The first time that I wandered into a fly shop I was with my family, and most likely just doing the “tourist thing”. I’m pretty sure that I was a respectful customer (I try to be nice), but if I knew then what I know now, I would bet that the fishy roads that I’ve traveled might have been a bit different (easier?).
Here are the things that I wish I had known WAY BACK WHEN …
1-6 … The Do’s
#1 Do be upfront with your skill level
Try not to feel embarrassed or reluctant to admit where you are in your fly-fishing experience. So many times I find that people are afraid of being judged for being a rookie. I personally am SO excited when someone tells me that they are a complete beginner. That is moldable clay for me!! I love being able to indoctrinate another potential fishy cohort. Occasionally, you’ll meet that one knob that tries to make you feel small for being a beginner, but please remember that is their insecurity, not yours. We all started at the same place.
#2 Do be upfront with your budget
Real simple. If you have a budget that you’d like to stay close to, just say it. Any fly shop worth its salt will respect that number. It’s not a misstep or off-base for a fly shop employee to give you information on higher ticket items if they think that the item might benefit you or be something up your alley. But when it starts feeling like pressure, it's time to leave. The “hard sale” is the one to avoid if you experience it. I tell my friends to immediately walk out of a shop if they’re being pressured in any way.
#3 Do be nice
Most employees in a fly shop are being paid a pretty modest wage. Sales clerks are often treated like they are disposable employment, but especially in a small niche environment like a fly shop, these are typically skilled employees. I have never hired a true newbie in my fly shop. Most fly shops hire experienced fly anglers, and sometimes the employee has worked as a guide, or even owned their own business. So please don’t ask “Do you fly fish?” Of course they do. Would you hire an employee that knows nothing about your business? Please, treat fly shop employees with the same respect that you would give to the shop owner. And don’t assume that the woman behind the counter isn’t the OWNER!!!
#4 Do buy something
It’s seems rude to some that I suggest this, but it takes a lot of dough to keep the doors of a fly shop open!! It’s not a public service or subsidized in any way. The only way that the doors of a fly shop stay open is by moving A LOT of product. All of the knowledge that a fly shop has (and gives out), has come at a cost to the owner and employees. Just consider for a moment how many flies it takes to pay a mortgage or rent; now add employees, utilities, products, shipping, internet, etc. Just buying a sticker or a couple of flies will suggest that you are invested in the longevity of the business.
#5 Do buy something BEFORE asking for advice or for spots
Again, it seems rude to some that I suggest it, but you are telling the fly shop employee that you wish to engage in a mutually beneficial arrangement. I will buy product from you because I want to continue using your knowledge and product in the future, and hopefully gain knowledge and advice (and great products) in return. If you belly up to my counter and demand information, I’m going to give you bare minimum. This is, after all, a business. If I give out free information all day and get nothing in return, my days as a business owner are numbered. Now having said that, a very kind and honest approach always works well too. I have been too broke to sink a lot of cash into flies and equipment, so I know what that is like as well. Be honest, kind and grateful, and you will definitely find that people will give more than you expect.
#6 Always be open to hiring a guide if you have the time and means to do so
Instead of pimping a fly shop employee for all of their information, consider grabbing a guide for a day (or 1/2 day). I own a shop, I guide, and I ALWAYS hire a guide when I’m fishing new water.
Now for my not-so-favorite numbers…
6-12 The Don’ts
#1 Don’t walk into a fly shop to test employees with the “I know better than you” attitude. JUST BE NICE
You might be surprised how often this happens. If you want good service and good information, treat your fly-fishing employees well. Don’t ask an employee a question just waiting to contradict their answer; you’re either looking for a fight, or you’re hoping to make someone fold. Either way, you don’t get the information that you’re looking for.
#2 Don’t expect your fly shop employee to take care of ONLY you
There is that rare occasion when someone walks into a shop and forgets that the shop employee has to take care of everyone in the shop, and not just them. Try to understand that shops have ebbs and flows, and that there are times when employees are completely dead and times when they’re swamped. If the shop is full, be cool with taking a few minutes to look around while your favorite employee is helping other customers. If someone is super understanding whilst I deal with a shop full of people, I ALWAYS come back to them appreciative and ready to “make up for it”.
#3 Don’t ask for FREE information
Fly shop owners and employees are often seasonal workers, and it’s a pretty hard gig. There is NO free on the business end of a fly shop. So understand that if you value the shop, and it’s services, you need to be a customer. It doesn’t mean that you need to break the bank when you enter a fly shop (though many of us do), just consider that fly shop owners and employees are completely dependent on your purchases. All local knowledge and products will go away if the shop goes away.
#4 Don’t bring a pet inside without asking
Many shops are doggo friendly, and typically they will have some sort of signage indicating this. But, there are many shops that are rented space and don’t allow dogs. It’s such an awkward topic to broach. We don’t want to piss you off and lose a sale, but there are actually some people that aren’t DOG PEOPLE. I have had customers bring their dogs in (without asking), only to find out that the dogs were very aggressive and made other customers feel uncomfortable. And, I’ve had more puppy accidents than I’d like to recall. The same rules apply to studded wading boots. Please ask before tromping around in a shop.
#5 Don’t tell the shop employee or owner how expensive everything is
Unfortunately, the sport of fly fishing isn’t cheap. There are definitely ways to be budget friendly in the sport of fly fishing, just ask and your fly shop employee for help with budget friendly options. Please remember that employees in a fly shop have absolutely no control over the price of anything, and most shop owners are typically marking their product at MSRP (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price), which is what most companies require. Again, there is a huge amount of overhead in retail. Small shops have to pay for all the things already mentioned above (and more), and then try to pay themselves with what’s left over, and often while trying to support a family. Small shops aren’t typically able to buy the same amount of volume as big box stores or even larger shops, so this means that margins (amount of profit) are much lower for those smaller purchases. Try to understand that fly shops aren’t getting rich at the expense of the customer, most of us are making a modest living and trying to do our best to make our mortgage, car payment, and get our kids through college working in a seasonal business.
#6 Don’t forget to say thank you, and suggest your local fly shop to a friend
Did you have a good experience with a fly shop? Tell everyone! Fly shops rely so heavily on their reputation and the recommendations of their customers. If your shop specializes in something, or goes above and beyond, make sure and support them by telling others. Having said that, don’t be afraid to tell your favorite shop how they can improve. I can’t count how many times I have heard that someone has had a poor experience in a shop and they don’t contact the owner. If you can think of ways that a shop can improve, kindly let them know. And if you find that your shop doesn’t fit your needs, find one that does. And remember, shop small whenever possible.