I walked into the tackle shop and was immediately uncomfortable. An older gentleman stared at me from behind the counter. I stared at a rack of rods in the middle of his store. None of them matched the display. And I, apparently, didn’t match his customer base.

It was a bad vibe.

The guy didn’t know me from Adam, didn’t know that I work in the fishing industry and didn’t know that I would put him on blast. (Sorry dude, not sorry.) The store is located in West Yellowstone, Montana, but it’s not the one next to the supermarket. It’s beside the place with color-coded t-shirts. No names though.

West Yellowstone is actually a hotbed of fantastic fishing stores and fly fishing shops. Maybe the guy was having a bad day, maybe he thought I wasn’t going to buy anything, or maybe he just didn’t like the look of a long-haired, bearded kid walking through his shop, though I would be surprised by that out here, in the part of the world that pioneered the look.

Whatever the case, this guy didn’t make me feel welcome in his store. He didn’t know that I am in the midst of a 5,000-mile road trip and in sore need of some fishing tackle. In any case, I didn’t buy any from him, and that’s a tragedy.

But the real tragedy is that this happens so often in the world of tackle stores. This industry is full of good people with great stories, and, as a whole, we all just love to fish. But for some reason, there’s an atmosphere of unfriendliness in some tackle stores.

Do your customers fit a profile or are your doors open to everyone?

The contrast struck me farther down the line, in the college town of Missoula. (Go Grizzlies!)

Here in Missoula, a town of 69,000 that’s basically a metropolis in this sparsely populated state, you can walk down the street, pop into a coffee shop and immediately feel welcome. For the lowly investment of $2, you can plop down in a cozy chair and horde wifi and electricity for hours. Granted, it’s generally accepted that you keep investing that $2 every hour or so.

Let that sink in.

How many people come into your store and spend $2, then leave feeling like they belong there?

The answer should be anyone who walks through the door, not just the guy dropping hundreds or thousands on premium fishing tackle. And let’s face it, dude in West Yellowstone, if you’re selling $15 rods you’re not only selling to Justin Timberlake on a Firehole River fly fishing expedition.

Missoula’s Clyde’s Coffee isn’t the only welcoming coffee shop I’ve been to on this journey. Cafes and grind houses from Memphis to Montana have welcomed me with open arms. Tackle stores, on the other hand, tend to be standoffish until I verify my bonafides, so to speak. So what are coffee shops doing that bad tackle stores aren’t?

  • Serving coffee
  • Playing music
  • Creating an atmosphere of welcomeness

If you’re a tackle store, you can do all of those things without breaking the bank. How do I know this? Because some of the very best stores I’ve walked into do just that. They provide seating areas, learning tables and beautiful product displays from Florida to Wisconsin to California to Texas. That’s something that a coffee shop can replicate, but an online tackle store can’t, if you catch my drift.

Maybe, if you’re trying to boost sales, it’s time to change the feeling of your store and start putting out the good vibe. And, hey, if you’re already doing that, drop me a line. I’d love to see just how.