The Weekly - June 9, 2020 - 8
H E A D L I N E S
Angler Katie Cahn stalks trout
in quiet waters in New York's
Angler participation continues to rise during the COVID-19
crisis, and savvy retailers are taking advantage of the uptick.
By Matt Crawford
WHEN GOVERNORS ACROSS THE UNITED
States began issuing stay-at-home orders and
social distancing guidelines in mid-March, a
significant number of Americans knew just
what to do during the pandemic: Go fishing.
Natural resource agencies in states that
allowed or encouraged fishing during the
COVID-19 shutdown reported huge upticks in
resident fishing license sales. Numbers surged
in a diverse swath of states, including Vermont,
Louisiana, New York, South Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, Kansas, and North Dakota.
Did the recreational fishing industry-
which the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
estimates generates more than $49 billion
in retail sales annually-see a correlating
increase in equipment sales?
"It's all over the map," says Justin Sterner,
owner of Outdoors East, a multibrand sales rep
group with accounts in the mid-Atlantic and New
England. "I mean that literally and figuratively."
8 THE WEEKLY / OUTDOOR RETAILER SUMMER 2020
In urban areas, where lockdown orders
were most restrictive, Sterner says many shops
struggled. In states that allowed various retail
operations, however, it's been a boom time.
"From the start of the pandemic until today,
we've posted mind-blowing numbers," says
Bob Shannon, owner of The Fly Rod Shop in
Stowe, Vermont. By the end of May, Vermont
fishery officials reported a 50% increase over
2019 fishing license sales. More anglers on the
water fueled an enormous bounce for Shannon. His online sales were up 1,140% over last
year. Despite his seven guides being forced to
cancel guided trips, the shop's total revenue still
climbed 33% over a comparable period in 2019.
"It wasn't just our online business that
exploded," Shannon says. "We were allowed to
offer curbside service, and customers continued
to come to us and buy what they needed."
In Colorado, Tucker Ladd owns Trouts Fly
Fishing shops in Frisco and Denver. Operating
Matt Crawford lives, fishes, writes, and works
as a senior director for Pale Morning Media in
S COT T M A R T I N
Reeling It In
day by day early in the pandemic, Ladd and his
crew hustled during a much-busier-than-normal
online sales period that saw triple-digit growth.
The approach switched at the Denver store as
Colorado gradually reopened.
"May 9 was the first official day we could
reopen, and we were up about 200% from the
same day last year," says Ladd. "Even missing the
first week, we'll be up substantially in May at the
Denver store from where we were in 2019."
Manufacturers, however, see a more mixed
"Business is off because of store and dealer
closings, but consumer direct in the outdoor
area is, of course, doing very well," says Tom
Rosenbauer, spokesperson for fly-fishing giant
Orvis. "Rods, reels, waders, and fly-tying materials are the high points."
Russ Miller, director of marketing at Umpqua
Feather Merchants, echoes Rosenbauer. "As a
fly supplier, we have seen a dramatic increase
in flies," says Miller. "The other category that
we saw a huge increase in was fly tying during
February, March, and April in particular, but
those sales have continued into May."
At Simms Fishing Products in Bozeman,
Montana, Public Relations Manager John
Frazier says soft goods sales have been slow,
but equipment sales are strong. "We have seen
strength in the sales of waders and boots,"
says Frazier. "Sure, a lot of that has to do with
anglers getting ready for the season, but a lot of
this strength is coming from new people getting
How the fishing industry can build on the
interest that bubbled up during the lockdown
remains unclear. "We can't assume this surge is
the result of some brilliant strategy, or it's the
start of upward growth," says Patrick Berry,
CEO of Fly Fishers International. "We need to
analyze who came into the sport because of this
and figure out how we're going to retain them.
Otherwise, it's a blip, not a trend."
The Weekly - June 9, 2020
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