Retailer Spotlight: Anglers Avenue, Sheboygan Wisconsin

[dropcap size=small]Y[/dropcap]ou won’t find the name on a Sheboygan street sign, but fishermen are beating a path to “Anglers Avenue” at both ends of a day on the water.

On South Pier Drive, overlooking the Sheboygan River, a twin-faced storefront that sits a boat’s waltz from Sheboygan Harbor calls out two institutions by the same name. Early morning finds fishermen crowding the 1,800-square-foot tackle store, Anglers Avenue Pro Shop. Often they return with families in tow for lunch or dinner and walk through the other door at Anglers Avenue Bar & Grill, a rustic waterfront restaurant with great food.

The two Anglers Avenues, joined like Siamese twins, comprise a single oasis for anglers, tourists, townspeople and even business travelers. During season’s peak, it is the center of harbor activity. Tournaments launch from its docks. Bands play in its backyard. Casual anglers—and even non-anglers—get so caught up in its excitement that they stop in to rent rod-and-reel combinations, buy bait, and soak up the essence of Sheboygan, now one of a burgeoning number of Lake Michigan harbor town jewels.

All in the Family

“My dad is a charter captain, and I’ve lived in Sheboygan all my life,” says Russell Gahagan, tackle store manager and son-in-law to Anglers Avenue owners Paul and Lisa Roberts, whose daughter Rachel (Gahagan’s wife) and other family members share the work with one full-time employee. “I began working as a mate on my dad’s boat when I was a kid. I know the fishery and I know the fishermen here. That’s really helped me to dial into their needs!”

He knows his vendors, too—not just distributors like Sports Specialists that fill his pegboard, but the manufacturers as well. He brainstorms often with managers of Pro King, Dreamweaver, Michigan Stinger, John King, Rapture Trolling Flies and other tackle makers. Many of his “special requests” have already become mainstays on the Great Lakes, and a few have even caught hold on the West Coast.

Gahagan believes the roots of lure buying run deeper than the eternal hunt for a “secret” weapon.

“Guys like lures like our wives like things for the house,” Gahagan philosophizes. “They are more than lures or tools. They are knick-knacks for guys, and we collect them.”

The shop has lost no momentum since its remarkably successful opening season in 2010. Growth has continued at a rate of more than 10 percent per year. The store operates at an average gross margin of 27 to 30 percent.

“The Biggest risk we took was expanding our pub and grill next door while our tackle store was growing,” racalled Gahagan. “But that has worked well, too.”

His continuous flow of on-target colors and baits keeps many customers coming back week after week. He obliges many regular customers with text message alerts about new baits ready for the pegs.

“With so many of our customers in the store on a regular basis, it’s not hard to market to them,” adds Gahagan. “We can talk to them personally about the new baits or colors. We keep them coming back because every week we are doing something different. And they always seem to buy two of each—just in case it’s the right one!”

A revamped online storefront of Anglers Avenue is scheduled to open soon.

Shaping Great Lakes Tackle Selection

If you fear Great Lakes salmon and trout fishing is struggling, you won’t find evidence here. Part of Anglers Avenue success has been smart timing. The operation has ridden the Sheboygan Harbor renaissance and the ongoing revitalization effort of harbor cities all along the Great Lakes.

The tackle store opened in 2010, the restaurant in 2012. The $52-million investment of neighboring Blue Harbor Resort boded well for the Roberts family’s investment in its riverfront location. But its success to date exceeded expectation.

“We are running all the tournaments out of Anglers Avenue and provide food for them, too” says Lisa Roberts. “When boats bring their coolers to our dock, it is awesome. People come with their kids from Blue Harbor to watch the weigh-in. Everyone has a good time. Anglers Avenue has this side of the river really hopping. It really has!”

