Fishing is one of the biggest categories in terms of the number of Southern African retailers selling fishing related equipment, clothing and footwear — and most of the 350 fishing specialists are independent traders. In addition, there are more than 650 sport and outdoor retailers who also stock fishing gear, bringing the number of fishing tackle traders to more than a thousand.
It is also the only market category in South Africa that warrants an annual trade only show — the South African Tackle Agents and Distributors (SAFTAD) show in August.
The state of the fishing industry could therefore be a good indicator of the state of the sport and outdoor retail trade.
In 2018 fishing tackle to the value of R239-m were imported into South Africa (that is before wholesale and retail margins were added). That was 13% more in Rand value than in 2017. The volume of fishing tackle units imported was, however, 10% lower in 2018 than in 2017, which signify the concerning combination of higher prices and less demand.
Over the past year, fishing tackle traders indeed found that it was tough times for the industry. More than half the respondents to the Sports Trader survey on The State of the SA Tackle Trade* describe the past year as either Extremely Tough or Difficult.
The 22% who said that trading was extremely tough, reported sales being down more than 20% from the year before, while the 33% who described trading conditions as Difficult, were more philosophical, indicating that it is to be expected that sales would be down in the current economic climate.
But, that gloomy outlook is not quite universal, because 28% of the respondents found the past year was either Surprisingly good (17%) or Better than expected (11%). A further 17% of them are more neutral, reporting sales about the same as the previous year.
Interestingly, the respondents that are distributors of fishing tackle are much more positive than the retailers, as all the respondents who said the past year was Surprisingly good are distributors, and two-thirds of the distributor respondents said that 2017 was a good year for them.
For most (more than three-quarters) of all the respondents trading conditions were not too bad in 2017 — varying between so-so (12%), moderately good (35%), to very good (for 29%). Only 18% said that trading was extremely tough in 2017.
Impact of the drought
It was, however, not only the weak economy that impacted on the fishing tackle trade — the drought in many parts of the country also had negative impact, especially on the freshwater market where customers could not go fishing, reported 39% of the respondents.
This was especially evident in a drop in sales in the Cape area, where some dams just about ran dry, adds a distributor.
On the other hand, an anonymous distributor found that “the drought definitely had an impact on freshwater angling, but growth in other areas more than made up for it.”
The economy did, however, have an impact on the type of products bought by customers: anglers bought more consumables like lines, lures, hooks that don’t cost much, but have to be replaced often said more than half (56%) of the respondents.
“The servicing of reels etc. was more in demand,” indicated Theo Herbst of TJ’s Bait and Tackle, who is supported by 22% of the respondents. This is another indication that anglers were keeping more expensive equipment like reels for longer periods instead of replacing them.
On the other hand, 28% reported there was no change in product demand from their customers, while 11% found that customers bought more expensive items from well-known brands than before because it is more durable.
Biggest challenges faced
For most of the respondents (83%) the current tough economic conditions is one of the biggest challenges faced by the industry, because they claim it makes it difficult for anglers to buy as much fishing tackle as in previous years.
As a supplier explains: “no doubt, the consumer is looking for affordable alternatives.”
But, interestingly, the second biggest challenge 66% of the respondents identified was that there are too many retailers competing for the same customer base.
Crime at fishing spots and the fact that imported equipment is becoming more expensive are industry challenges identified by half of the respondents.
But, in the fishing industry direct sales to consumers does not seem to be such a big problem as in the sports industry — whether via online websites or brands approaching consumers directly. Only a third of the respondents identified this as a problem.
“The bigger retailers are cutting prices and so making it difficult for the smaller retailer to survive,” is another challenge for specialist tackle traders, says Anthony Pretorius, of the Tackle Shack in Mossel Bay.
While “fewer agents who are prepared to visit retailers,” is a problem identified by Mohamed Mahmood of Skerparabie Trading.
He is supported by Macksons Sport and Outdoor who says “online ordering that has replaced supplier visits to retailers,” is a major challenge.
Two-thirds of the distributors who responded were exhibiting at the SAFTAD show this year. For all of them “meeting customers and discussing their concerns” are one of the main benefits of exhibiting at the show.
The show also offers a good opportunity to “share new products with our loyal client base” says an exhibitor who wishes to stay anonymous.
While the show offers an opportunity to place orders for the coming year as you can see the equipment from so many suppliers under one roof — a big benefit for 38% respondents — the nature of the show has changed over the past few years to more of a look now, buy later experience. The economy and tighter budgets could be a reason why nearly 40% of visitors say they visit the show to see what is available but that they will place orders later.
The show also has another important function. More than half (54%) of all respondents say the main benefit of attending the show is because it is essential to attend to see the trends in the fishing tackle industry.
Other benefits of attending the annual trade show is to find new customers or suppliers (for 38%) and about a third go to the show to socialise and talking shop.
About a third don’t attend the SAFTAD show. This is mainly because they don’t see the need because they regularly interact with their customers and show them new products, says 57%.
The economy also affects show attendance, as 43% of the respondents said the expense of travelling to Johannesburg to exhibit or visit was too high during the current depressed economy and that is why they don’t attend.
Nearly a third furthermore say that regional roadshows by some distributors — or pre-show hosting of retailers — reduces the need for visiting the show.
The issue of Sports Trader in which this article was published went to print before this year’s SAFTAD show and it was therefore not possible to report on show support. Over the past few years visitor and exhibitor numbers have, however, been dropping at trade shows. This is also an international trend.
* The State of the SA Tackle Trade survey was conducted online during July and early August 2019. Retailers and suppliers active in the tackle industry were invited to complete the questionnaire. A third were distributors or manufacturers. Most respondents chose to stay anonymous.