By Kirk Deeter
Last weekend, I hopped a flight from Denver to Newark, New Jersey, rented a car and drove to central Jersey, and bought a three-day pass to the Fly Fishing Show. It was one of the best “market research” trips I have been on.
Granted, I’ve made a number of trips to the Somerset show. In fact, long before I was involved in fly fishing from the business side, I lived in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and made a point to visit Somerset every winter. I’ve covered it a few more times since, but this was the most lively, and most vibrant I’ve seen this, despite a snowstorm on Saturday, and the storm of the decade brewing for Monday.
Kudos belong to Chuck Furimsky, who had the vision and kept with it, even when AFFTA decided several years ago that the best path to its own relevance involved screwing Chuck over and starting a competing show. Now, much to AFFTA’s credit, that organization has its priorities in better order. AFFTA held its board meeting on site the day before the Somerset show, and is riding the halo effect. Heck, there’s even talk of another joint production somewhere (Atlanta?).
The fact of the matter is that Chuck’s Fly Fishing Shows do more to promote the sport of fly fishing, and serve the consumer base of fly fishing, than any events that AFFTA, or Trout Unlimited, or ASA, or Outdoor Retailer, or FFF, or anyone else does, or probably can do.
Moreover, the Fly Fishing Show, particularly the Somerset event, has become as much a happening as the trade show. I see as much retailer-manufacturer business done there as I do at IFTD, and then there’s the consumer interaction on top of that. Note: That’s not to knock IFTD… I’m on record in support of IFTD and the need for a trade show. I like to see new products there, and I’m comfortable with the trajectory. It isn’t an either-or… think of it, rather, as a two-fer.
But I’ll just say it… the “brilliance” of Somerset is that it happens in the middle of the winter when most serious anglers and fishing businesses don’t have anything else to do but think about fly fishing… and they’re obviously willing to drive through snowstorms to experience it. That allure will never happen with any trade show in July or August, anywhere.
Another takeaway: Somerset always reminds me that the “capital” of fly fishing in America isn’t really in Bozeman, Montana, or Boulder, Colorado, or Seattle, Washington. Those might be capital candidates in terms of rivers and resources, or companies that make stuff. But the capital of capital (money) still sits in the East.
The biggest takeaway of all: It’s all looking up. Everyone feels energy, and optimism, and has better thoughts about the current state of this market right now than I have ever noticed before, and I have never felt that stronger than I just did in Somerset.
If you have your doubts, check it out for yourself next time, especially if you come from the West. The hard part is finding spaces—spaces to exhibit, spaces to park, spaces to eat, spaces to walk.
But who’s going to complain about those things now?
Congratulations, Chuck, and Ben, and everyone else on the team. And thank you.