Orvis, the shrinking fishing tackle business

Back in the 1990s Orvis shops began to spread around the UK following the opening of its first at Stockbridge in the mid-80s. Well-heeled towns like Burford and Bakewell got branches, the northernmost shop appeared in Edinburgh. Now, in 2022, they are all closing down except for Stockbridge, down on the banks of the River Test in Hampshire.

Orvis is going back to its roots selling only fishing tackle, stepping back nearly four decades, except for the online part, now the biggest seller for the company. Even the London store has gone, along with the Andover headquarters and all the clothing. Not long ago fishing tackle space inside its shops shrank as the better selling clothing pushed it out. Since Orvis clothes were designed with the overweight American figure in mind, they needed a lot of floor room.

The reasons for this big change, according to the boss Simon Perkins, are Brexit, Covid and unfavourable exchange rates. Since Brexit, UK trade has fallen substantially, and of course the value of the pound dropped consequently, making Orvis gear a lot more expensive to the British shopper.  Many businesses suffered during the pandemic lockdowns so its perhaps not so surprising Orvis is retreating, leaving a lot of redundant staff.

Will we miss the Orvis stores? Yes, I think so. Fishing tackle shops are becoming a rarity around the country. Many have closed and with them has gone the opportunity to browse tackle and get local fishing advice that you can never get online. Internet shopping sites may be cheaper sometimes, but they are no substitute for physical retailers.

The problem with Orvis was mainly its prices. The bits and pieces of fishing, spools of line, snippers, floatant and the like were pricier than the competition. Quality was generally good although the red tippet spools carried horribly brittle line that snapped off every time you snagged on the backcast. Many have complained about that. Rods and reels are good but I don’t really think any better than other brands. Many are the extravagant claims made in the marketing bumph, backed up by plump beardy ‘designers’ in the current Orvis catalogue. But I have a couple of rods and reels and I’m happy with them. Clothes I never purchased because of the Mr Blobby tailoring, which of course suits the physiques of some anglers I’ve seen about.

Orvis should perhaps have focused on pricing instead of daft marketing strategies like DCL (distinctive country lifestyle) — more green wellies than fishing rods. Now the lifestyling claptrap is gone and you can only wave the rods about in Stockbridge, where choice of stock should be even better and, from the company’s point of view, the clientele more monied. Otherwise it’s online only for UK shoppers. Orvis still lets out fishing on the Test and Itchen, though you’ll pay up to £250 per person in the mayfly. I was once lucky enough to be invited to the Kimbridge beat. It’s a nice bit of water, fairly short. In fact, there’s only about a couple of hundred yards of streamy fly water. The rest is deeper and slow. I think much better value is to be had elsewhere.

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