One of the best things about my job is the opportunity I have to talk to industry leaders, experts and innovators. It’s not something I take lightly. I start with the knowledge that their time is valuable and that I’m lucky to get some of it. Along the way, I try to ask questions that will distill their insights into something we can all use in our lives and careers … maybe even our fishing.
Recently, I was talking to Cecil Hoge Jr., president of Panther Martin and Sea Eagle Boats. I wanted to profile him for an upcoming issue of FTR, and that requires some advance research and an interview.
The research was fascinating! Hoge comes from a very interesting family. His father was a highly respected marketer, promotor and business writer who taught at NYU. His maternal grandfather … well, you should just read this, written by Cecil himself.
I had met Hoge only once before — at the Big Rock East show in January. We had a nice conversation, but a trade show floor is hardly the place to gain insight into a person. A product … maybe, but not a person.
And he’s someone worth gaining insight into. Not only does he have an interesting backstory, but his companies have grown and prospered while many others have failed.
I wanted to know how.
He boiled it down to a couple of things — things you can do in your retail establishment to help you weather the storms of economic downturns and increased competition. I truly believe that what he told me will help anyone in any business and in any economy.
The first takeaway I latched onto was, “I don’t think companies should try to compete directly with others in their market or try to copy them. It’s a fool’s game! It’s far better to make unique and distinctive products at a fair price.”
It’s a great point. Ultimately, if you get into it with another competitor you’ll both hone your products to a fine edge and eventually all you’ll have to compete over is price. The consumer may win that battle, but not the manufacturer and not the retailer.
If your store is “different,” you have a chance. If you carry different products, offer better service and have greater insight into the wants and needs of your customers, you can beat “the competition.” If you don’t, good luck beating them on price. You may both go out of business!
But if you differentiate in a meaningful way and offer value, you’ll not only survive but profit and prevail.
Another great takeaway Hoge gave me had to do with profits.
“I’ve learned that almost all of our profits have come through the introduction of new products,” he said. “If you’re not giving the market something new, you’re all just like crabs in a basket fighting over scraps, and you can’t get ahead that way.”
Yes, you have to stock the tried and true. There are some old favorites and local legends that must be on your shelves, but what are you doing to excite your customers and to drive their desire to acquire new gear?
The first thing we tell new anglers is to get a tackle box bigger than they think they will ever fill because they will soon fill it. New products fire the desire to fill those tackle boxes, and they fire our industry. Carry the old, but market the new.
And remember that these takeaways come from a man — Cecil Hoge Jr. — who has sold well more than 100 million fishing lures!