Orvis President on fly fishing, new customers during COVID-19

Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi and Alexis Christoforous speak with Orvis President Simon Perkins on the new wave of fly fishers amid COVID-19.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: With social distancing being such a key part of staying safe during this pandemic, perhaps there's no better sport to partake in than fly fishing. Outdoor gear and fly fishing business Orvis is reeling in the sales. Just had to say it. The company's online fishing sales are up 100% since last year, and its wading products up 228% year over year.

Let's bring in the President of Orvis now, Simon Perkins. This is part of our continued series Investing in the Great Outdoors. Orvis, good morning to you. I have to say I'm one of the new folks to fly fishing. I tried it for the first time during the pandemic. Loved it. Definitely an art to it. Not easy for me but absolutely had a great time being out in the great outdoors. Tell me about how many new customers you have getting involved in fly fishing.


SIMON PERKINS: Yeah, Alexis, Brian, it's awesome to be on with you. Thanks for having me.

You know, we've seen an influx as far as new participants to the sport for sure, and, you know, probably the best way to measure that is through our entry-level products. We offer a lot of free fly-fishing classes at our stores. We've had to bring that online and find new creative and innovative ways to do that.

But our best way to measure it is through our entry-level products, and they have been up significantly, which means new people are looking for these ways to connect with the outdoors, and fly fishing is a great way to do that.

BRIAN SOZZI: Simon, you've also taken this opportunity to roll out digital classes. What's the response been to that, and does that help your business?

SIMON PERKINS: Yeah, it really does, and we've been doing this for a long time. We're passionate about putting great products into people's hands. We're also passionate about connecting with consumers and with the industry and with partners on a number of levels, and one way we can do that is through-- is through education, is through inspiration.

And so we've been building a library of this. We've been building these resources for a long time, whether it's online how-to content, whether, you know, our schools, which are in person-- we're now offering an online version. But it's a way we've built trust with consumers over a long period of time, and it's what they look to us for.

And so when the pandemic hit, people-- the consumer leaned into that even more, and we saw a huge increase, whether it was traffic to that online how-to content or free online learning center or whether it was interest in these online classes.

It was really interesting. When the pandemic hit and there was kind of a shock to everyone's system, they really kind of leaned into this stuff that was really emotionally engaging for them.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Are you seeing a lot of interest from people buying this equipment for fly fishing online? I don't know what the situation is like for you in actual brick-and-mortar stores right now, but have most of your sales and most of the interest come from online?

SIMON PERKINS: We've seen a-- we've seen a huge shift, right? Our retail stores are-- they've always been a special place for people to come in and connect with us on a number of levels, and we have-- we have over 500 independent dealers who are our wholesale partners. There was-- we saw significant shift from retail to online when this happened specifically in fly-fishing sales. It was about a 15-point shift that we were seeing, and we were able to really capitalize on that, again, with a lot of the stuff that we had been investing in because the consumer had been asking for more digital interaction, digital engagement for a while. So we had some momentum that we were able to really lean into.

We've also seen in certain places where the consumer is more comfortable, where they feel more safe. We've seen a lot of interaction with our wholesale dealers and now with our retail stores too as they're coming back online.

And, again, you know, our priority from the beginning has been we need to keep our consumers and our employees safe. That's the top priority. And we need to get creative on how we continue to have this special relationship with the customer.

BRIAN SOZZI: Simon, in the 30 seconds we have left, I know promoting diversity in the great outdoors is very-- it's very important, and it's near and dear to your heart. Any big project you're working on on that front into the year end?

SIMON PERKINS: Yeah, we've been partnering with a community-based organization called Brown Folks Fishing to really figure out how we bring more equity and access to the outdoors. And at the end of the-- at the end of the day, we're passion about this. It means we're close to it. It means we have blind spots, so we always need to be listening to the community and to our customers on how we can create easier pathways into the sport and create more access. And so that's something we're really going to be leaning into as far as how we bring diversity-- gender, race. How can we make-- how can we make easier pathways into this-- into this community that we are really passionate about?

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, let's leave it there. Orvis president Simon Perkins, good to see you, and enjoy your next fly-fishing endeavor.

SIMON PERKINS: I will. Thanks for having me.