It seems the holiday shopping season starts just a little earlier every year. When I was much younger, it kicked off sometime after Thanksgiving. Then they started calling the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” and things got completely out of hand. Stores began opening at midnight, and shoppers got crazy.

The retailers who take advantage of the shopping frenzy are doing a lot of things right. They’re creating appointment shopping for their customers and finding market advantages by being open all hours of the day or night.

What can you do as a tackle retailer to take advantage of the Christmas rush that’s in overdrive right now — less than 10 days away from the big day?

If you started to answer that question with something about a “sale,” I think you can do better. Sales are everywhere at this time of year. Unless you happen to be discounting something that’s top-of-mind for a particular shopper, you’re not likely to capitalize on the sale concept.

And I’ve always thought that tackle retailers were at a huge disadvantage when it comes to gift-giving — at Christmas or for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day or most any other time.

When a person buys something for himself, he usually knows exactly what he wants or does his due diligence and figures it out. But when a person gives a gift, he’s often clueless. Or at least I am.

What kind of music or clothes would your teenage child like to receive from you this holiday season? What about the right golfing accessory for your boss? What size clothing does your spouse wear?

Who wants to take a chance on getting that stuff wrong?

Fishing tackle is pretty specialized. It’s a tough nut to crack for a novice looking to buy something for an expert. They’ll often give up on the idea before they even try it, and who can blame them? I fish, but my wife likes paper crafting and sewing. When I go into one of those specialty shops with her, I’m lost — completely out of my element. If I point to something and ask if that’s what she’s looking for, I get a look that only reminds me that I’m lost but also questions my sanity and status as a human being with the power of reason. Soon I am looking for a place to sit down.

I will never, ever get her a gift from one of those shops unless she picks it out herself.

So how can those shops make me stop and buy something for her?

Well, for starters they could offer gift cards. As you know, gift cards are the ultimate answer for just about anyone, whether they’re a paper crafter, golfer or clothes horse. With a gift card, I can’t go wrong. But I’m not going to pull over in holiday traffic just to walk in and ask if they sell them. They need to have a big sign out front that says something like this:

“We sell gift cards! You can’t go wrong!”

Yes, Visa and other companies offer gift cards you can use anywhere, but they come with a certain subtext — “Here’s your Visa gift card. The person giving it to you considered only the amount and nothing more. You will wind up using this to buy gas for your commute or something boring for the whole family.”

A gift card for a tackle store is a lot more exciting and a lot more specific. It’s also more thoughtful.

Another thing you can do to compete with other retailers at this time of year is provide your own Santa Claus and photographer. The mall doesn’t have a monopoly on Santa, and the closer we get to the big day, the more crowded the mall gets and the more parents need another alternative to standing in line for hours and hours after taking nearly as long to find a parking space. Why not your store?

Go the extra mile with your Santa. Put a fly vest on top of the red suit. Dangle a few fishing things from his cap (no hooks!). Let him wear waders. The kids should know that Santa fishes during his off hours. Maybe they’ll want to try it, too.

I might even have Santa tell each kid to go fishing in the coming year to improve his chances at getting that pony, but I’m pretty mercenary.

Give every kid a little present after they get their photo taken with the man in red. It doesn’t need to be much — a little panfish kit or some bobbers. Just something to keep fishing in mind when the weather warms and they’re ready to go outside again.

And don’t keep Santa a secret. He deserves a big sign and maybe even some advertising. Most moms will prefer the mall Santa, but if Dad has Santa photo duty this year, where’s he going to go — the dreaded mall or a cool tackle shop where there’s less waiting and lots of cool gear to look at? Make sure the line to see Santa runs right past some timely displays and impulse purchase items.

Where do you find a Santa? Are you seriously telling me you don’t have a single fat customer with a white beard?

I didn’t think so.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.