I’d arranged to meet the owner of the newly-opened Complete Fisherman at around 11am to discuss the shop’s recent success, but as soon as I stepped through the door I realised my date would be delayed.
With six customers queuing at the tills and a dozen others pondering their next purchase, it was obvious that the boss was rushed off his feet ¬ and this was a Monday morning.
Scores of tackle shop owners across the country are limping through the economic crisis, with little reason for optimism ¬ but not 29-year-old Andrew Maitland, who believes things are rosier than they appear.
When a business unit in Colne, Lancashire, became available in November last year, the Rycliffe-based angler put his money where his mouth was, and bought it. Within days of acquiring the lease, Andrew began transforming the building into a thriving fishing store.
The response from locals was instant, and Andrew’s cash till sang a merry tune for the few days after opening. Several weeks on, the bustling atmosphere I was witnessing on what is traditionally a poor day of the week seemed to show that the early flurry of trade had been sustained.
“We’ve been open less than a month and already smashed various financial targets. I couldn’t believe the amount of business we received on the first day of trading. We were solid with customers and takings were astonishing.
That performance wasn’t a one-off ¬ we’ve been brimming with customers ever since,” said Andrew.
With disposable income at an all-time low for many, and the situation forecast to get only worse, many retailers are looking ahead with a sense of dread. Andrew, however, has a different take on things.
“Fewer people will be going on holiday this year and, as a result, they will spend more time and money on their hobbies. Lots of people within the industry are creating an unnecessary Œdoom and gloom’ atmosphere, but I am confident that the formula I have created is going to see me have a profitable year.” Certain parts of the successful equation, such as friendly, knowledgeable staff and a well-designed store, were clear to see, but I was convinced Andrew still had a few secrets up his sleeve. I dug a little deeper.
“I visited lots of tackle shops before I opened. I analysed the layouts, products and even picked a few brains without letting on about my intentions. I also spoke openly to several successful tackle dealers to find out what had made them popular. There’s no doubt that all the research was key to getting off to such a great start,” he revealed.
Such fairytale beginnings can sometimes come spectacularly unstuck; the industry is littered with similar cases. Did this worry Andrew, especially as the country is set to sink a lot deeper into the financial mire?
“I’ll have to move with the times, or risk getting left behind. I’ve worked in shops in the past where they were unwilling to change the status quo and suffered. Too many owners just sit in a corner waiting for people to come in. I’ll be keeping in touch with my customers’ buying needs and trends and trying to tailor my own performance to suit.” Moments later, Andrew handed over a bulk spool of line free to a satisfied customer who had shelled out on a new centrepin.
“If someone buys something expensive then I will throw in a few extras, but on smaller items it makes no sense to slash prices. If you give big discounts on a regular basis, the customer will expect large savings every time, and when they don’t get one, they become disappointed and go elsewhere.” For over an hour I’d acted like a prosecuting solicitor, trying to find chinks in Andrew’s armour. Despite my best efforts, I’d ended up empty-handed ¬ he seemed to have an answer to everything.
Andrew had shown me that the fate of every tackle shop lay in the hands of its owner. Those who chose to stand up and be counted would come through, while those who hid away would fall victim of the financial crisis.