Big (Tackle) Shop of Horrors

Most tackle store customer service experiences are pretty lackluster. They don’t make an impression. I go in, I look around, I buy something, and I’m gone. Unless it’s a shop I visit regularly, there’s just not a lot of interaction or anything else to make it truly memorable.

One stands out, though, from right here in my home state of Florida. I was covering a tournament on Lake Okeechobee. Between the launch ramp and my hotel were three tackle shops. The tournament lasted three days. Insert math here.

One of the shops was decidedly larger than the others, and I decided to stop there first. If you had combined the two small tackle stores, the larger one would still have dwarfed them. Nevertheless, the parking lots of the little stores were fuller and busier than the lot of the big shop — so much so that I wondered if the store was open when I pulled in.

It was.

I got out of my truck and walked inside. A young man — early 20s — was alone on a sofa to the right as I entered. He was talking too loud on his cell phone, “holding court” with someone about his recent catches and how he should be fishing in the tournament since he would surely win it. I nodded as I walked by, but the young man didn’t even break stride in his storytelling.

As I made it deeper into the store and found an interesting rack of locally-made baits (I’m a sucker for them no matter where I go), the young man paused his conversation long enough to yell to me, “Let me know if I can help you, Bubba!”


Ken Duke interacts with a tackle shop clerk (circa 2014)
Ken Duke interacts with a tackle shop clerk (circa 2014)

Now to my way of thinking, just because I’m southern and overweight does not give every tackle clerk license to call me “Bubba.” And while I’ll admit that among overweight southerners you have about a 50 percent chance of nailing their nickname when you say “Bubba,” you also have a 50 percent chance of irritating them.

Count me among the irritated.

I think I replied with “O.K.” or something like that, but I had pretty well decided that he was incapable of helping me, that I wasn’t going to buy anything from that store on that day and that I knew the reason for the empty parking lot. A couple of minutes later I was gone. The clerk was still on the phone.

Now this happened several years ago, and I expect that clerk (unless he’s the son or nephew of the owner) is long gone. I’m betting the store has its act together now and that things are much, much better.

But I still think about the incident, it still irritates me, and I still hesitate to visit that shop when I’m in the Okeechobee area. It’s strange — and probably not fair — that such little things matter so much and for so long.

There was nothing wrong with the shop itself. It was clean, well-stocked, brightly-lit, the prices were in the ballpark, etc. I just had a bad moment with a bad clerk, and he probably didn’t even realize it.

The story was a great example of the old saying that you only have one chance to make a first impression. It’s true in face-to-face meetings, and it’s true in customer service interactions.

Next time I need to tell you about some memorable experiences in a few Japanese tackle shops.

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