Wellington contributor Jim O’Brien has known Steve Reed for a very long time and cannot remember when Steve wasn’t retailing fishing tackle for a living.
When questioned about this, Steve quickly confirmed that he went straight from college to a job in a sports shop, where his first day’s work was selling Rangoon canes, along with the bits and bobs for customers to make up their own surf rods.
That was nearly 40 years ago. I also remember that soon after that time, on the advice of a friend, I visited the store where Steve worked as I too needed parts for a rod-building session. I was introduced to Steve and couldn’t help but think: “What could this barely-out-of-school youngster know about surf-rod componentry?”
Well, I can tell you he already knew a darn sight more than me, and his product knowledge was way beyond what you’d expect from the short time he’d spent in the industry. When I think about it, all Steve did was visibly lay out the options on the counter, tell me the good and the not-so-good features, and left the choices to me. I walked out of that shop with exactly what I wanted, and on the way home reflected that Steve could have sold me anything he wanted, he was that good a salesman. The fact that he chose not to speaks volumes for the philosophy Steve continues to bring to fishing-tackle retailing.
Steve puts it this way: “What sells fishing gear is the hard-won advice you give customers, keeping in mind that each buyer is a potential long-term client.”
The growing number of second generation clients is testament to the truth of Steve’s mantra.
After working around seven years for a boss, the opportunity arose for Steve to buy into his own business, and along with wife Henri (a special relationship this), he went into that somewhat initially scary area of generating a living based on his own endeavours. And so the Sports Cave, positioned right in the CBD, was born.
It was not really much of a cave, because Steve and Henri’s earlier premises were all large affairs, which, in the heady days leading into the mid-eighties with affordable rents and a seemingly never-ending buoyant economy, was the way to go. For people in business at that time things were pretty cruisy.
Then came the realities of a stock-market crash on top of unprecedented changes to people’s lives forced upon them by the then-government’s programme of economic and social re-structuring.
Eventually, Steve and Henri’s business sense told them that to survive in a marketplace where the cost of space is calculated by the square foot, they had to downsize, and an ongoing bitter-sweet relationship with the retail fishing-tackle market began.
Bitter, because moving to premises less than a quarter the size of their last brought special challenges in display and marketing; sweet, because with hindsight the move was the right one.
‘Small and compact’ has allowed them to develop a more personal relationship with customers. And, best of all, it has allowed long-term survival in a very competitive market. For Steve this is the bonus, because while he could certainly turn his hand to other ventures, tackle retailing is simply right where he wants to be.
Some years ago Steve re-named his business to say it all: ‘Steve’s Fishing Shop’. In addition to the shop’s retailing trade, it offers on-site rod and reel repairs and operates a fishing website with online tackle sales.
While describing the shop as ‘compact’ may seem on the generous side, it is amazing how many rods, reels, terminal tackle and other accessories are on display.
Steve doesn’t find shop size restrictive, simply seeing it as part of being able to successfully function in an area of retailing that is alive and well and extremely competitive. Steve says it is essential to be able to offer customers a solid knowledge of any product he’s selling.
Not everyone coming into the shop will buy something, but it is important to talk to them and share product and fishing views. Steve finds this pays dividends, because the next time that customer visits the shop it may well be to make a major purchase, with advice previously given being the catalyst for his buying decision.
Steve makes a special point of helping any youngster who wants to try fishing or needs advice to progress his or her skills. Shop profits when selling to youngsters are distinctly marginal, I can tell you!
Steve has an excellent assistant in Felix Wenzel, another exceptionally gifted and crazy-keen fisher, while Henri – the one love in Steve’s life that comes before fishing – mostly resides in her cubby hole at the back of the shop, beavering away on the computer and doing accounts. Henri devotes her time between her passion for hobby farming and keeping the shop’s bookwork, computer and accounts in a professional and up-to-date state. These are tasks Henri has attended to throughout the couple’s time in business together.
When Steve began his career in the tackle trade, anglers at that time thought fishing to be more of a pastime and social thing to do, than a sport.
No such things as flasher rigs, bait-flies and circle hooks back then, nor today’s amazing choices between dozens of weighted and soft-bait lures – the hexagonal wobbler was about it.
