By Aledia Tush
Investing in a bait and tackle shop is a pretty unconventional wedding present to give your daughter, but my father didn’t see it that way. I was one year out of college and working in a bank in Louisville, Kentucky. On the last day of a family vacation in Sarasota, Florida, he dragged me off the beach-a bit unwillingly-to look at a business that was for sale, Mr. CB’s Bait and Tackle.
Along with selling bait, tackle, and CB radios, they had boat and bike rentals. Not exactly every girl’s dream, but my husband and I took on the challenge together. At the very least, I was excited to be moving to the beach.
After eight years, my husband decided to change to a different business, and that left me with a difficult decision-sell or forge ahead and run CB’s on my own. I never really considered myself an angler. My family enjoyed boating. But I loved where I lived, and I loved being a business owner, so I decided on the “forge ahead” option and devoted myself to making it work. It’s my belief that anyone can learn anything, even fishing.
This year, I’m celebrating 40 years of ownership, a time-span, that has included an expansion to two additional properties and rebranding as CB’s Saltwater Outfitters. As I look back, these are a few things I think I got right.
Bait and tackle is at our core and I never forget that, but if I didn’t expand my product offering, I don’t think I’d have made it. I had to broaden my view of who my customers could be and what they would purchase from me.
We’re located a few blocks from Siesta Beach (currently ranked as the “5th Best Beach in the World” by TripAdvisor), and I realized we could attract seasonal tourists by carrying beach clothing and essentials-sunscreen, beach towels, sunglasses. The tackle business by itself is different from the clothing. It all goes together, but it’s different. Woman come in for bait and buy a dress. People will get a compliment on something they’re wearing at the beach or around and say, “I got it the bait store.”
What’s next? That’s the question I’m always asking. I make the time to attend trade shows to see what’s new. For the latest in fishing tackle, clothing and accessories, I attend ICAST every year-and have since the beginning. Now I attend other industry shows such as Surf Expo and Outdoor Retailer. These shows are how I stay ahead of the trends so I can introduce several hot new items to my customers each season. I prefer to delight, not disappoint.
It’s better to have four eyes than just two. Networking with other shops to see what’s been doing well for them has been quite valuable. And I pushed myself to get involved with the industry on a national scale. Serving on the board of directors of the American Sportfishing Association is one of my greatest accomplishments. As a small business owner, to know that I could represent the independent retailer alongside some of the biggest companies in recreational fishing is not only an honor, but it has expanded my perspective.
I decided to be more than just a store. By creating experiences for my customers, I lure them back in more regularly. In the 90’s, we earned an Orvis endorsement for our new fly fishing outfitting services. But we could do more than just sell fly fishing trips and gear-we could cultivate new fly anglers. We started fly fishing classes and seminars, brought in fly tiers and are now hosting all-women clinics. That side of the business has rapidly grown and made us a destination for a wider base of fishermen.
I became an angler…and an avid angler, at that. I not only learned to fish, I entered tournaments. I’ve competed in the Sarasota Tarpon Tournament for the past 30 years. I’m one of two people to ever win it three times. And while I don’t get to fish every day-as all retailers know-my commitment to fishing has taught me the most about how to cater to my customers.
Staying in business is hard. Building it is harder. You have to love every aspect of it, or you can’t do it. Forty years ago, I may have been the most unlikely person to run a bait and tackle shop, but I already loved being a business owner. I just needed to learn to love fishing, too.
Through it all, I keep in mind that it’s our job to have customers leave with a smile. We’re not selling screen doors here. Our industry is about helping people have a good time. People only have a few days off a year and we help them enjoy it. When other people are off, that’s when we’re on.
Aledia Tush is the Owner/Operator of CB’s Saltwater Outfitters and Serves on the Board of Directors of the American Sportfishing Association.