Off-season promotions

Since the completion of the Bassmaster Elite Series regular season, many pros have been busy with promotional appearances, me included.

In late August, I worked the Big Rock Sports Show in Orlando, Fla., and just last week I was in Valdosta, Ga., for the grand opening of a new Gander Mountain store. The last weekend in September I'll be at the Tampa Boat Show.

None of these appearances are out of the ordinary. In fact, bookings like these are common for most touring pros. They're part of what we do when we're not on the water — helping out the sponsors who support us.

The Big Rock Sports Show in Orlando is actually one in a series of regional distributor shows held throughout the country each year. Serving as one of the world's largest tackle and hunting goods wholesalers, Big Rock Sports boasts a customer base of over 15,000 dealers. And whether we realize it or not, much of the fishing equipment we purchase from our local tackle shop actually passes through their hands.

I was at the show to represent Hildebrandt. They're introducing some new products this year, and they wanted to provide additional support for their sales reps working the show. My job was to help dealers see the advantages of these new products.

The show was well attended, and evidently the dealers were there to do more than just browse. Tim Hunter & Associates (the rep group I worked with) reported a sales increase of 40 percent over last year's show. That's huge, and it serves as a strong measure of renewed dealer confidence. Big Rock sales associate, Greg MacLean, echoed the same sentiment, claiming they've experienced a tremendous surge in sales since the Orlando show.

Perhaps their customers are overly optimistic, but I don’t think so. The dealers who have survived this economy obviously know their markets well, and a surge in buying says they believe the tide is turning.

Local litmus test

Buyers from Gary's Tackle Box in my hometown of Gainesville, Fla., also attended the show. And they, too, feel optimistic about the market going forward. In fact, their confidence level is so high they actually doubled their showroom space in anticipation of increased sales.

Store manager, Gary Simpson has years of experience and a knack for spotting key new products and trends. His store offers a solid selection of core products, plus those items fresh to the market.

Besides maintaining a good selection, they also offer special services, like custom rod building and reel repair. And they feature a line of custom angling apparel. Perhaps that's why they have enjoyed growth in a tough economy — like other small shop survivors, they've become a "full-service" retailer.

Like the Big Rock show, the Gander Mountain opening in Georgia was well attended. In fact, hundreds of new customers stood in line prior to the store's advertised 9:00 a.m. opening. And they weren't there to browse either. Sales were strong throughout the weekend. Store manager, David Catlin said the numbers greatly exceeded their expectations.

To help make the promotion a success, Gander Mountain's marketing team arranged entertainment and seminars. Included were country singer Leah Seawright, venomous snake handler Steve Scruggs, NFL great Ray Guy, Richard Petty's race car with crew, several hunting experts, and, of course, I was there to represent Rapala.

Whoever stocked the store knew their stuff, as much of the fishing selection was perfectly fitted to the needs of their local clientele — something you don’t always see from franchise tackle vendors. The selection was broad, not only in soft-plastics, but hard baits as well. According to fishing manager Joshua Braun, their plan is to meet their customers' needs — if they don’t have something in stock, they'll do what they can to get it.

Fishing & football

Anytime a retailer schedules a promotion during football season, they run the risk of low attendance. But that wasn't an issue at this event. Droves of customers showed up wearing their game day colors, obviously planning to squeeze both fishing and football into a busy weekend.

As long as I've been doing this, it still amazes me how much new interest there is in fishing. No matter where or when they hold a show, scores of anglers show up — young and old — all hungry to learn as much as they can about the sport.

At the Gander Mountain promo, one young man in particular stood out. His name was Dakota Rowell, and boy did he know his stuff. That kid was up on all the latest info — like which pros were sponsored by what companies, and who ran what boat wrap on tour. He also knew his tackle inside out — even the more technical aspects of high-end Shimano reels, some of which aren't even available in this country!

At age 15, he already knows more than most aspiring pros ten years his senior, and he's just getting started. Although he has the frame for football, Dakota competes in organized bass tournaments through his local high school and plans to do the same in college. He's typical of thousands of young anglers working their way through the ranks. All across the country, young people are becoming more and more interested in fishing, and you'll find them at promotions like these. It’s rewarding to know the industry is doing a good job of recruiting America's youth.

Nowadays there are so many grassroots programs in place to ensure participation, such as summer camp programs, B.A.S.S.’ Junior Bassmaster program, boys and girls club fishing derbies, high school and college level competitions and much more. And with show season just ahead, these enthusiastic young anglers will have the opportunity to meet and learn from the best.

Across the country, top level pros will be working everything from small in-store promotions to large consumer shows. And don’t forget Bass University, where top-ranked pros offer one-on-one instruction to students in a classroom environment.

It's through promotions like these that anglers of all ages will find ways to improve their skills. And that's what it's all about—teaching people more about fishing.

Simply put, it's what we do.