Townsend, Tennessee
July 21, 2009

Welcome to the Fishing Report.  It is sunny and cool again.  The low temperature yesterday was 60 degrees.  That tied a record for the date set in 1984.  Record rainfall for the date was 2.15 inches set in 1921.  Tonight the low is expected to be 60 degrees again.  The water temperature is dropping.  So is the level.  This morning the temperature at the swinging bridge near the shop was 63 degrees. 

Fishing has slowed down some.  I talked to some anglers yesterday who caught trout but not as many as they expected.  This weekend was about the same.  I blame the slowdown on heavy traffic near the roads and campgrounds.  The park was packed this past weekend.  You need to hike a ways when it is like this to get away from heavy human activity.  Also, the water is lower and very clear.  The flow in Little River is below normal right now.  It is time for light tippets.  I would use 6X today.  I would also be on the water at daybreak and late in the evenings.

The higher elevation brookie streams are still fishing extremely well. 

Rain is in the forecast tomorrow and for the next few days. It will be cool today then start warming up a little as the week progresses. If we get the rain, that would help the fishing.  Masses of people visiting the park will slow down the first week of August.  Our country goes into transition as young people go back to school.  We’ll still see some folks here on weekends but not like we have had lately.  After the temperature cools down the older folks with grown kids start coming to our area to enjoy the mountains and streams.

I would still stick with terrestrials.  Ants, beetles and inchworms make up a large part of the trout’s diet in the mountain streams.  In the evenings I would still use a Yellow Sally stonefly pattern.  It would be a dry fly.

It is very important that you blend in with the forest, now more than ever.  Lower water means spooky trout.  Wade as little as possible, wear subdued clothing, stay low and make accurate casts.  Light presentation is essential to success.  The moving water will be better.  The slow pools will be tough.  You might see the trout in the pools but they see you and everything else including your leader and fly line.  Don’t cast a shadow on the area you are fishing.

You may wonder how we are surviving the recession.  I have owned a business since 1973 so this is not something unusual to me.  I don’t like it though, just the same.  Surviving the recession requires us to cut as many costs as possible.  Some costs are fixed and hard to cut.  One of them is electricity.  One way I cut that is changing the timers on our exterior lighting.  Our store is well lit at night.  But now, it is only well lit for two hours after dark.  Then everything shuts off.  I still got a $735 electric bill yesterday.  Fixed costs are tough to work with.

We have a lot of variable costs.  Our payroll is the highest variable cost.  We are operating with one less person than we had last year.  Daniel and I are doing the purchasing for the fly tying department which takes a huge amount of time.  Last year we had a full time person doing that.  I plan to work downstairs helping customers on busy days.  That will help us control our costs.  I’ll have to give up something though.  I don’t know what yet.

We track our customers as individuals.  That is why when you visit our store for the first time we get your name and address.  After that, all sales from you are recorded under your name in your own customer file.  That information gives us a great advantage over our competition.  First we have a mailing list that dates back to 1998.  If you move we often catch it here. We always ask you when you visit if your address is still the same.  We also run the database through software that checks your address and changes it if you have not been here in a while and you moved. That only works if you moved six months ago or less.

Other important information this gives us is customer behavior.  For instance we know that almost 20% of the customers who shopped here either online, by phone or in person during 2007 or 2008 have not shopped here this year.  Maybe they lost their job, took up golf, moved away, quit fly fishing or had some other reason such as not having enough time to go fishing.  Weather and water levels affect customer behavior.

We also know that there are more customers shopping here this year during the first six months than in the same period last year.  So that 20% of our customer base was replaced by customers who had not been in for years or maybe they are new.  It is actually both.  Our customer participation is up 2.41% from last year.

Region 1 is an area that is a 1.2 hour drive from the shop or less.  In that region we have a customer increase of 3.09%.  Region 2 is the balance of East Tennessee spanning to the Cumberland Plateau.  Our customer increase in Region 2 is up 9.09% from last year.

Region 3 is the rest of the world.  Many of that group either visit here to fish and shop, they are likely mail order customers and some live in other countries.  But, for the most part they live in rural communities that don’t have fly shops in the Eastern United States.  Region 3 customers are up 1.38%, which is a much lower increase than the other two regions.  The reason is, less people are traveling.

One piece of the puzzle I don’t have right now is customer visit frequency.  I have to run hours of reports to get that.  I’ll probably do it though.  Remember, I’m not talking about transactions when I refer to customers.  I’m talking about real people with names.

So, more real people are shopping here.  That’s great.  What’s the problem?  Well, on average each customer is spending less.  Region 1 is spending a little less, Region 2 is spending a lot less and Region 3 is about like Region 1, spending 15% less than last year.

So, here is our dilemma.  It takes about the same amount of time to service a customer who spends 15% less than one who spends 18% more.  A lot of what we do is greet people, talk about fishing and other subjects, show customers products in some cases and ring up the sale.  We can watch our payroll closely and make sure there is not a lot of waste but we still need to offer the same level of service. 

Every day we ship orders to customers.  We also have to keep the store stocked, update the online catalog, do the accounting, marketing, write the Fishing Report, put the Little River Journal together, clean the bathrooms, wash windows and a lot of other stuff you would not believe. I spend almost 50 hours a month writing and designing the banners on this report. 

What we have to do is walk that fine line of upholding our service standards while keeping our costs in line including payroll.  It is really as simple as that.  Then we just wait until the economy improves and everything is good again.  We will have failures trying to get everything done.  Nothing runs perfect all the time.  I’m checking and answering my e-mail every two or three days instead of daily. I am not planning any vacations this year.  For the most part, I’ll be here 7 days a week.

One more thing, we learn valuable trends from the customer behavior numbers and make marketing decisions to improve our business. 

What makes running a business really hard is not knowing what is going on with your customers.  That is why we always ask for your name at the front counter.  Thank you for helping us out with that information. 

Have a great day and thank you for being here with us.

Byron Begley
July 21, 2009 

  

Respond To: byron@littleriveroutfitters.com

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