If You Owned a Tackle Shop / What are you looking for in a Tackle Shop

evanluck

Well-known member
#1
Recently I had to the opportunity to run a specialty retail store, working with a partner to turn around a local aquarium store in the bay area that focused on tropical freshwater aquariums prominently featuring live plants. The experience gave me an interesting perspective on the challenges of independent brick and mortar retail stores in the age of convenient online shopping.

We were able to run the store and make it successful by focusing on a service offering that attracted beginners who were looking for a combination of high quality equipment paired with knowledgeable advice to maximize their success.

I started to fish about 6 months ago and have been to a fair amount of tackle shops thus far and I can see how each one focuses and how their focus produces success or lack thereof.

What are you looking for in a local tackle shop? Are you willing to pay more to support a good one? If you were to open one, how would you run it?

As for me, I like when the shops carry live bait. A shop near me that consistently invests in carrying live bait gets my business even though their tackle prices are higher. They also are generous with their advice and target their advice pretty well to shore fishermen. Sometimes when I speak to knowledgeable people at other shops it seems that their personal experience is heavily focused on offshore fishing and they only have rudimentary advice for shore fishing. This place opens early on the weekend (5AM). This combined with the live bait stocking gets them some easy sales where guys are on their way to go fish which typically means they are less price sensitive than other times. Other than these two strengths the store is pretty average so when I am about to fish, I frequent other places that have better stocking levels, more tackle choices, and better prices.

I have been to 4 different local tackle shops multiple times and even though they all have their strengths none of them have given me an experience that would cause me to be loyal to them or go out of my way to support them over the others.
 
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MisterT

Active member
#2
As small businesses face increased competition due to the online market place they need to adapt in order to stay relevant. Those who shop online generally will know what they want or they are really price conscious. (Not including the convenience factor.)

How can small businesses stay relevant? By adding value to customers.

In your example "focusing on a service offering that attracted beginners who were looking for a combination of high quality equipment paired with knowledgeable advice to maximize their success" that is definitely adding value especially focusing to a specific market (beginners).

I think tackle shops (not including Turners, Walmart, Big 5, or other Sports Outlets) offer their value mainly through their knowledge of Offshore Game (accumulated many years of experience). The tackle shops offer insights as to help fishermen with their target species. This can include recommendations on "go-to" lures, line (whether Braid, Mono, or Fluorocarbon), reels, and rods which can lead to sales. I'm willing to bet Offshore fishermen have a fatter wallet than Shore fishermen so they can afford "nice toys." (I don't blame them I would splurge too. Who doesn't like nice toys? :))

A tackle shop I frequented the most has been Bob Sands Fishing Tackle. They have lots of knowledge in both Shore and Offshore fishing. My area of focus recently has been Surf Fishing so they have a wide selection of $20 Lucky Craft Flash Minnow 110 lures (top surf fishing lure) in various colors. Value can also be created through availability. I have visited that shop more often because of the various colors of the lure they have available. The last thing I'd want happen is to go to a tackle shop to find that what I was looking for isn't there. So in this case availability is important.

Last year I had visited tackle shop (LB Fishing Supplies) in Long Beach. (I happened to Surf Fish Long Beach frequently last year.) The shop offers a wide variety of lures (store brand) at very competitive prices. If I resided in Long Beach and wanted inexpensive lures I'd definitely visit them often. (Can't go wrong with 4 jerkbaits for $20.) They offer inexpensive jigs that look similar to those from Japan too. The tackle shop is owned by a Vietnamese guy and he is very helpful. Fishing doesn't have to get expensive. :D If you happen to be in Long Beach definitely see it for yourself.
 

evanluck

Well-known member
#3
Recently, I had to tear down my 125 gallon fully planted Miracle-Gro Organic freshwater dirt tank that I had for almost a decade (I've never done a single water change because the plants sucked up all of the nitrates. The fish were always healthy.) because the weight of the wooden floors in my home can no longer support the weight of the tank. The floor started to bow. I was looking for a fish store to donate my fish to and Albany Aquarium was the first place that came to mind because I wanted my fish to be well taken care of. I came across some recent Albany Aquarium reviews on Yelp and the place seemed to have gone downhill. I discovered that Evan is no longer there. I decided to donate my fish to a local aquarium instead. If you're the same Evan from Albany Aquarium, you are sorely missed. To me, you were the face of that business. You were the reason I drove 30 miles to pay premium prices for healthy fish and plants and invaluable advice even though there were a handful of fish stores within a five mile radius from where I lived. At the end of the day, if you provide your customers with quality content and set them up for success, price should not matter as much.

