Anglers have been hooked on fishing and outdoor brand Catch Co. since starting their Mystery Tackle Box subscription program, and rescuing people from the indoors. The latest way Catch Co. is reeling in stronger customer relationships? Brick and mortar stores.
Trademark’s Laura Hale, Director of Marketing and David Pratt, VP of Leasing, talk with Catch Co’s Teeg Stouffer, Director of Retail Experience, about the journey from online to in-store and how to evolve the customer experience along the way. Warning: this episode includes a few fishing jokes.
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Laura Hale: This is Laura Hale, Trademark’s Director of Marketing, and I’m here with Stouffer, Director of Retail Experience at Catch Co., and David Pratt, Trademark’s VP of Leasing. Teeg shares origins of Catch Co.’s Karl’s Bait & Tackle and explains their shift to brick-and-mortar storefronts. We also explore the importance of experiential retail and their plans to bring the outdoor fishing focus brand life.
David Pratt: Teeg, can you please share more about your background and role with Karl’s?
Teeg Stouffer: Yeah, I’d be happy to. I met Ross Gordon, Catch Co.’s founder, 10 years ago, and we’re celebrating our 10-year anniversary. So, at the time, I was running a nonprofit organization in the fishing industry and Ross was launching Mystery Tackle Box, and Mystery Tackle Box is really the thing that got the whole ball rolling. And he and I met at ICAST which is the fishing industry’s annual trade show. And I loved this idea of a subscription box for fishing, and I wanted to put educational conservation content in the boxes. So that’s when Ross and I met, when he was just first starting this, and I was building up this nonprofit.
And then about five years ago, Catch Co. had grown to the point where it could use some outside help. And I was no longer running my nonprofit full-time. I was working at an experiential marketing agency, and we did a fair amount of work in the outdoors industry. Ross and Catch Co. had grown to the point where they felt like they could use some outside help and they were getting ready to launch this thing, Karl’s Bait & Tackle. And so, I was able to step in as an agency partner and help get Karl’s off the ground. We launched it at the Bassmaster Classic, and it was such an incredible thing, launching Karl’s. It was really one of the proudest things I’ve ever done. And then I went on to work with Catch Co. through either an agency or contractor relationship for the following few years until last year when I was invited to come join on a full-time basis.
Hale: So, Teeg, this is Laura. Catch Co.’s got a huge umbrella of products, custom collaborations, the tackle box you mentioned, Karl’s. How did the brand originate? How did it start?
Stouffer: It all started with Mystery Tackle Box, and Mystery Tackle Box was the original subscription box of fishing. And today, it’s still by far the largest subscription service in fishing, and subscribers get a monthly box of joy. And it’s like Christmas every month when it shows up in your mailbox and you get to open it and it’s truly an experience. And that’s really where it all started. Now you find Mystery Tackle Box not only through subscription, but you find it in retailers all over the US. So that’s really a backbone of Catch Co. is Mystery Tackle Box.
And then early on in those days, Mystery Tackle Box also rolled out BioSpawn, its own brand of lures. And BioSpawn has continued to grow. It’s still around today. And so many other products and brands have come online in the years since and some really powerful collaborations like our collaboration with Googan Squad.
Pratt: First of all, we are excited about Karl’s opening their first store with us here at WestBend. How, at this point, did you guys decide to move to physical stores?
Stouffer: A few years ago, we launched Karl’s Bait & Tackle, which has evolved to become Karl’s Fishing and Outdoor as a direct-to-consumer digital platform. And that really came from the success of Mystery Tackle Box. So, if you’re getting this Mystery Tackle Box in the mail each month, and then you crack it open, and there’s a whole bunch of awesome lures in there, and you want more of that one lure, you fished with that one lure and you lost it, where do I get more?
Well, you can’t wait for another one to come in your next Mystery Tackle Box because we know what we’ve shipped every single customer, so we make sure we don’t send customers repeats so you’re always getting fresh, new things in your Mystery Tackle Box. So how would somebody get more? Previously, we just pushed them to other retailers, but we needed to be able to answer the question for our loyal customers – hey, how do I get more of that? And so, we launched Karl’s as a way that people, if they liked what they got in their Mystery Tackle Box, they could get more.
