Every once in a while I make a mistake. Yeah, they're few and far between, but I have to come clean about one of my blunders. One of my past articles was named "God Bless Wal-Mart", and it definitely got some discussions going - most of them not so good. At the time, I was employed; life was grand, la-dee-dah-dee-dah. In other words, living with a false sense of security. When I wrote that article (February 2008), I didn't even ponder what small businesses go through in order to coexist with the dynasty that Sam built - that was wrong.
The headlines of the paper a few days ago stated that though the economy is reluctantly improving, a lot of folks are still struggling, especially small businesses. Now, I still am a frequent shopper at Wal-Mart. It's cheap, and we all look for bargains in this economy. I won't stop shopping there, that's for sure. But, if I don't buy my tackle at Wally World, Wally won't miss me.
WALLY vs JERRY: This past weekend, I paid a visit to my favorite little tackle shop. It was in the upper 70's and sunny, so everyone but me was out on the water - the place was deserted. I asked them how business was - steady. Over the years they have built a good customer base, and those folks (me included) keep coming back to make their purchases, even when they have more tackle than they need already (uh, that'd be me as well). It's not the tackle that keeps folks coming back. You can get that just about anywhere. The things that keep folks coming back can be found in this picture. See if you can spot them.
Yeah, the "buy one get one free" sign is certainly something you won't see in the tackle section at Wal-Mart, but there's something else. What I'd like to point out is the guy behind the counter. Jerry can ring up your purchase, but most importantly, he can truthfully answer the question "where are they biting?" It's that knowledge and the personal touch that only a small business can provide.
I didn't go to see Jerry to buy anything (though I did), but to drop off something - plastic bags. See, even small expenses can add up. So, Jerry often uses plastic shopping bags rather buying his own shopping bags. Rather than throwing them away or returning them back to the store where I got them, I take my old bags back to Jerry. So, the next customer may get a bag from Publix, or Target. Of course, some of the bags I dropped off had the Wal-Mart logo on them. Wal-Mart, helping the little guy - irony hard at work. I'd love to see the guy that takes home his purchase in a redirected Victoria's Secret bag though...
DICK vs DAVID: The main thing that separates us from other breeds of anglers is our boats. Since paddle craft certainly aren't necessities, we tend to window shop more before making the purchase. Often that takes us to the windows of the big box stores because of the advertising they can afford. If you're buying a tent, a baseball bat, or a new pair of running shoes, those types of businesses are probably where you need to be. Like Wal-Mart, they can buy in bulk and save you money - that's a good thing.
But for us, we need to visit a paddling store. Once again, I ask you to look at the following picture, and see if you can tell the difference between this shop and Mr. Big Box.
Pictures don't do this place justice because over to the left you'll find just about every make and model of angling vessel imaginable. David was unavailable for a picture because he was helping someone load a new boat. Over to the right you see boats still in the shipping plastic. Not shown are hundreds of others, waiting for good homes. The main difference between a paddle shop and a big box store can be found in that back area. That's where the magic happens, I like to call it "service". That where "service after the sale" comes in. Whether you need some rod holders installed, need a hole patched, or simply need 3 original equipment rivets to complete your own modification, that's where it happens. Sorry Dick, but you're no Authority when it comes to our Sports. Get it? If not, take another Gander …
A paddle dealer will give you service before the sale by asking relevant questions to determine which boat will best fit your style of fishing. Service during the sale by being able to offer many brands, with a seemingly endless array of colors and options. He will have paddling experience, years of it, and will gladly share his knowledge. He will also have accessories that most others places won't carry. I found racks and racks of items that I never dreamed existed. If you don't go, you'll never know either.
Let's be clear, I'm not taking a jab at Wal-Mart or the box stores just because it's easy. They often employ knowledgeable and service oriented folks, so no offense to them. All I am saying is this. As we scramble to make paychecks stretch a little farther around the corner, let's not forget about folks that are in business to give the fishing community and the paddling community their service in return for the dollars we're going to spend anyway. This is truly a way to "save money, live better".
See you out on the water...
"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after"
~ Henry David Thoreau