"We were able to run the store and make it successful by focusing on a service offering that attracted beginners who were looking for a combination of high quality equipment paired with knowledgeable advice to maximize their success."

Evan, you've pretty much answered your own question. For a tackle store to be successful, MAKE SURE YOUR CLIENTS CATCH FISH. It's that simple. Whether it is to provide fishing reports, provide the right tackle and bait, or advise when to fish based on tides, weather, or time of year, if your client catches fish on the info and tackle you provide, chances are, they will be repeat customers.

In my opinion, for a tackle shop to be competitive to online stores, offer what the online stores don't offer. Offer guided tours. Offer training (fly-fishing or throwing a cast net). Provide live bait and teach people how to catch live bait. Offer courses in knot-tying. Provide services in net repair. Provide services in rod repair. Provides services in reel repair or maintenance. Provide a lounge where fishermen can hang out, drink beer, share exaggerated fish stories and photos. Inform people of fishing regulations. Inform people of the importance of conservation. Offer equipment that is not readily available at other stores: ghost shrimp pumps, clam guns, rod holders that work on local piers, DIY livewells, sputnik sinker molds, fishing rigs that actually work, etc. I've never been to the Loch Lomond Live Bait House, but the most common complaint I hear is that the dozen of anchovies there are a rip-off. I guarantee you that if Keith Fraser actually provides you with the knowledge on how to keep those 12 anchovies alive for 14 hours of fishing and provides you with the knowledge on how to turn those 12 anchovies into 3 halibut and 2 striped bass, no one would ever complain about the price. To be honest, the anchovies people pick up at J&P bait is way overkill in my opinion. I rarely use more than 12 anchovies a day and the rest is used for chumming, or stored for a later use (more chumming).

Evan, if you're venturing into running a tackle shop, I wish you success and I will be a loyal customer based on your reputation. Good luck in your endeavors.
Thanks for your story and for speaking up about your experience with Albany Aquarium while I was there! It was truly a passion project for me. I learned so much and felt a deep connection to many of the customers there. To this day, many years later I still think about them and wonder how their tanks are doing. I’m glad to hear of your success story and your insights about tackle shops and independent business.

I have unfinished business with both the Bay Area and the ornamental fish industry, so I will be back. In the meantime, I sure am loving fishing!
 

Ken Jones

Administrator
Staff member
#4
I have owned three businesses, a restaurant in Boonville and two shoe stores in Stockton. In each I felt the ingredients most needed to be successful were to learn what your customer wanted (or needed), to supply those items at a fair price, and to do so with friendly, knowledgeable people. If you do these things you win a customer's loyalty and repeat business is an important part of a business. I have visited a great many bait and tackle stores throughout California and find the same applies to them.

The biggest problem I see in many stores, whether it be a restaurant or a bait and tackle shop, is false expectations and lack of business acumen. You love to fish, you want to be around anglers, and you start up or buy an already established business. But you forget or don't consider the basics needed to run a successful business—the various costs involved, (everything from the cost of product to labor, rent, cam (common area maintenance), utilities, insurance, taxes, etc. Unless you can generate sufficient sales to pay those costs, and unless you control those costs, you will have a hard time succeding long term. You have moved from a hobby to a business and it's a different world.
 

Stickman

Well-known member
#5
Ken: "Unless you can generate sufficient sales to pay those costs, and unless you control those costs, you will have a hard time succeeding long term. You have moved from a hobby to a business and it's a different world. "

True dat...
 

Ken Jones

Administrator
Staff member
#6
BTW, I think the needs of each store differs somewhat in what it needs to offer. A store in Huntington Beach sees different fish and different needs than a store in Antioch. Does the store offer the specific tackle that is needed for local species and does it offer the bait needed for those species, live or frozen? And does it offer these supplies along with a knowledgeable staff that can instruct and give advice for both the newbie or experienced angler. Lastly, are the prices competitive and reasonable.

Unfortunately today in trying to meet the bottom line needs, the need to make a profit to stay in business, a lot of shops have quit carrying the live bait that is often of marginal profit. That bait can, according to the time of the year, be hard to get and see spikes in cost that can be hard to pass on to the angler. Plus live bait has a minimal shelf life before it dies off. Live bait (pile worms, blood worms, ghost shrimp, grass shrimp, etc.) can be risky. Instead, some shops simply carry lures; they are less risky and more profitable (especially Sabiki-type leaders).

And, unfortunately in my opinion, a lot of shops today go directly to the big money makers, the gear for boaters, largely (often expensive) lures, and many even serve as travel agents for Sportfishing trips to far away destinations, i.e., Baja and Alaska.