And as the site continued to grow and grow and grow, now we offer brands from all over the fishing industry, not just our own stuff, but lots of other manufacturers available on Karl’s. It’s really become the premier website in the outdoors industry that is membership based. It’s a club. And so, you pay an annual membership fee, and you get all kinds of perks, like free shipping, up to 30% off, and exclusives, and all this super cool stuff. And so, there comes a point in the evolution of something like that where to legitimize yourself, to continue to grow, you need to build real in-person, real life relationships with your customers, and that’s where stores come in.
Pratt: So again, I’m assuming that this Fort Worth market, there were a lot of folks that were searching online from this area. Is that correct? Is that one of the reasons you chose this location?
Stouffer: Texas is fishy. And we have a lot of customers in Texas. And so, there’s a few metros in the US that we do a bunch of business in. So it made sense for Fort Worth to be one of our first locations. It could have been anywhere in Dallas Fort Worth, and to some degree, it could be anywhere in Texas. But really, Fort Worth is kind of the spot on the spot. That’s what we say in fishing. If there’s a good fishing spot, there’s usually a spot on the spot that holds really all the fish, and Fort Worth was a spot on the spot for us.
Hale: You know what you taught me? Is it called an angler?
Stouffer: An angler, that’s the gender-neutral term. So as opposed to saying fisherman, which is very specific to one gender, we tend to say angler.
Hale: Yeah. And you said there were how many anglers dropped after the pandemic started?
Stouffer: We saw a massive spike. Fishing went crazy during the pandemic. Everybody in the fishing business gained, but we in particular surged because we were a digitally native direct to consumer company, we weren’t dependent entirely on bricks-and-mortar retail and the challenges that brick-and-mortar retail had during the pandemic. So, we really did good during the pandemic.
For as bad as the pandemic was around the country, the good thing is it got an awful lot of people outside, and that’s actually our company’s mission is to rescue people from the indoors. We want people outside, and we just know fishing is a great way to do it. So, the fishing industry estimates that it added about a million anglers during the pandemic. And that has to do with youth sports were shut down and people couldn’t do the normal things they would normally do. And certainly, being indoors had its limitations. Fishing is something that’s accessible to everybody. And it kept people outside, got people outside, it’s something they could continue to do outside.
And so, we kind of thought like 2021, after things started to subside, we’d see life go back to normal. Maybe fishing would have had its moment, but we continue to see it grow in 2021. Over the last year, we’ve continued to see continued growth, which is just so exciting. And then we’ll see what 2022 brings. It was a cold spring, that doesn’t help anything in terms of fishing. But our prospects are good. We’re really excited.
Hale: So, I’m excited for you guys because you’re going to be able to translate online to in store. So, what are you guys considering to make that impactful when you open this first store? What kinds of activations can we expect to find at the Karl’s storefront?
Stouffer: We are so excited to open stores. And this is really experiential retail. If you just wanted transactional retail, that already exists. There’s already a lot of places you can go and just buy fishing stuff. So, our store is going to be a platform for relationships, for learning, for people to meet up, build skills, and check stuff out and see stuff firsthand.
But we’ll do an event a week. Every single week, there’ll be an event at our store, and those events will be so widely varied. They could be as expected as a 4th of July. There’s a lot of fanfare when we release a new lure. So, if we release a hot new bait, it could look kind of like a Nike shoe drop. I mean, we released a bait with Granger Smith last year and we didn’t know how many to produce, so we took our best stab at it. We kind of made a stretch goal, and we sold out of all of our inventory in like 30 minutes. Some of our stuff has just gotten so hot that when we drop a new bait, that can be an event in and of itself. But we’re so committed to getting different kinds of people outside that I can see some of our events being mommy and me fishing at 11:00 AM on a Wednesday. And we’re so grateful that our first store is right on the banks of the Trinity River.
Pratt: So are we. We are hoping that that pier is going to come together because we think that would be just that much more of a great experience along here in Fort Worth. Hopefully that comes together. It’s going to be fun. Why do you think experience is important in retail in today’s environment?
