Don’t Shoot the Messenger: Why Are You Afraid of the Big Box?

“I’m the meanest S.O.B. you’ve ever seen. Get out of my store.” The words seared my brain as I slammed the pedal of the black rental car. The guy had a gun. He was also ready to call the cops.

Such is the life of a spy.

Or, at least it’s the life of a supposed spy for the big box retailer down the street, which is apparently a thing.

A few hours earlier, as I made my way north along the East Coast from ICAST, I didn’t feel much like a spy. I felt like a writer slowly inching his way closer to a rendezvous for a fishing trip on Chesapeake Bay. The black rental car, a Chrysler, felt strange. There was no shift lever—only a dial to crank from “P” to “D”— and this was my chief concern as the green miles of South Carolina blurred by.

In between cheap hotels and pints of chocolate milk, I was scouting for tackle stores to interview. That’s when I stumbled upon the family-run store on the outskirts of Charleston that would soon erupt into so much rage.

Many curses and swears issued from behind the counter of what truly seemed like a fine, well-worn tackle shop.

Clearly, something was seriously bothering the store’s owners. And before I left, I found out what that was.

In a calmer moment, the enraged owner’s son would elaborate on the reason for his father’s malice: a big box retailer—let’s call them Rick’s Sporting Goods—had just moved in nearby, and the staff of a family tackle shop that had been in business for decades was feeling threatened. They were wary of writers, wary of cameras and especially vigilant of would-be story-telling types sauntering into their shop and stealing “business secrets.”

This is where I pause for reflection. This is where I pose to you, the tackle store owner, a question: Unless you are selling your own top secret blend of crispy fried chicken, are there really any trade secrets in your store?

While it’s absolutely true that an independent tackle retailer has a grab bag of special weapons to compete against the big, discount dogs, those weapons come from behind the counter. They’re not out there on the show floor.

Your biggest advantage is you. And that’s something a big box store cannot duplicate.

“We don’t worry about the big box guys. They can’t compete with us,” another tackle store employee down the street told me. And he’s absolutely correct.

Independent tackle shops thrive (to the tune of $2.3 billion), because of the people behind the counter. They thrive because the ratio of employees who actually use the tackle on the shelves and get their skin burnt on the water is typically much higher at smaller, independent shops. Customers know this, manufacturers know this and the savvy retailer knows this as well.

See the comments in our Facebook post below:

Never count out the little guy http://bit.ly/1Lu1oTv

Posted by Fishing Tackle Retailer on Monday, July 20, 2015

As someone who travels the country in search of the best tackle shops around, it appears evident that when you run a great business, you have nothing to fear from Rick’s, or Johnny’s or Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Fishing down the street.

Now, please, don’t shoot the messenger.