Personally I prefer the small bait and tackle shops but their numbers are dwindling, especially give the Covid pandemic of this past year.
 

evanluck

Well-known member
#7
This is kind of an off shoot but related topic. I find that with today's social media and YouTube, fisherman grow much more quickly in head knowledge that they do in experience. They research and watch a ton of YouTube videos. Most of these videos are made by experienced fisherman that are promoting "advanced" methods of fishing. When I say advanced, I mean they are using tactics and fish in environments that increase the challenge of catching fish for sporting reasons. To exacerbate the situation YouTube videos do not show how many times the fisherman got skunked or caught very few fish. A brand new person watches all of these videos and comes into a tackle shop wanting all the gear to fish in that way. For example, I want to catch a legal Halibut from the surf with a LuckyCraft Flash Minnow 110 jerk bait.

There is a dearth of good information to help a beginner choose a method of fishing that would maximize their chance of success which is the best way to produce someone who understands the love of fishing.

We saw this in the aquarium hobby too. People would come in with no experience and have decide to keep a really challenging aquarium that required expensive gear and high level skill because they saw it on YouTube. These aquariums weren't really that fun to keep as a hobbyist because they were developed by professionals who made them for service clients. These types of aquariums were designed to stay static and change very little to make professional maintenance easier. But as a hobbyist keeping a tank that doesn't change is boring.

I'm really surprised at how little information exists on YouTube about pier fishing. I'm as addicted to fishing as any new person could be. In the short time I've been fishing, I've fished the rocks, the surf, jetties. charter boats, skiffs, but in the end Pier fishing is still the main type of fishing that I do and am interested in. This is the only resource that has any in depth information on how to succeed at Pier fishing.

BTW, I think the needs of each store differs somewhat in what it needs to offer. A store in Huntington Beach sees different fish and different needs than a store in Antioch. Does the stor offer the specific tackle that is needed for local species and does it offer the bait needed for those species, live or frozen? And does it offer these supplies along with a knowledgeable staff that can instruct and give advice for both the newbie or experienced angler. Lastly, are the prices competitive and reasonable.

Unfortunately today in trying to meet the bottom line needs, the need to make a profit to stay in business, a lot of shops have quit carrying the live bait that is often of marginal profit. That bait can, according to the time of the year, be hard to get and see spikes in cost that can be hard to pass on to the angler. Plus live bait has a minimal shelf life before it dies off. Live bait (pile worms, blood worms, ghost shrimp, grass shrimp, etc.) can be risky. Instead, some shops simply carry lures; they are less risky and more profitable (especially Sabiki-type leaders).

And, unfortunately in my opinion, a lot of shops today go directly to the big money makers, the gear for boaters, largely (often expensive) lures and many even serve as travel agents for Sportfishing trips to far away destinations, i.e., Baja and Alaska

Personally I prefer the small bait and tackle shops but their numbers are dwindling, especially give the Covid pandemic of this past year.
 

Ken Jones

Administrator
Staff member
#8
I rarely watch YouTube videos on fishing and the ones I have watched have generally been low in quality (probably why I do not watch them). But they are one more resource and I know some are good.
 
#9
Running any retail brick & mortar is hard, especially in California, and especially these days.

I agree that there is a vacuum of youtube content related to pier and shore fishing, especially in California as well.

This is a great entry point. Use the store to fund high quality, consistent pier fishing content. Have a good Instagram presence that drives traffic to your youtube channel, and vice versa. The aquarium industry has some folks that are extremely good at this. Also, the equipment (really just need a few gopros, decent editing software, a lapel mic if you really want to get fancy) is a tax write off.

Experienced fishermen, for the most part, already know what they want, so you can stock some higher end gear a la carte. Pay attention to what's hot on the forums and don't be afraid to change out what you're stocking if there's some new hype product.

Newcomers want you to hand them a combo and some terminal tackle and walk them through a few basic and un-intimidating approaches for their local spot. To that end, one thing I'm surprised I don't see is some pre-loaded small tackle box selections. There is a huge trend towards "curated" (ugh) pre-picked package deals. A decent cheap tackle box with a good but narrow assortment of basic gear that will produce fish - a "surf pack" with 3-4 colors of grubs, a pack of Gulp! sandcrabs or bloodworms, some egg sinkers, beads, flouro leader etc.., a "pier pack" with pyramids, baitholders, swivels, etc - but good stuff, chosen from experience, higher quality than some zebco trout kit and assembled by you. Could do this for bass, trout, catfish as well.

