Fishing tackle is a global business, but in the same breath it is still heavily dictated to by local conditions and cultures. No matter who you are, you could learn from your industry comrades in other parts of the world. Every day is a school day, so here are some potentially useful tips from Europeland to you.
1. Go mutual on distribution. Distribution is something that plays by pretty different rules in Europe compared to the USA, but with good reason. Europe is made up of nigh-on 30 countries, depending where you draw the boundary, and each one usually has its own language, culture, currency and fishing style – so pairing up on distribution just makes sense. Picture the scene: Monsieur Lure Manufacturer in France wants to get his products into Hungary but has no idea where to start… enter Mr Hungarian Carp Rod Supplier. Our two discerning gentlemen know their own markets inside out and can see how the other’s products could work there. A mutual distribution agreement is set up and hey presto, you’ve gone international. Deals like this may be created out of necessity in Europe, but similar arrangements could work in the USA too. Sharing is caring, after all.
2. Pay attention to multi-species anglers. So, we know bass is king in America, and rightly so. But in Europe, there isn’t one dominant species that everyone across the Continent pines to catch. Carp is big, Northern Pike is big, Catfish is big, a whole bunch of other weird species are big. European retailers have to cater for all this – their biggest carp fishing customer might become a keen perch angler in the winter – so staying tuned is key. There are rewards to be reaped by acknowledging that while bass might be your customers’ favourite, they may enjoy catching more than just that. Heck, one day American anglers may even learn to love carp…
3. Cut to the chase. One cultural difference between the United States and Europe lies in the murky mists of marketing. In the US, brands and retailers are great at it, they are superb at selling the sizzle and not the sausage. In Europe, sometimes we tend to market a bit more directly – what is this product? What are its benefits? How much money can I make from it? Cut the nonsense, I want to know why I should buy this or why I should be stocking this. A more benefits-lead approach to marketing isn’t always the right way to go, but every so often it speaks to a section of the market that the usual marketing dazzle does not.
4. Get space savvy in your store. The United States is a big country, dwarfing any individual country in Europe. Because of that, floorspace isn’t normally a major issue in retail outlets. In Europe, stores can often be crammed into smaller units in towns and cities in densely populated urban sprawl – and that makes space a prize commodity. I’ve seen rods stored in elaborate fold-out cupboards, lures arranged neatly in pull-out drawers and mannequins used to showcase dozens of items at once that can be brought out in their various styles from a back room on request. If you yourself try to imagine that mindset of making every square inch of your store count, you will have a shop that works far harder for you.
5. Wholesale not the whole story. The Wholesaler in Europe is pretty much confined to the same remit as the dodo or wooly mammoths. Once the first stop for fishing tackle retailers, wholesalers have been gradually squeezed out by brands selling direct to retailers or the evolving shape of retailers as mini-wholesalers in their own countries. The few out-and-out wholesalers that are left are struggling. But the model proves the tackle industry can thrive without the wholesaler – while we may have lost some of the specialisms they had, such as distribution and buying power, we have all subsequently learned to be more rounded businesses.
I’m not professing that the European market is superior to that of the United States, far from it. There are a great many things the American fishing market does far better than Europe. In the interests of balance, here are a few of those:
1. Trade shows. I’ve attended fishing tackle shows in countries all over the world including the UK, France, Germany, China and Japan – but for me, nowhere does ‘show business’ quite like the United States. ICAST is the biggest and best fishing tackle trade show on Earth for a reason – it’s damn well run. But aside from the seamless organisation, the creative add-ons like fishing tournaments and outdoor showcases and a plethora of evening entertainment, American shows just have that buzz, which is genuine and very hard to fabricate.
2. Chain stores. Don’t get me wrong on this one, I’m an independent fishing tackle store guy, but the American market has chain stores nailed. And chain stores can play an important part in the modern industry. For many newbie anglers, a chain store feels less intimidating than an independent, somewhere where it’s okay to be a total noob and buy some cheap tackle to give fishing a try. But once they’re hooked, they will want better service, better products and better specialist knowledge – and that’s where an independent takes over and shows them the true way.
3. Advocacy. Maybe it’s because all of America speaks the same language, but compared to Europe, the industry is much more unified when it comes to facing up to challenges. Whether that’s attracting new anglers to the sport (the work of the ASA and RBFF is unrivalled globally in my opinion), or fighting for the rights of sportsmen in Washington D.C., the American market deals with issues head-on. The American market knows how to fight for its rights.