Gahagan, who also fishes the Lake Michigan trout and salmon tournament trail, was confident the family could serve the needs and wants of the sizeable charter boat community he had known since childhood with trolling tackle and accessories for Great Lakes salmon and trout. Anglers Avenue’s walls, aisles and tackle islands are filled with tackle geared to big boats and giant fish. The upsized rods, reels and landing nets impress. The real eye catchers, however, are the trolling spoons, casting spoons, hard-baits and attractors available in a dazzling and perhaps unprecedented array of colors.anglersavenuegrille

But pier fishermen enjoyed an exceptional bite, too, that opening 2010 season, and they clamored for tackle, too. That brought Little Cleos, Moonshine casting spoons, Kastmasters and more inventory for the shore anglers—and added to the customer base.

Walleye Awakening

During the 2011 season, the fishing exploded on Lake Winnebago, the sprawling walleye factory only 30 miles west, and a new group of customers emerged.

“Fishing was fantastic,” Gahagan continues. “We discovered we had a big group of Lake Winnebago walleye anglers that would rather buy their tackle from us in Sheboygan, so we built that base.”

He worked from a similar blueprint, stocking a wide selection of crawler harness blades by Warrior, Yeck and Tommy Harris and filled pegboards with a wide assortment of the Salmo Helmet, the Number One crankbait on Winnebago, and the Rapala Shad Rap, “a standard bait anywhere you walleye fish.”

“It’s been my M.O. since the day we opened! You’ll find crawler harness blades here that you can’t get anywhere else,” he explains. “We even have a new ‘Ghost Blade’ from Dutch Fork Custom Lures that many haven’t seen. It’s one of the hottest things on the market!”

Ear for Opportunity

Last year saw the store expand its shore fishing tackle for panfish, too. Small plastics, jigheads, and a live bait selection of wax worms, nightcrawlers and redworms joined the offerings, along with light and ultralight tackle suited to the crappie, bluegill and yellow perch in the harbor and surrounding waters.

“We have expanded our kids’ rods , too.” adds Gahagan. “My mother-in-law, Lisa, does a good job of getting Snoopy and Batman and other (licensed character) combos for those young kids of five or six years old just getting into fishing.”

Ear-to-ground awareness opened other business opportunities as well, like sand toys, water toys and beach accessories.

Clothing sales also peaked in 2012, led by Anglers Avenue items and logo apparel of popular store brands like Michigan Stinger sweatshirts and Shimano sandals. “Guys want to wear the clothing of the brands they buy,” says Gahagan.

Know Your Customer, Products and Fishery

Above the pegboards are plaques of the area’s charter boat captains whom Gahagan credits for giving the store, “a kick start from the beginning.”

Anglers Avenue serves as both booking agent and tackle provider to them today.

“When (the captains) walked i the first time and saw the vast selection we had, they were 1) shocked and 2) impressed!” recalls Gahagan. “We got the hard core guys right away. But what’s really nice is that we added the weekend salmon angler, the pier fisherman, and then the walleye fisherman. Now we have musky and panfish items as well…and we upped the stakes on our ice fishing products, too. This year we will fill the walls with ice fishing tackle. We will have the biggest selection of jigs and soft plastics in the area.”

Make no mistake, the key to Anglers Avenue success is not just that it impresses knowledgeable customers, but how it impresses them!

Custom colors in proven baits are the biggest draw and, indeed, generate a sense of awe in avid anglers and the Great Lakes lure junkies. They also add to the inventory challenge.

“So much of our success has come from creating a demand for products—like our custom colors—that the customers don’t already have in their tackle box,” explains Gahagan. “They key is to do this and still keep a handle on our inventory, and that’s been hard.”

The “Custom” Blueprint

Gahagan draws color concepts from captains, anglers and the reservoir or his own imagination. He has close relationships with most prominent manufacturers of Great Lakes spoons, spinners, hard-baits and attractors. Some create his requested color schemes right at the factory. For others, he hires local lure painter Downriver Tackle.

“We make secondary modifications on some lures, often depending on time and the quantity we have to buy,” he explains.

“Despite the widespread sales of “specialty” offerings, Gahagan believes that implanting a sense of reliability within his customer has been an even bigger factor in Anglers Avenue success.

“Our customer might live 20 miles away, but, rather than chase around to three tackle stores, he just comes here to get what he needs,” he says. “Why? Because he knows we are going to have it!”


*This story originally appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Fishing Tackle Retailer Magazine.