Stouffer: I think experience is really important in today’s retail environment because if you just wanted to buy a thing, there’s very convenient ways to do that. So, a person, if they just want some bait, they can go to shopkarls.com, they can click a couple buttons, and it’ll be on their doorstep in a few days. It’s just become so easy to acquire goods that there has to be a reason to have a physical in-person experience. And some of that might be wanting to try something on. So, if somebody wants to try on some of the rad fishing clothes that we’re going to have at Karl’s, then they can come and they can try them on, and that’s an experience. And it’s a convenience because you don’t have to go through the hassle of returning something if it didn’t fit. So that’s an experience, but it’s an experience offered by pretty much all bricks-and-mortar retailers.
If you’re a Karl’s Club member, you’re treated like royalty in our store; everybody likes to be treated good. So, we’ve got a super cool fridge, and when a Karl’s Club member walks in, they get a free beverage. They get to change what music we’re listening to in the store. There’s all kinds of little Easter eggs and surprises for Karl’s Club members in our store because that membership is such a big part of Karl’s. And all the discounts and all that kind of stuff that we do online, that all translates in store.
But I think we learned through the pandemic that being live and in person and having real life in person relationships, it matters. And when you take that away, that’s not good. And anglers, we’re storytellers and liars, and there’s some part of our sport that’s like solitary, and there’s some part of our sport that’s very community focused. There’s really no more community-oriented brand than the Catch Co. brand and the Karl’s brand. We’re super focused on community. And you see our online communities, they’re thriving, and it’s really what makes people passionate about us and the stuff we’re doing. So, we wanted to make a place where that community can exist in real life.
Pratt: So, I do have one question to add on that. Will there be any alcohol in any of those special beverages or is it just-?
Stouffer: Usually not. We didn’t pull a liquor license and it’s not part of our model. And I would also say having a beer while you’re fishing is part of the culture for some people, but certainly not for everybody. And one of the things that is so exciting to us is that young people are flocking to fishing and really flocking to our brands. And so, one of those guys, they’re not old enough to have a drink, so we’re real sensitive to that. And so, Karl’s drink de jure is Mountain Dew. Karl loves Mountain Dew.
Hale: If I’m a novice and I’m coming to the store versus someone that’s an experienced fisherman, how do you kind of walk people through the store? Will it kind of be approachable? Will you have associates walk people through the whole experience, kind of guide them from lures all the way to waders to rods? And then what kinds of touch points are you going to use between your online database to these new foot traffic customers?
Stouffer: Sure, sure. I’m super stoked to answer this. I’ve got a couple of things on this. So, when somebody comes into the store, we all come at it differently. I started fishing when I was three years old. I’m obsessed with it. I’ve been involved with the fishing industry for over 20 years. I’m like a super expert. I not only know all the products, I know who made the products. I probably know the name of the lure designer. Like I’m super, super into it.
So, what I expect in a retail situation is very different than what somebody expects if they’re like I kind of want to learn how to fish, where do I start? And we need a place that’s truly choose your own adventure. And some people want to talk to a person; they want to come in and have a real-life person answer their questions, and we can meet that need with the experts we’ll have in our store.
But some people don’t; some people are introverted, and they don’t want to admit that they don’t know stuff. So, we have these shopper assist cards. So, when you come in, there’s cards right by the door, and they list out different questions we think people might have like new to fishing? Shopping for a gift? Want to learn about power fishing? Want to learn about fishing in this area? And you can pull the card and it’ll guide you through the store in a physical, hands-on, printed paper way. And then there’s also QR codes if you want to go deeper and see videos and things like that. So, you get to have the experience that best suits you in the store. You can have a guide in the store who walks you through, or you can have a paper guide and learn as you go.
But the other thing we learned is there are tons and tons of people trying to learn about fishing right now, and it’s kind of hard. So, we launched this new program, and it’s called Cast & Seek, and it’s a very approachable step-by-step way that somebody can learn how to fish. And right inside the door, there’s a New to Fishing display, and it has three steps, you can select the items you need, and in your Cast & Seek kit, it has a waterproof binder that you can flip through, and it tells you every step with a QR code and a video where you can learn how to do that step. And so, we’ve created this whole platform called Cast & Seek that we think is going to be great to help rescue people from the indoors and get them fishing.
Hale: That’s exciting. You guys are really good at content. I did a deep dive on Instagram. I immersed myself in it. I learned terminology like a Googan, a Texas rig, a chatterbait. What’s skunking by the way?
