Who Picks Up the Tab?

Forestville, WI – You may have noticed skyrocketing prices while picking up a rod, reel, or pile of lures at your local tackle shop. Rest assured–by the time that price made it to the shelf, you weren’t the first with sticker-shock. Retailers are fighting the same battle against rising costs–often needing to choose between happy customers and keeping the lights on.

Still, NPAA’s many retail members report they are surviving and even thriving in this dicey sales environment by carefully planning their purchases, minimizing costs, and being up-front with customers about the factors driving price increases.

“This is the toughest sales environment I’ve seen in thirty-plus years of retail operation,” says National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) member, retail outdoors store owner and 2022 Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame inductee, Tom Keenan. The 53-year-old head of Chase Outdoors in Wausau, Wisconsin, notes 2021 saw a big increase in the number of people taking up fishing as way to have fun, get outdoors and social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this summer brought concerns over the cost of retail items and continued supply-chain issues for some manufacturers into the limelight.

“It’s a battle keeping our prices reasonable right now,” continues Keenan. “Supply has improved since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic but price increases have been steep on just about everything. People now seem to be holding off on purchases like high-end fishing poles and innovative reels. They’re making do with what they have as long as it’s in decent shape. That’s the sales battle we’re facing now.”

Keenan has taken steps to sustain inventory levels and maintain reasonable retail pricing. He notes fishing sales continue to be good in his store but isn’t sure they’ll continue to hold steady. “To combat price increases and remaining supply-chain problems, we’re ordering more items directly from vendors,” he reveals. “We’re also eating a lot of the fuel surcharges where shipping is concerned to help keep prices down. Packaging a lot of things together when ordering or holding out for deals that include free shipping also help to minimize costs.”

In terms of dealing with customers who do a double-take at prices, Keenan believes being up front works best. “If you invest a little time educating people about supply-chain issues and the new cost of shipping, most get it. Still, customers generally don’t love price increases.”

Retailers are also using focused forecasting to buy ahead at current prices and ensure products arrive before you need them. Keenan is already purchasing for the 2023 fishing season. “Planning ahead with your supplier as a partner is critical now,” he says, and being an NPAA member helps, too. “You need to be as professional as possible to survive this storm, and NPAA drives home the point that professionalism is a key to profitability. I rely heavily on their press releases and newsletter because they keep me abreast of new products and what’s trending in the angling world. That info helps you present as a true fishing authority when customers have questions. It’s the kind of advanced knowledge that makes the difference between a good retailer and a great one.”

Like Keenan, NPAA Member Dave Krantz believes the current retail sales environment to be a tricky one. Still, the 63-year-old proprietor of Dave’s Bait and Tackle in Crystal Lake, Illinois, has kept things rolling thanks to insightful planning. “COVID taught us we can order further in advance,” he states. “Some of our terminal tackle–rods and reels for instance–don’t age out on the floor, so I’ve been buying heavier than normal to stay ahead of supply chain issues.”

In Krantz’ view, the U.S. entered a recession last spring but many retail fishing outfits were insulated from initial price increases thanks to a two-year bump in sales. Looking forward, he says, it’s vital to build on what you learned during the pandemic.

“I plan to continue buying heavy to resolve remaining supply-chain issues,” he says. “There are some product lines I’ve already bought and paid for during the pandemic. With some other lines I still have stock enough that I can order 15- to 30-percent less this year and use those funds for other inventory.”

Another smart move, reveals Krantz, is to buy from multiple sources to ensure you always have product coming in. “Don’t cancel additional shipments when the first ones arrive,” he counsels. “Instead, stockpile those additions because they aren’t going to be less expensive going forward. If you have the means to get ahead of inventory, the sooner the better is a good rule. It allows you to not only to turn a profit, but to keep prices reasonable so customers aren’t always looking at 10-, 15- and 20-percent price hikes.”

Similar to Keenan, Krantz buys well ahead of time. He’s currently placing his 2023 summer orders and bought much of his spring stock immediately following the ICAST Show in July. “When stuff comes in, I put it right out rather than wait for any special season,” he offers. “I sell fishing tackle 12 months of the year. This summer, I sold ice augers in July. People couldn’t get them last winter so they grabbed them right away.”

Another suggestion from Krantz is to focus on your best opportunities. Some people open several stores, he notes, but that doesn’t always work in the long run. “If one store is great, one is fair and one is a dog dragging you down you’ll be better off having one terrific store where you can do everything right, he surmises.”

Krantz counts himself fortunate to have several income streams. In addition to his retail outdoors operation, he writes a retail fishing column for Fishing Tackle Retailer, works as a fishing guide, hosts a fishing podcast, and competes in Major League Fishing’s Toyota Series. “I guess you could say I wear a lot of hats that make it worthwhile for me to be an NPAA member,” he states. “It’s a great organization, especially when it comes to making contacts. NPAA makes it easy to keep my name in front of the people I need for sponsorship, retail operations and my guide business. I even draw on other members to be podcast guests. If people know you’re an NPAA member, they instantly recognize you as a true outdoors professional and take your business seriously. The NPAA newsletter also keeps me clued into industry happenings.”

According to Krantz, one thing that clearly separates professionals from wannabees in this industry is having a passion for the business end of things, a point you’ll pick up quickly with an NPAA membership. “You have to have a passion for the business end of things that’s every bit as strong as your passion for fishing,” he states. “NPAA is a great place to grow both of those essentials.”

NPAA president, Patrick Neu, calls the advice from Keenan and Krantz “spot on,” adding that true angling professionals also help set themselves up for long-term success by working extra hard for their sponsors during tough economic times. One effective way to do just that is by reaching out to the retail stores in your market area and offering to help in any way that you can, he advises. That might be through promotions, referring customers to local tackle shops, or by helping make sure your sponsor’s products are well merchandised and in stock at the store.

“That kind of investment in each other makes a big difference for everyone in the long run,” contends Neu. “NPAA members after all are opinion leaders in their marketplaces and, as such, valuable assets to the retailers in their communities – especially during stretches of economic upheaval when every sale counts. Long-time NPAA members realize helping retailers whenever possible can pay dividends with their own sponsors or can add a few additional guide trips a year when retailers return the favor by referring customers. We’re all in this business together,” sums up Neu. “As NPAA members, we’re all on the same team.”

For information on joining the NPAA and exploring the many benefits of membership, visit www.npaa.net.

About the National Professional Anglers Association

The National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) is a non-profit, member-based association dedicated to sportfishing. The NPAA’s membership is composed of professional guides, tournament anglers, angler educators and sportfishing/marine industry professionals who are passionate about the sport. For more NPAA partner, member and industry news, go to www.npaa.net.