The demise of tackle shops by Grant Jones

Barely a day, at the very least a week, goes by without me seeing the same old question posed over and over. “How can we save our local tackle shops”. I’ll say it now, and I’ll be unequivocally clear. ‘We’ can’t. Neither should we. The only people who can save their businesses are the tackle shop owners themselves and, they have to bear that responsibility. Nobody, in any walk of life, has a god given right to a successful business built on the back of a service that is no longer relevant.

They have to make sure that service remains relevant! Don’t be fooled by the doom and gloom peddled by many a small shop owner, there are still those that identify the niches in their sector to which they can provide a key service and, to varying degrees of success, maintain their business on the back of these sound choices. Volatility in a market place provides as much chance to prosper as it does to fail, in fact, it tends to separate those who can from those who simply can not. Those willing to put the time in to find out what their customers need and those resting on their laurels.

Niche areas aren’t in short supply either. For example, in just a few shops I frequent or have visited recently, Olivers Angling in Clevedon do a great trade in the best pre-made rigs money can buy. In fact, so good, one of those mail order companies everyone likes to blindly blame (whilst still buying most their tackle from them) commissions the making of their own branded rigs to the owner of this shop, allowing him to sell to a wider market. Meanwhile, Christchurch Angling in Bournemouth has become a Mecca of light line and continental style angling, capitalising on the expertise in this area of owner Tom Bagnall. My final example is Anglers Corner in Milford Haven, where they’ve tapped in to the local demand for bass lures with one of the biggest on wall displays of lures I’ve ever seen – the sort of product people still like to go, compare, feel the weight in their hands and so on.

Long gone are the days where a steady stream of trade can be enjoyed by the tackle shop with a few assorted packs of hooks on the wall, some poorly kept worm and a freezer with 6 month old freezer-burnt packs of mackerel in it. Time moves on, habits change and society progresses, for better or not, but nonetheless evolving to serve our ever changing needs. Yet the demise of the tackle shop seems to be something we, as anglers, continually call out as the greatest crime of modern times. Why? We’re not a massive community, so it is our own behaviours having the effect we talk ill of. We have nobody else to blame, though of course we try, which I shall come on to.

First though, we need to understand what it is driving us to prevent the demise of the tackle shop. There are a number of points people make when arguing why we should save the old high street shops. Each one more flawed as each day goes by. We seem devoid of the argument that they are more than capable of finding ways to help themselves. So why should ‘we’ rather than ‘they’ save their businesses?

Up first, the age old argument of getting all the latest and best information from the local tackle shop. Surely, in the days of as much information as we want at our fingertips this argument should have died out now and even be ridiculed every time it is put forth? It would seem not; a cursory scan across a few forums still sees people throwing out this old gem. This isn’t to say that tackle shops can’t offer this service, but it’s certainly no longer an area they hold a monopoly on. Far from it.

In years gone by, one may have been inclined to check on local conditions before making a trip to a non-local coastline. Web cams now let us see the information we want first hand, along with surf and swell reports aplenty. Or, perhaps a tackle shop provided that insight ahead of purchasing a new item of tackle, but who better to trust these days than those who have spent their own money and contributed a vast array of feedback on facebook and other forums.

The conclusion we have to come to, is heading to a tackle shop for information is only done out of sentiment. The data available in today’s digital world far outstrips any level of information that one person alone is going to impart, the accuracy of which we wouldn’t even be able to validate. Is that reel really better than the other despite being £20 cheaper? Or does it just have a higher profit margin for the shop? Who knows; you have to have an incredibly high level of trust to leave a decision in the hands of one person’s advice these days when such a wider breadth is available to call on.

If you want that personal touch, an experienced head to call on and you’re willing to pay the premium necessary to maintain the local tackle shops, why not consider a local guide instead? The local fishing information they give you will be demonstrated first hand and they have a lot more at stake reputation wise if they can’t get you amongst the fish. Perhaps the growth in numbers of guides is filling the void left by the lessening number of local tackle shops.

