ISLAMORADA, Florida— Crazy. That’s what people called him. When a big box store set up shop in his hometown, Donny Lange decided to do something reckless—he set up his own tackle store a mile down the road, opening the doors to Islamorada’s homegrown fisherman’s hangout, Tackle Center.
“Everybody told me I was crazy when I started it, and they might be right,” Lange says. “But here we are, five years later and still going strong.”
Lange’s store is not going strong on the allure of destination retail. It doesn’t need to. The destination here, in the middle of the Florida Keys, surrounds visitors on all sides. Tackle Center’s backdoor opens to the Gulf of Mexico; its front faces the Atlantic Ocean. Inside, Lange and crew have stocked the shelves with everything local guides and serious anglers need for a day out on either side of the Overseas Highway—the final, narrow strip of U.S. Highway 1 that cuts a 113-mile, mostly two lane, line from Miami to Key West. Ask Lange for a list of species his customers are catching, and he’ll rattle off an encyclopedic list of fish from freshwater to inshore and near shore to the deep blue sea.
Google the term “fisherman’s paradise” and Islamorada, Florida comes up on the short list.
But it’s not Tackle Center’s location that keeps the doors open. Even when your store sits on an island surrounded by some of the world’s best fishing, keeping the registers rolling comes down to hard work, customer service and—of course—pricing. Ask Lange if he’s worried about the local big box store, and he’ll smile. “We can beat them on price,” he says calmly. It’s a echoed by legions of independent tackle dealers around the country. Often, it’s a reality that runs counter to perception—but that’s a story for another day.
Tackle Center isn’t solely reliant on pricing to lure customers in from the competition. The real secret weapon is networking, and thanks to Lange’s connections to the Florida Keys fishing community, it’s a weapon that has stayed sharp for a half-decade now. And the key to its longevity lies at the core of Lange’s business, it’s his very reason for being: being connected to the community enables him to truly learn and understand the needs of his customers. If you can do that, you can compete with anybody—even a big box store a mile away.