I'd put together a two sided, 8.5x11 laminated and illustrated guide on each environment with a few knots, tactics, what each piece in the box does, common fish species, and include it with each box. Have a nice display table near the store entry with different kits all flanking a nice stack of copies of Pier Fishing in California right in the middle.

You can price up the kits over the individual value of their constituent parts and people will pay for the convenience and confidence knowing that they're working with proven stuff from a pro. This is huge to a beginner in any specialized hobby and to family, friends shopping for gifts.

If you have the resources, consider pouring your own store brand of quality soft baits, and have a monthly or weekly poll where folks can vote on what "special" color/pattern they want to see that month. Use leftover stock as a sweetener, unadvertised, that you throw in when people spend a certain amount. That will do a lot to drive loyalty, every time somebody opens their tackle box they will see those and think, "oh yeah, that helpful nice guy at the tackle shop made those and gave me a couple to try out".

Finally, if you can, don't be afraid to also sell whatever things are unique to your shop online. Having a trusted youtube presence where people see you fishing, see the inside of the store, commenters interacting with each other, can drive customers to you and away from Amazon and Cabela's just like having a friendly and welcoming physical store can drive in person customers to you instead of the impersonal Bass Pro and Walmart experience. Make that store work for you online and make online work for your B&M. Commercial rent in California is horrendous, even with COVID, anything you can do to maximize what that square footage is doing for your bottom line may be necessary.

Quality live bait could be a big draw if you're near the ocean. Whether it's worth the upkeep I can not say. You'd have to test it out and be ready to eliminate it if it's costing you money.

There is a mom and pop tackle shop in Monrovia that I used to live near. A couple years back I needed a last minute boat rod for a trip I was going on, and walked in with an open mind. Told the guy what I needed. He asked good questions, gave good advice specific to species, tactics, time of year, but not in overwhelming detail so that it was still memorable. Then offered me a combo significantly below my budget, explained exactly why he liked it, and it was solid. I use it regularly several years later as one of my heavy pier rods and it works beautifully.

I now live ~20 miles away and I STILL make the drive there when I want to make a significant purchase. I'll go to Bass Pro for last minute terminal tackle stuff, but that small shop has since sold me several other pieces of higher dollar hardware and I'll continue to go there even if they're a little pricier because I trust them, and I know they're honest, friendly and knowledgeable. All the other stuff is secondary, hire enthusiastic, trustworthy people and if they're knowledge deficient, you can teach them. It's a lot harder to teach customer service and customer service is what is going to keep people coming back in the long run.
 

evanluck

Well-known member
#10
Running any retail brick & mortar is hard, especially in California, and especially these days.

I agree that there is a vacuum of youtube content related to pier and shore fishing, especially in California as well.

This is a great entry point. Use the store to fund high quality, consistent pier fishing content. Have a good Instagram presence that drives traffic to your youtube channel, and vice versa. The aquarium industry has some folks that are extremely good at this. Also, the equipment (really just need a few gopros, decent editing software, a lapel mic if you really want to get fancy) is a tax write off.

Experienced fishermen, for the most part, already know what they want, so you can stock some higher end gear a la carte. Pay attention to what's hot on the forums and don't be afraid to change out what you're stocking if there's some new hype product.

Newcomers want you to hand them a combo and some terminal tackle and walk them through a few basic and un-intimidating approaches for their local spot. To that end, one thing I'm surprised I don't see is some pre-loaded small tackle box selections. There is a huge trend towards "curated" (ugh) pre-picked package deals. A decent cheap tackle box with a good but narrow assortment of basic gear that will produce fish - a "surf pack" with 3-4 colors of grubs, a pack of Gulp! sandcrabs or bloodworms, some egg sinkers, beads, flouro leader etc.., a "pier pack" with pyramids, baitholders, swivels, etc - but good stuff, chosen from experience, higher quality than some zebco trout kit and assembled by you. Could do this for bass, trout, catfish as well.

I'd put together a two sided, 8.5x11 laminated and illustrated guide on each environment with a few knots, tactics, what each piece in the box does, common fish species, and include it with each box. Have a nice display table near the store entry with different kits all flanking a nice stack of copies of Pier Fishing in California right in the middle.

You can price up the kits over the individual value of their constituent parts and people will pay for the convenience and confidence knowing that they're working with proven stuff from a pro. This is huge to a beginner in any specialized hobby and to family, friends shopping for gifts.

