Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bass Pro Shops- A New Outlook....

I remember the first time I ever stepped foot into a Bass Pro Shops store.
Between my initial awe, shock and complete overwhelming nausea, I didn’t know whether to turn left, right or simply around and out the doors.
I was a part-time worker at a small fly shop close to my hometown (Reaction Fly and Tackle in Abbotsford, B.C.) and truly loved the feel of working with a relaxed and tight-knit group of guys who, like me, worked to collect discounted fly gear instead of nominal pay cheques.
Petrified of the industry (not always the most compassionate crew), I was shaking in my boots that word would get out that I had stepped foot into the devil; Bass Pro Shops.
Bass Pro Shops in Calgary.
I muttered as I walked through the aisles, shook my head at the life sized photo of Bob Izumi, bitched to myself that this was the reason fly shops have a hard time making it, and found myself briefly questioning if the cartoon character from King of the Hill was sponsored by Bass Pro and if he even actually fished.
Dave Mercer rocking the stage (he is one seriously funny dude!)
It was an uncanny feeling. I was both incredibly impressed and disgusted at the same time; similar to that feeling of meeting a beautiful man who simply can’t stop saying something stupid.
Ladies, you know what I’m talking about…….
So several years later when (now) friend George Wallace (who consequently works for Bass Pro in Toronto), asked me to participate in a seminar at the new store opening in Calgary, I immediately had my answer; “No.”
The fact that the grand opening fell on my birthday weekend certainly didn’t help matters either.
“I already get enough grief, being who I am as is. There is no way I’m getting involved in this one George. Calgary will have your head, and if you ever think you’ll make it in B.C., you’re wrong.”
Man, was I ignorant. It’s amazing what indoctrination, incorrect influence, and close-minded people will do to one’s opinion.
It’s no secret that I’m one to voice my thoughts (unfortunately), so I sat down to a phone conversation with George to let him know my gut feeling on the whole situation.
“You’ll put the ma and pop shops out of business”.
He was patient and answered me kindly, “This is about inspiring people to love, enjoy and conserve the Great Outdoors! The “Ma & Pa Shops” you speak of will always enjoy the support of their core customer-base . . . no matter the destination, or if you prefer, preference, the overall experience and the success therein will always be defined by the level of customer service.”
“Well, sounds like just a bunch of rich dudes who don’t fish, and promote the sport to the equivalence of a carnival”.
“I’ll try and keep this short; two words for you: Humble Beginnings . . . back in 1972, Bass Pro Shops started out with a mere 8ft of space in the back of a local liquor store. Yup . . . I said it! Since then, Bass Pro Shops has grown into the leading retailer of outdoor recreational products. This didn’t just happen overnight; and, we didn’t get to this point without the clairvoyant vision of Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops Founder – an avid angler himself! From the novice angler & hunter to those considered unrivaled in their “game”, including those inducted into the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame, Bass Pro Shops is home to the outdoor enthusiast. Much like yourself, albeit we’d rather be on the water or afield, a big part of Bass Pro Shops’ success has been its commitment to conservation; not just to those that volunteer countless hours of their own time, but to the resource as a whole.”
“There are two things I’d like you to take away from this; it’s paramount that those we support in the field not only be at the top of their game, but ultimately embody the character of Bass Pro Shops. Second, and last, as you said, at the end of the day, it all comes back to inspiring people (young or old) to love, enjoy & conserve the Great Outdoors!”
“You’re geared for the newbie, commercialized, fruity, and way too mainstream….” I caught myself on that one. Too mainstream? Seriously? Did I just say that? When did fishing hold the same standards of couture clothing and underground hip-hop? Wasn’t fishing supposed to be about having fun? Wasn’t I promoting the sport for the sole purpose of getting more people involved? God knows, I don’t do it for the money…….
And “geared for the newbie?” Yeah, so?
If everyone has to start somewhere, doesn’t this just make perfect sense? As an angler advances, they will undoubtedly adopt more advanced recourses, meaning quality fly shops, with quality staff and quality gear. It’s inevitable that as they advance, so will their knowledge of gear, fishing buddies and ultimately, choice shopping locations.
Bass Pro was taking the Joe Blow that holds the light-up spinning rod, and turning their heads, if not only for a second, to witness a fish caught on a fly rod. These same anglers are lost in the aisles of Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart, either unaware of ulterior methods or intimidated by major fly shops who can be frightening to approach.
Giving a tying demo at the Calgary store's grand opening (Richard Gibson photo).
Either way, they would be bound to be a lost cause.
I would know. See, I was there once too. I was scared to death about stepping foot into a fly shop for fear of looking like a complete fool. If only I knew then what I know now……
It became clear as we chatted, that Bass Pro Shops was the first step for many in a sport that consists of an endless flight of stairs.
One month later, I was on my way to Calgary, eager to step foot into their new Bass Pro. The people there were kind and the customers were excited and sincerely eager to learn what I was doing with my “crazy flying rod”.
The boys behind the scenes were hilarious and nothing like what I figured a multi-million dollar company would be. They laughed, treated each other kindly, and made wise cracks that had me clutching my ribs at times.