The Executive Director of AFFTA says the USA’s premier fly fishing trade show can no longer continue in its current form. Instead he and his Board are looking at a new approach which will involve industry summits in two different locations.
The International Fly Tackle Dealer Show (IFTD), which took place at the end of March, could be the last one of its kind. Plans have been laid for a different, more relevant way to bring the fly fishing industry together – and it could happen this year. Lucas Bissett, Executive Director of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA), the show’s organiser, has revealed that for more than a year he and Show Director Ken Andres have been developing an idea better suited to meeting the needs of the industry.
“We have a vision for how we should go forward after this year’s IFTD,” he told Angling International. “We understand that not enough people want to meet in a trade show setting any more and we are going to try to provide an alternative in October this year.
“We find ourselves on the precipice of an entirely new landscape, with new business owners, continued growth in e-commerce and an unprecedented increase in participation among the critical issues facing the industry. Everyone is going through a shift and there is a lot of uncertainty. We need to find a new way to come together to debate and resolve these issues.
“I believe that more experiential gatherings at small waterside venues, perhaps twice a year, will provide more value and be more conducive to networking opportunities than a trade show floor where people struggle to get out from behind their booths. These leadership or industry summits would provide the right environment for people to share thoughts on key topics, such as the boom in participation and how that is impacting on the environment, the sustainability of the industry, ongoing supply problems, selling direct and so on.
“We have seen more traffic on fisheries in the last two years than we have ever seen. Combine that with the resulting environmental concerns and it quickly becomes an issue. We need to keep these people involved but find a place for them. To move forward, and be sustainable, the industry has to redefine itself and these summits are a way to do that. I want a level of transparency in the industry that no one has seen before, and this would be a big step in that direction.
“I see the role of AFFTA as the conduit for conversation and solutions and for dispelling the myth that we are all working against each other. For me, that is a much better way forward than a business show, the need for which seems no longer to exist.”
This year’s IFTD did little to disprove that assumption. Ninety fly shops attended the show in Salt Lake City, albeit there were serious mitigating circumstances, not least a lingering pandemic and the fact that shops coming off the back of two good years questioned their need to be there. And following several years of disappointing exhibitor and dealer support, it suggests that a trade event is no longer a priority for those in the fly fishing business.
“The dealer attendance was certainly lower than we wanted,” conceded Bissett. “Most of those who came were from the surrounding region and we needed a more geographical representation across the country. That’s why the idea for the new summits is to replicate them in different parts of the country to meet people where they are. For instance, businesses on the eastern seaboard can feel alienated sometimes and it would be good to give them the chance to come together. We can organise maybe two summits a year at different locations.
“Also the days when a dealer would bring a small entourage to the show has gone. Now only one or two people attend from each shop. The ongoing threat of pandemic, inflated gas and travel prices and the concern about ROI (return on investment) also come into the equation. Another factor is that we hadn’t had a show since 2019, during which time the trade has experienced some of its best years, making people less inclined to invest in taking part.”
Despite the challenges currently facing AFFTA, Bissett believes the future is good. “We really are in a good place,” he says. “We have a strong board who are thinking in the same way.”