If you have the resources, consider pouring your own store brand of quality soft baits, and have a monthly or weekly poll where folks can vote on what "special" color/pattern they want to see that month. Use leftover stock as a sweetener, unadvertised, that you throw in when people spend a certain amount. That will do a lot to drive loyalty, every time somebody opens their tackle box they will see those and think, "oh yeah, that helpful nice guy at the tackle shop made those and gave me a couple to try out".

Finally, if you can, don't be afraid to also sell whatever things are unique to your shop online. Having a trusted youtube presence where people see you fishing, see the inside of the store, commenters interacting with each other, can drive customers to you and away from Amazon and Cabela's just like having a friendly and welcoming physical store can drive in person customers to you instead of the impersonal Bass Pro and Walmart experience. Make that store work for you online and make online work for your B&M. Commercial rent in California is horrendous, even with COVID, anything you can do to maximize what that square footage is doing for your bottom line may be necessary.

Quality live bait could be a big draw if you're near the ocean. Whether it's worth the upkeep I can not say. You'd have to test it out and be ready to eliminate it if it's costing you money.

There is a mom and pop tackle shop in Monrovia that I used to live near. A couple years back I needed a last minute boat rod for a trip I was going on, and walked in with an open mind. Told the guy what I needed. He asked good questions, gave good advice specific to species, tactics, time of year, but not in overwhelming detail so that it was still memorable. Then offered me a combo significantly below my budget, explained exactly why he liked it, and it was solid. I use it regularly several years later as one of my heavy pier rods and it works beautifully.

I now live ~20 miles away and I STILL make the drive there when I want to make a significant purchase. I'll go to Bass Pro for last minute terminal tackle stuff, but that small shop has since sold me several other pieces of higher dollar hardware and I'll continue to go there even if they're a little pricier because I trust them, and I know they're honest, friendly and knowledgeable. All the other stuff is secondary, hire enthusiastic, trustworthy people and if they're knowledge deficient, you can teach them. It's a lot harder to teach customer service and customer service is what is going to keep people coming back in the long run.
Excellent post! I agree and when I have a business plan for an aquarium store that includes many of the ideas that you have outlined here. I think the biggest challenge for small business owners is investing the time consistent in marketing. They get so busy "working in the business" that they don't take the time to "work on the business."

The YouTuber Hey Skipper fishing has incorporated many of your ideas into their ecommerce site and that seems to be working quite well for them but it is limited by not having access to a brick and mortar place were you can get questions answered and connect all the dots.

I think this is a perfect role for a business owner. Being the guy who fishes and makes fishing content. It would keep him from being a stifling presence in the store day to day. Keep him from burning out and position him as a guru to his customers and staff members.

I think a significant consideration is, can your love for the hobby withstand the grind of running a business around your hobby. When your doing a hobby you are pressured by the need to make a profit. There is not a single aquarium store owner that I know that keeps a tank at home if they have had their shop open for at least 10 years.
 
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#11
I have had two jobs that perfectly illustrated the pessimistic idea, "Don't ever do what you love for work, it will only sour you on the things you enjoy". It can be true, even if it's a bummer. However, the job I'm doing now I love, and it has nothing to do with my hobbies. I sell and design pools for one of the higher end builders out here, and it's awesome.

The first gig I didn't like, was a retail ecommerce job that sold stuff specific to a very niche hobby I was super in to. Management treated us like expendable trash, and the job ended up being a demoralizing, monotonous grind.

The second gig was a law firm job (I'm not a lawyer, thank god) where I had the opportunity to do and see things most people never will. We did a lot of transactional, commercial real estate stuff, asset management, and the principal was also a real estate broker so I got to work on that side as well. (needless to say everything was done under the supervision of an attorney). I've flown on $50,000,000 private jets (I'm a huge aviation nerd) to go island shopping with clients in the Bahamas. I've slept on yachts. I've worked out multi million dollar copyright deals largely without assistance, as a kid with no college degree. And I hated it. The experiences were awesome, but the work environment was a constant pressure cooker with gaslighting, incompetent management and alarming turnover. Year to year we fired or had quit about 50% of the staff, including attorneys. Everything was adversarial. If I did my job right, I was often contributing to an outcome in which a nasty situation ended with nobody really satisfied.

I love my current job not because I swim 20 laps a day (I definitely do not, LOL) but because my management gives me broad leeway to handle my job. Nobody is looking over my shoulder, I can set my own appointments, I have the freedom to work with clients and design to their needs as I see fit and most importantly, if I do my job right, I get to make people really happy.

If you can do what you love for work, AND do so without putting the kind of pressure external employers often do on yourself, AND you can lock the door behind you every day knowing that you contributed to a net increase in joy in the world, well then you really will never work a day in your life.