Stouffer: You don’t want to get skunked. So, a skunking is when you go fishing and you don’t catch any. So that’s when you get skunked.
Hale: I saw it a lot and I was like I don’t feel comfortable, I’ll ask him tomorrow. Yeah, but there’s all this terminology. We learned so many cool ways you can cut touch people just on social media, email, texts, whatever that you guys do. But I thought that was really fun. So it’ll be nice that you guys have the content touch points in the store to kind of tie it all together.
Stouffer: We were talking earlier about the events we might do at the store. And you’re right, we invest a ton in content. It’s a huge part of what Catch Co. is and what Karl’s is, is content. And it’s not just social media one-time drops. We produce- As a matter of fact, we were just a runner up in the Brand Film Awards for our film Obsession with Color. Jen Kravassi, who is a phenomenal artist, and she’s doing a whole bunch of the fish art in our store, we can talk about that, but we did a documentary about Jen. It is called Obsession with Color. It just got runner up in the Brand Film Awards. We’re super proud of that.
And every so often, we’ll drop new series. So, on the video screen behind me – you can’t see it if you’re listening – is Unchartered, and Unchartered is our YouTube series. And let’s say there’s a new season of Unchartered coming out, I could absolutely see hosting a watch party at HD Supply. And we’d love to invite everybody out to a watch party when we’re launching a new series or new documentary.
Pratt: While you were actually doing your deep dive, I was actually in Las Vegas at our ICSE trying to bring more retailers around. Are there any particular retailers that you feel like Karl’s wants to be around in shopping centers? Because I know we’re hopefully going to do a lot more deals with you guys. And you mentioned HD Supply earlier, and I think that’s a perfect example. But are there any particular, again, brands? Or do you trend more towards men because there are more men anglers? Or is it pretty much 50/50? You tell me.
Stouffer: We are definitely one of the most accessible families of brands in fishing to women. There are a handful of very female specific brands out there – Do Something Good is one of those brands, they’re a women’s outdoor brand. But we tend to be very accessible to women. We’re super passionate about seeing women in the outdoors. I have said for years, it was really my mom and grandma that got me into the sport of fishing, and now I make my living in the fishing industry. So, I’m super passionate about engaging women in the outdoors.
About 40% of licensed buyers are women. That still makes 60% of licensed buyers men. So, it is a majority male sport, but the fish does not care who’s holding onto the other end of that rod. It does not matter. Your age, gender, ethnicity doesn’t matter. Like anybody can fish. The water is open as the American Sport Fishing Association likes to say, and it’s open to everybody. And we really are passionate about getting people from all walks of life out on the water with a rod in their hand.
Hale: Well, that’s what I liked about the content. It was very inclusive. There were all ages, all types of kids, kids and parents, women, men, and I liked that it was approachable. So, when I watched the content, it was very relaxing. It’s almost like you’re on vacation a little bit. It’s like a nice escape. I was like, oh, the water, the boat, the music, the drone. I was in it. So, it was a nice little respite yesterday.
Pratt: It sucked you in.
Hale: It did. I mean, I could see why it goes viral, especially because it’s just like a nice, pleasant culture after a long day of all the things, just enjoying some fishing content, seeing some bass, all of it. Googans is the influencers you work with, right? All their content, it’s a nice flow.
Stouffer: We work with a ton of influencers from all walks of life. That Googans are the superstars, that’s for sure. But as a matter of fact, during our grand opening, a bunch of our Texas influencers are going to swing by to say hi, and we’re stoked about that.
One of your questions, David, was what about other retailers that you’d want to have co-tenancy with? And we’re really excited to be in the same shopping center as Tyler’s and johnnie-Os. Those are great co-tenants for us as far as we’re concerned. We’re stoked about Quince, when that opens. HG Supply is a great co-tenant for us.
But I would say that from our perspective, other retailers that lean towards the outdoors and lean male, that’s helpful to us because if you look at license sales, that’s one way to look at who’s fishing. If you look at angler hours, angler effort hours, how many hours are spent on the water, it skews even more male. So, I would love it if there was one of those like hipster, barber, gimme a whiskey on the way through the door kind of places next door to us. I would love it. Any of those like brand boutique type things that lean outdoors-y and lean male, that’s great co-tenancy for us.