A Retail Perspective on the Bassmaster Classic

[dropcap size=small]A[/dropcap]s the managing editor of FTR, I try to look at the fishing world — including the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina — through the eyes of a retailer. But it hasn’t always been that way.

For a decade I was the senior editor of B.A.S.S. Publications, covering the tournament for Bassmaster Magazine, B.A.S.S. Times and Bassmaster.com.

It’s a big change in perspective.

If you’ve never been to the Classic, it’s the biggest show in the sport — the biggest tournament, the biggest consumer show and increasingly the biggest venue for introducing new products to the bass market. Only ICAST rivals it.

The consumer element of Classic week — the Classic Expo — has evolved over the years to the point that more than 100,000 consumers and fishing fans will wander the floor over three days looking at gear, talking with pros and tackle industry staff about it and generally getting fired up about the coming fishing season.

It’s always well-attended, but inclement weather will likely cut into the crowds this weekend. Having the Classic this far north in February is a serious risk. Record-setting cold followed by the promise of snow and rain will put the damper on anything.

The Expo is an interesting event for a few reasons. It’s a consumer show in the sense that anyone can walk in off the street for free and check it out. It’s a trade show in the sense that most of the exhibitors are not selling anything — at least not to the public. Instead they’re showing off their latest and greatest, taking orders from buyers and pointing consumers down the aisles to the handful of retailers who actually have the product in stock and are selling it.

For a consumer, the show can be a lot of fun. Where else can you run into Kevin VanDam, Rick Clunn, Bill Dance, Hank Parker, Roland Martin, Jimmy Houston, Shaw Grigsby, Denny Brauer, Alton Jones, Bernie Schultz and lots of other big-name fishing stars? Some will personally show you the new products being introduced by their sponsors and tell you how to use them.

For the few true retailers here, it’s a chance to move a lot of stock quickly, but it requires a different approach — more show “specials,” more staff, more personal appearances by celebrity anglers.

Some do it well, some don’t and it’s a real shame if they don’t make the most of the opportunity because the consumers here are ready to spend money. Many have a bad case of cabin fever and plan to use a credit card to get out of it.

If you’re a retailer who’s not selling here, but you’re close enough to attend, the Classic Expo is a great laboratory. You can see very quickly and very easily which celebrity anglers draw a crowd, which displays move product, what some of your competitors are doing to set themselves apart.

Is it an everyday scenario with lots of day-to-day applicability to your operation?

Maybe not, but if you can’t learn something here, you’re probably not paying attention.

One of the best things you can do at a show like the Expo is to spend some time in the booths of the companies making the products you sell — or are thinking about selling. Many of them are here and their booths are full of the people who can answer any question you might have ranging from MSRPs to how something works on the water.

Then, the next time a customer has a question in your store, you can give him the answer and tell him you got it straight from Kevin VanDam or direct from the engineer who designed the item. A lot of those people are here for the Expo.

And if you’re a fan of professional bass fishing, there’s no greater show than the Bassmaster Classic. Be sure to stop by the weigh-in in the afternoon to see your favorite pro and watch the pomp and circumstance of the world’s biggest derby. There’s really nothing else quite like it … for a fan or a retailer or both.