Choosing a reel was similarly an easy task. Mitchell, Penn and Delfino were pretty much the market, and to be fair, all three brands were a credit to the companies that manufactured them. Rangoon, split-cane and New Zealand-made solid fibreglass rods were the choices available in a time of import-licencing restrictions. Leading Japanese brands Shimano and Daiwa weren’t around, and it took a while for the credibility of Japanese-made tackle to be accepted by Kiwi fishers.
The beginning of the revolution in fishing tackle was, Steve believes, when the first hollow fibreglass rods became available. It was, says Steve, a quantum leap in tackle retailing. The rods were so much lighter to handle and fish with, and they cast significantly further. They were the forerunner of carbon fibre and the many hybrids and brands now available.
Significant too is the choice of reels available today, but best of all is the low cost of getting into fishing. These days a reasonable entry-level rod and reel costs in the region of $70. For this money and a small outlay on basic terminal tackle, you can enjoy hundreds of hours of outdoor entertainment. This is one of the reasons so many people take up fishing, Steve believes.
But the biggest change from Steve’s perspective – and a godsend to the industry – has been the development of braided line. It has opened up so many new areas of opportunity, including fishing in moderately deep or very deep water, general bait fishing or fishing lures and soft baits as light as 3-4g in weight.
The technical advances in braid have been mirrored by similar advancements in rod and reel technology, because stronger rods and more robust reels are necessary when fishing with braid.
As a case in point, not so long ago deep water fishing and jigging was the preserve of free-spool reels. Braid allows for reels to be lighter and smaller, and the industry has stepped up to the mark (and they’re probably still trending upwards) with fixed-spool reels that can cope in all areas of fishing where anglers use braid.
With regard to the fishing resource, Steve believes people’s attitudes have been changing markedly away from ‘meat hunting’ to become more about the enjoyment factor and realising that we’re not catching fish from a bottomless pit. He has definitely noticed anglers respecting the fishery more as pressure on the resource increases. He can see a good and sustainable future, as long as all people involved in the fishery have an awareness of individual responsibility in their use of the resource.
Steve has been a stalwart of his fishing club, the Wellington Surfcasting and Angling Club (WSAC), since 1980, where his excellent angling prowess matches his product knowledge in spades. Equally adept at boat fishing and surfcasting, Steve is a super-keen angler, and while he is also super-competitive (when he needs to be), he just loves fishing for fishing’s sake.
Winning WSAC’s yearly boat or shore points competition is the absolute proving ground for angler skills at this club. Steve has won both four times, and his skill in light-line fishing is astonishingly good.
As an example of his fishing skills, catching a 10-kilo snapper in Wellington waters is not easily achieved, but in recent years Steve has caught many snapper exceeding this mark. Most have been released.
You need to catch a lot of snapper to do this: friends who have fished with Steve have witnessed him catching two or three limit bags in a session, successfully releasing every fish.
Steve is passionate about Wellington’s fishery. Not surprisingly he rates it as his favourite fishing location. He reckons boat fishing for snapper, trevally and gurnard over the summer months in Wellington is as good as anywhere. In one day of boat fishing, and without fishing too hard, it is possible to catch trevally, snapper, gurnard, tarakihi and blue cod. You can add most of the deep water species and kingfish to this list if you have the time.
Similarly, with surfcasting, the opportunities are there to catch half-a-dozen species of quality fish. The diversity of species and habitats have helped Steve to hone his fishing skills to catch individual species, and he likes the excitement factor this challenge brings.
On the national scene, Steve has been successful in winning the New Zealand Angling and Casting Association’s open boat title, and he consistently fishes well in the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council’s SIMRAD Nationals. I’ve fished with Steve on many occasions, and if you care to observe how he goes about his fishing, there is very much to admire and learn from.
I would, and not without reason, call Steve a ‘blood and guts’ fisher. You see, Steve gets so engrossed when fishing that wiping hands on an old towel just doesn’t register, and blood, berley and bits of bait get wiped off on trousers, shirts and jackets! Did I forget to tell you that wife Henri is a clothes washer of some repute?
Steve would be one of the busiest fishers I know, and this contributes to his success. The quieter the fishing becomes, the busier he gets. Awesome baits are tied up, different rigs appear, and during down times he continues to passionately fish flat out. You’ll also get no complaints from Steve.
His fishing philosophy is simple: “First and foremost, enjoy every opportunity you have to fish.” Steve certainly does that!
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