Last week, when Simms announced that it would begin selling direct to customers as well as placing stricter regulations on how existing retailers can sell Simms products online, it came as a surprise to much of the fly-fishing community. In an era where the fly fishing industry as a whole is said to be shrinking and local fly shops are disappearing from towns all across America on what often feels like a weekly basis, both shop owners and the customers that support them are understandably sensitive to issues such as this one.
As a result, Simms' decision has caused quite a stir. Many have taken flight to online forums to lambaste Simms for turning its back on the very shop owners whose dedication and loyalty were integral to building the Simms brand that exists today. Others have defended the move as inevitable and one destined to build a stronger Simms for the future.
In an interview with Kirk Deeter of Angling Trade, Simms CEO K.C. Walsh explained that Simms would begin selling direct to customers in August and that the company would also no longer allow its vendors to sell Simms products on eBay and Amazon. Simms believes that these decisions will ultimately support the specialty shop by growing the brand and leveling an unfair playing field created by online dealers that offer unauthorized discounts on Simms products.
In the interview, Walsh emphasized that “specialty matters most” to Simms and indicated that Simms plans to continue to focus on the companies and individuals with which they have spent years building relationships by prioritizing inventory for their authorized retailers (over Simms direct sales) and by providing support to maintain the quality and consistency in the Simms products most of us own or covet. After all, you know you're just dying to drop $700 on the G4's.
The eventual reality that will result from Simms decision is unknown to all, but retailers are undoubtedly impacted by this significant change in policy. And while the opinions of largely anonymous individuals on the matter are being given away online like they are kittens, we reached out to a couple of flesh and blood retailers to get their take on Simms' recent move.
Chris Frangiosa, retail manager and buyer for TCO Fly Shops, based in Reading, PA and one of the largest retailers of Simms products in the world, believes that the move will benefit everyone involved and reminds all of us to stay open minded about it. He states that the move was a “logical step for Simms” and wouldn’t be surprised to see more companies begin selling direct to consumers. Frangiosa indicated that he wasn’t at all surprised by the move. In fact, he noticed a few years ago that Simms website was “revamped” to go this route and that Simms had started to “reach out beyond” the fly fishing community.
Travis Duddle, of Hood River, Oregon's Gorge Fly Shop – a Simms dealer of 18 years that has seen their business with Simms grow since it began -- sees things a bit differently. According to Duddle, this decision “won't help small shops at all,” indicating that Simms' decision to sell direct amounts to direct competition to with fly shops. “When the customer comes into the small shop and they do not have an item in stock, they will go direct,” rather than waiting a few days for the fly shops to order the item or even have the item shipped directly to the customer. “We saw this with other manufacturers,” Duddle said.
When asked whether he thinks Simms direct sales will hurt brick and mortar fly shops, Frangiosa points out the Orvis model. Orvis has been around for god knows how long and has been selling direct for just as long. In that time, they’ve built up the largest dealer network of any company in the fly fishing industry and have the strongest brand name in the business. As Frangiosa puts it, “You won’t find any Orvis retailers complaining about Orvis' online competition with them. It only drives more people through the door to purchase the products.” Whatever the case, Frangiosa is on board and “looks forward to both companies growing and helping to build the sport together.”
While Simms' decision to begin selling direct has gotten most of the attention, Travis Duddle points out that the other half of the equation – the banning of eBay and Amazon sales -- looms just as large for some retailers. As Duddle explains, “I don't think Simms understands how important eBay is in the online world. eBay is a great place for dealers to meet new customers. For some people, that is where they shop until they have an excellent experience … then they go to the dealer's site.” With Simms barring these dealers from presenting Simms products on eBay and Amazon, this conduit to new online and even in-store customers will be severed.
Duddle elaborates, “This whole issue is said to be about the extreme amount of discounting. The truth is that there are some shops that have been discounting and [this] will continue. It all happens through email and over the phone. Most vendors know who is the problem, but they just have not done much about it. If these sales agreements mean much, then that is where the energy needs to be put. It only takes about an hour a week for Simms to police eBay and make sure dealers are selling by their sales agreement with Simms. Banning the good dealers from eBay will not stop the rogue shops that dump stuff on eBay all the time. Some of these shops have been caught several times and nothing gets done about it.”
What the future holds for Simms and Simms dealers is yet to be seen, and opinions clearly differ even amongst retailers facing many of the same decisions. What shouldn't be overlooked is the power that the rest of us, as consumers, have. As conscientious consumers, the most important thing we can do is support the shops, online retailers and companies who provide us with the quality products and knowledge to use them to better our days on the water. As Frangiosa points out, “There are many things that your local fly shop can provide that Simms cannot.” And he's right. We as consumers can put our conscience ahead of convenience. If we do, we’ll always go back to our local brick and mortar for the friendly advice from the shop rats, to gawk and prod the $700 waders, and to wave fly rods around in the air like jerks.
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