“We carry just about every brand of fly fishing tackle on the market available to an independent retailer,” says Byron Begley. “And we try and buy our product direct from the manufacturer whenever possible, very seldom going through distributors.”
Lynn Hayes of Maryville, TN., is a veteran fly angler and regular customer who’s been shopping at the store since it opened 15 years ago. “I’ve been to a lot of fly shops, both saltwater and freshwater, and I’ve not seen a better, more complete store than Little River,” he says. “The store has an awesome selection of flies and other tackle.
The top five brands carried in the store are Orvis (LRO is an Orvis-endorsed store), Temple Fork, Fishpond, Scientific Anglers and St. Croix. Score: 15 of 15 100%
“Before we bring a new product into the store, we always develop a merchandising plan for it first,” says Begley. “We know where and how the item will be displayed and how we plan to promote it.”
Additionally, Begley used to distribute a print catalog but found the venture too costly. In recent years he’s put those efforts into developing an interactive Web site with Internet sales capabilities (www.littleriveroutfitters.com). “We are seeing our customer base expand as a result,” he says. “Most of our customers are mainly from the southeastern U.S., but we now sometimes get orders from as far away as New Jersey, California and occasionally even New Zealand.” Score: 15 of 15 100%
The store sells fishing licenses and, if requested, will help customers rig their tackle for no charge. Also, if a customer has a broken rod or reel and it’s a brand that Little River sells, for a small fee they’ll ship it back to the manufacturer for repair or replacement.
What’s more, Paula Begley teaches a beginner fly fishing school, logging some 200 student-days per year.
Fly-tying classes are taught on the second floor in a fully equipped classroom featuring eight fly tying stations, including a vise, magnifier and special lighting at each desk. The store used to also provide guiding services into the National park but because of liability concerns now simply refers people to local guides. Score: 20 of 20 100%
In 2005, LRO saw sporting goods stores open within 35 miles of its location. “I was scared to death,” says Begley. He watched his sales drop 6% the following year, but they’ve since bounced back. “What the situation made us do was take a hard look at our business and at ways to cut costs. Part of the solution was having a greater presence on the internet.”
Wisely, Begley did not shun the big boxes. Instead, he introduced himself to the managers of the various fishing departments, making them aware of his business. Surprisingly, the managers began referring customers to Begley who had specific fly fishing needs the big boxes could not meet. Score: 10 of 10 100%
ADVERTISING & PROMOTION
In addition to its Web-based marketing system already mentioned, LRO keeps a database of its customers on a point-of-sale computer system. The software helps the Begleys keep track of who buys what tackle, where the customer is from and how much that particular customer spent on any one year. This information helps them target their advertising dollars.
Special events are also frequent at the store, especially on winter weekends. For instance, last January the store offered four events: a beginner’s fly tying class, a visit from a bamboo rod maker and two hands-on sessions with expert fly tiers. Score: 10 of 10 100%
Little River Outfitters has 14 employees (three full time). The full-time employees are the two Begleys and Daniel Drake, who is the store manager and full partner. A fourth person, a past part-time employee, will soon be coming on board full time.
“My long-term goal is to arrange the business in such a way that it can go on if something were to happen to me, or if Paula and I decide to move on,” says Begley. “This business has been good to me.” Score: 15 of 15 100%
Even if you don’t sell fly fishing equipment, there is much an independent tackle retailer can learn from the Begleys. Not only do they have a beautiful, spacious store in a prime location near the entrance to a national park, it is well managed, well stocked and has knowledgeable, helpful employees. 100%