How Well Do You Know Your Customers?

Several times a year, I’m approached by an aspiring writer who wants to sell his work to one or more of the major fishing publishers out there — including FTR. He or she invariably opens with a really expansive question like, “How do I break into the market as an outdoor writer?”

It’s a fair question, and I do my best to answer, but it’s also wildly open-ended.

Over the years, I’ve honed my answer to something short, straightforward and positively guaranteed to send them down the right path … if they’ll take it.

And in the past few years — since becoming the managing editor of FTR and immersing myself in the retail end of the fishing business — it’s occurred to me that my answer is just as applicable to the retail tackle business and the question, “How do I sell more fishing gear?”

Here’s my answer: Know your customer.

You’re probably rolling your eyes right about now, and thinking that’s just a bunch of Marketing 101 garbage, but I’m convinced it’s not. I am 100 percent convinced that it is the absolute key to success whether you’re trying to sell a fishing manuscript to Outdoor Life or a fishing rod to a walleye angler.

Know your customer, and the world opens up to you.

Most people don’t take that advice nearly far enough. The writer says, “I know Outdoor Life like the back of my hand. I’ve been reading it for years!”

The retailer says, “This market is my backyard. I’ve fished here for decades, and I know what works!”

I can usually make my point to each very quickly. To the wannabe fishing writer, I ask “Who are Outdoor Life’s biggest advertisers? Who is the editor that reviews queries and manuscripts? How long has he been on the job? Where’s he from? What’s his fishing passion?”

They rarely have the answer to even one of those questions.

With the tackle retailer, it’s even easier to make my point — especially if we’re in his store. I just point to a customer and ask, “Who is that? Who’s their regular fishing partner? Where do they fish? Where do they work?”

Admittedly, the retailer can sometimes answer some of these questions, but rarely can they answer all of them, and I can count on one hand the number of times they’ve answered them for multiple customers.

But that sort of knowledge and that level of interest is important if you’re a small business owner — like most tackle retailers and absolutely all outdoor writers.

One of the best tackle retailers I know has a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of his best customers. He knows their names, where they fish, who they fish with and what they do for a living.

One of his customers is a hotel manager that refers his fishing guests to the tackle shop. Another is a barber who puts tackle shop flyers next to the outdoor magazines in his barber shop. A third runs a convenience store and strikes up a lot of conversations with anglers who come in for gas and ice, often telling them about the tackle shop.

These customers are worth their weight in tungsten slip sinkers, but it takes effort and awareness to get granular enough with them so that you unlock their value. These customers are not just a sale. They’re a portal to more business.

So, how well do you know your customers?

I bet you could know them better. It’s true for all of us.