdraw my support from all fly shops. I think that's pretty clear. In fact, I was just at a local shop last week for some hooks and other stuff, and I also placed an order for 1500 hooks online, but from a small, privately owned shop that also maintains an online storefront.

That said, I am starting to come to the opinion that being a local fly shop alone and in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean that the shop is deserving of support. They still have to provide good service and business practices. Luckily for all of us, many places do all of the above. : )

Anonymous said...

Mark I know of which shop you speak and I understand where you're coming from. While I agree that the facebook post should not have been made I think the benefits of such friends, the close proximity of the shop, the amount of materials they carry and their lack of the stereotypical arrogance many fly shops carry far outweigh silly things like that. Should it have been done? No I agree with you. Did I shrug it off and move on because I know the character of these people? Absolutely. Weighing the pro and cons this shop is one of the best around by a long shot. I appreciate the food for thought though.

Mark said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Anonymous.

As I'm sure you read in my post, the facebook post itself, while mildly out of place, wasn't hardly what had me upset. The terse email was the crux of the issue.

If it didnt bother you, that's great. I'm glad you simply continued on undaunted, and I'm glad that you're thinking for yourself!

I'm sure you can understand the need for all consumers to think for themselves, though, and in this case, for me, that sort of behavior was one strike against them that other fly shops I deal with do not have. I'm not saying that this alone is enough to write them off, but as I said in my post, it gives me second thoughts.

Thanks for the feedback!

Anonymous said...

The shop in question is the best thing that ever happened for fly fishing in our area. You, on the other hand, are the joke of the fly fishing world. We won't let you and your negativity destroy something so good. Good will triumph over evil every time.

Mark said...

Sorry you feel that way, anonymous, but just like me, you're entitled to your own opinion.

Anonymous said...

I have dealt with this fly shop for years, and even though I don't agree with all his emails, they are straight shooters when it comes to fly fishing. He is entitled to his opinion and from time to time he vents, but don't we all? He always I mean ALWAYS sells quality products even though he could sell different junk for more of a profit. I like the fact that when I walk in, they know me by name, and take the time to show me the new materials they have. I like the fact that he will tell you the way it is, and doesn't care if you like it or not. Some people really can not handle the truth. For those people, go visit an Orvis dealer to have your ego stroked.

Mark said...


You said:

"...even though I don't agree with all his emails, they are straight shooters when it comes to fly fishing. He is entitled to his opinion and from time to time he vents, but don't we all?"

How is that any different from what I've done in this post?

I'f you've read my post here, you know that never once did I make an attack on the shop or the people behind it, but rather, simply voiced my opinion on an email that was sent to me.

I have several shops that recognize me when I walk in the door, and my most local shop knows me by name. As I said, I have no problem with the people or the shop, just this particular incident. All the other aspects of service that you mention, I simply expect from a worthwhile business, it's not a bonus, it's a requirement.

As always, thanks for visiting the site and reading, and giving some feedback. : )

Anonymous said...

First, just like using the CAPS LOCK key is shouting, posting something on someone else's Facebook wall is the same as opening the door of your home and saying something to you without permission to enter. In your case, the business not only opened the door, they spray-painted their message on your wall. Second, when you give them your e-mail address, you are not obligated to them for anything. It is their privilege to have your contact information. So, having said all of that, I'm really blown away by this story. I'm trying to start up a business myself and know how hard it is to make a living that way. So, the last thing I'm going to do is to strong-arm my customers. If anything, I'm going to do the opposite. So, as much as I believe in supporting local businesses, I think I would have to encourage you to ignore this yapping puppy. Sounds like you have 4 other choices anyway.
Good Luck,
The Good Anonymous Person :)

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the rest of the gallery. It was extremely rude and presumptuous on their part and I would probably never do business with them again. If it was someone that I felt I'd built up a decent relationship with, I may go one extra step and ask them what they were thinking, but only if we'd been more conversational or friendly than just "doing business".

K. G. E. said...

I will try to be as reserved as possible. This is the problem with facebook and the like, and engenders people with fragile egos to use it to further their self-aggrandizement. it is bad enough when this comes from individuals, friends or family. But from a business? NO. i will not have it. I would send them an email telling them i had removed all traces of their name from anything I am related with, and will never grce the doors of their establishment again. Is this revenge? again, no simply the way it works. i don't expect to be treated like a king in a flyshop, on the contrary, I found many of them to rather snobbish if you are not aquainted with them, but I put up with it as long as they are at least friendly. But I will NEVER listen to a store owner's whining. Go find a psychologist, if you are so upset about your facebook status, but don't tell me about it.

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