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A Bad Day at the Fly Shop

I was looking at reels for a long time. A long time. Across the counter, he couldn’t have been more than three feet away. Not once did he look away from the computer monitor.

Now, I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I walked in, I didn’t get a “hello” or even a head nod. When I asked if the nets on display were new I got a quick “yup.” And later, when I left, the only sound that followed me out was the beeping of the door… which was presumably installed with the sole purpose of letting the proprietor know that the temperature was about to shift ever so slightly.

Could I have gone into the fly shop on a bad day? Sure.

Might there have been some significant bookkeeping issue that required his utmost focus? Yes.

Is there a chance that he had something overwhelming going on in his personal life? Absolutely.

…or maybe he just didn’t want to talk to me. A customer. Who fly fishes. That was in his fly fishing establishment. Me, who is also always willing to buy a hat, shirt, or local flies – just because.

Not that day.

I get it. Honestly, I do. I worked in a fly shop. There is a lot to do. The stuff you put out on display is constantly getting touched, there are hundreds upon hundreds of items to keep in stock, and when you work in a fly shop people want to talk. And while there are certainly moments and even days where any of those are the last things that you want to do in the whole wide world… that is the deal.

Without making this sound too black hat/white hat, I am a pretty easy customer. I don’t try to get spots out of people, I don’t ask to cast rods I have no intention of buying, and I don’t linger needlessly (usually). Regardless of any of that, this guy didn’t know me. This was my second time in this establishment. The first time was the exact opposite, all having to do with the fact that I dealt with the other co-owner that day. He wasn’t smiles and free stickers himself, but he was cordial, helpful, and most importantly: he made me want to come back to buy something.

After this last experience, the possibility of a financial transaction isn’t totally out of the question. It is, however, much less likely.

Here is the kicker. Later that day, I took the family out to run errands. We ended up popping into one of the national, big box outdoor stores so the kids could look at taxidermy and fat catfish. Wouldn’t you know it, but the guys at the “fly shop” in this store engaged me. They weren’t overzealous, they knew the answers to the questions I had about running line, and they earned their big, evil, “they dry up business for the independent guy” company a few bucks from me.

Does the inverse happen? Oh yes, all the time! But this was not the first time I’ve had this exact same experience.

Fly fishing is a quarry and a culture. That culture is multifaceted, and not as easy as big=bad little=good. It isn’t enough to be a fly shop, or even the fly shop any more. You don’t need to roll out the red carpet for customers, but you’ve got to put a little bit of service into that whole customer service thing. At least give an obligatory head nod.

9 comments

  1. Gin Clear says:

    You need to check out the Evening Sun Fly Shop in Pepperell, MA (from your post, I’m confident this is not the shop you visited). Charlie Shaden is a very knowledgeable proprietor and will talk your ear off if you want too. They have the best fly tying material selection north of the Mass Pike IMHO.

  2. Stephen says:

    I’ve had the same experience in a local fly shop, actually more than a few times, and I went home and ordered the product I wanted online, for less money. I didn’t want to. I’m all about supporting local businesses. The role a fly shop plays in fly fishing culture has changed in places, certainly where I live. It can seem if one is in their clique, they get a lot more attention than the new customer. That’s a terrible way of doing business. That new customer might be coming in to make a serious investment in equipment, and if they are new to the sport, might become discouraged by the indifference to them. The people who work in fly shops are ambassadors of the sport, a role they should not take lightly.

  3. Cory Perry says:

    I’ve had the exact same experience at a local fly shop here, and I finally quit going to it. Horrible service, couldn’t care less if you bought anything or not, and all around unhelpful or uninterested in earning a customer.

    I’m all for supporting my local fly shop, provided that my local fly shop supports me.

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