Up next, the ‘last minute purchase’ argument. Frankly this holds little weight either. Shops aren’t 24/7 but our angling habits certainly tend to be. If we know we’re heading out on a day the local tackle shop is shut, we prepare ahead. If, as inevitably will one day come, we are only left with mail order, then the next day delivery is something we will quickly all adapt to without any major implications. With the introduction of same day delivery, even by drone through some Amazon pilots, we may not even have to wait till the following day before long!

On to a particular favourite of mine; liking to see before you buy. This makes all the sense in the world. Until you get in to the actual psychology of it and how, actually, you’re more likely to make an impulsive decision when an item is in your hand than when you see it online, with endless information on the item just a few clicks away. Not withstanding the additional protections you get through the distance selling regulations, if you were to change your mind on receipt of the item. Good luck getting a real feel for a rod or reel in a tackle shop anyway – and there’s very few that offer a service of trying items out on a local beach. On that note, Christchurch Angling Centre is one such shop offering testing locally. It’s these small additions to service which will define which shops go and which few remain.

If you remain absolutely intent on holding a product in your hands before purchase, then again, tackle shops don’t have the monopoly here! Tackle test days are growing in regularity and popularity, be they organised through dedicated Facebook groups or the brands themselves. Trade shows, despite the name, are regularly open to the public. They also offer great opportunities to see new products in the flesh. As a last resort, buy it online and fall back on those distance buying regulations for any refund if you’re not happy on receipt. You’ll still, on average, be less likely to make a rash and impulsive purchase.

So to the final point. The one that arguably above all others retains some relevance. Bait. What are we going to do for bait without a local tackle shop stocked up with all the frozen and fresh baits we require? I said some relevance, because by and large, this still isn’t an issue. Online bait companies can get an even wider array of baits delivered, in prime condition, within 24 hours. Meanwhile local bait collectors will find direct selling outlets, through facebook or other mediums. Fear not, the void will be filled. Where there is a demand, there is always a solution.

So why do we want to prevent the demise of the tackle shop? All the common arguments can be easily debunked. We can’t even say it’s because we don’t like change. We’re clearly embracing change which is the very reason the tackle shops have seen trade decrease in the first place! It just boils down to sentiment. Many of us have become friends with our local tackle shop owner. Nobody wishes that person out of their job and their profession. It is only when you take a step back, remove emotion and ask, what value add does a local shop really bring, that you realise there’s no place for them in the future sea angling industry if they aren’t going to embrace change themselves and occupy a relative niche. It’s a harsh reality when the emotions come back into it, but one we are better accepting and embracing.

So what or who do we blame? Clearly, everything I’ve cited to debunk the continuing need for such shops can have the finger of blame pointed their way. But, there is one thing that, everywhere we look, we see the blame laid squarely at the door of – the internet.

This, though, is absolutely crazy. It’s not the internet’s fault a local shop is failing, it’s the local shop owners failure to embrace the Internet. An Ebay shop can be set up within 5 minutes! Basic websites can be implemented with minor investments or expertise and a facebook page to help promote the online element of the business is free and far more powerful for advertising than many traditional print adverts. Sure, it’s harder to establish an online presence now than 10 or even just 5 years ago, but that’s where failure to react to change soon enough leads you in any business.

It’s not the first time I’ve put this point across, and as I expect this time, the ‘overheads’ are thrown back at me. “Those internet only traders don’t have the same overheads as with a shop” they tell me. Of course they don’t, “That’s why their business model is more efficient” I tell them.

The short of it is, Uber are the world’s largest taxi firm and don’t own any cabs. Air BnB are the worlds largest provider of accommodation and don’t own any of their own property. Why would we expect the biggest sellers of fishing tackle to have any tackle shops? It’s a world of providing the most efficient service to a customer with as little of the excess baggage as possible.

The tackle shop owners need to work out how they fit in to the new world and adapt now, before it is too late. We don’t need to save them, they need to save themselves.

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