Increase Fish Finder Sales by Offering Installation

Any tackle shop can sell a few fish finders. To set your store apart from the crowd, and boost your fish finder sales, focus on education — and offer installation.

Increase Fish Finder Sales by Offering Installation

Nothing can make the mind of today’s angler spin like modern fish finders. Just the names of the product features sound like something straight out of a Star Wars movie: C-Map Genesis Live, Active Imaging, CHIRP, Navionics Autorouting, SmartSteer, AutoChart Live, Cross Touch Interface, MEGA Side Imaging, SwitchFire, EchoMap, Panoptix LiveScope, and the list goes on and on.

As a retailer, you have four basic options when it comes to selling fish finders:

You can avoid the topic entirely and not sell electronics. This might make sense if your shop is very small and all of your sales is comprised of lures, live bait, terminal tackle and a few rod-and-reel combos.

Pick a single fish finder brand to sell, learn everything there is to know about it, then train your staff. Stock a few models (different price points) from that one company, teach your customers about those models you carry, then sell a few select units. Important point: It will be helpful in closing the fish finder sale if you can suggest where the customer can go to have a unit properly installed on their boat.

Choose two or more fish finder brands, take the time to train your staff on the various models, and then explain to customers the pros and cons of each model. As stated previously, providing advice on installation (who, where, approximate cost, etc.) will help you close the sale.

Carry one, two or more fish finder brands, stock a wide selection of models, train your staff accordingly, educate your customers, then offer — for an additional fee — installation by your staff.

The In-Store Experience

Each day you see first-hand the importance of customers testing products in your store. No, they can’t cast a crankbait across the carpet and watch the lure’s wobble, but they expect to turn a reel handle, hold and flex a fishing rod, and try on polarized glasses when deciding whether to make a purchase. Customers know they can buy literally anything in the fishing realm and have it delivered to their door (sometimes for free shipping), so you and your staff have to offer something extra to earn their business.

That “something extra” is education. The expertise of you and your staff is something they can’t get at a big-box store or online. When it comes to something as complicated as fish finders, the ability of your staff to clearly and concisely explain various brands and models is often the difference between making and losing the sale.

Sure, price matters. With fish finders that don’t have minimum advertised pricing (MAP), some customers will milk your staff for expertise and then buy model XYZ online or from a box store for $10 less. There’s nothing you can do to prevent this, but when it comes to the types of fish finders in demand the most by avid anglers, the competition landscape is different.

“Believe it or not, we don’t see online retailers or big-box stores as serious competitors when it comes to electronics,” said John Roundsley, president of Thorne Bros. Custom Rod & Tackle in Blaine, Minnesota. The store is owned by his brother, Josh. “Our No. 1 selling brand is Humminbird, and we don’t worry about selling a lot of the least-expensive, small fish finders that consumers can buy at a box store. Those aren’t our customers when it comes to electronics. Instead, our store focuses on larger, more feature-rich fish finders, the kind most serious anglers want on their boats. And the best news for us as a retailer is there’s price-protection (MAP) on those bigger units.”

I spent a mid-September afternoon at Thorne Bros. to learn more about Roundsley’s philosophy on selling electronics, and I came away with a clear understanding of why customers from across the Midwest purchase fish finders from his store.

At Thorne Bros. in Blaine, Minnesota, customers can walk up to the fish finders on display and start pressing buttons. Each unit is running on a simulator.
At Thorne Bros. in Blaine, Minnesota, customers can walk up to the fish finders on display and start pressing buttons. Each unit is running on a simulator.

Selling Fish Finders the Thorne Bros. Way

DM: John, give me a quick rundown on the fish finder brands you sell.

JR: Years ago we stocked and sold quite a few Lowrance units in addition to Humminbird, but today almost all our sales are Humminbird. We also sell a decent number of Garmin units for those anglers who specifically want to run Garmin Panoptix LiveScope. By focusing on one brand (Humminbird), it’s easier for our staff to learn the features of each fish finder and then answer customer questions.

 

DM: Specific to Humminbird, how to you decide which models to stock? Do you sell more of the full-feature units?

JR: Yes, Humminbirds with Side Imaging are our top sellers. It depends on the customer, and I almost hate asking the question, but do they have a budget in mind? How much do they want to spend?

For example, once you get up to the Helix 8s, what you’re paying for most is screen size. All the features are the same. I try to get anglers to go with Side Imaging units regardless of boat style. If they have never seen Side Imaging on the water, they should get in the boat with someone who has it. That way they can see the benefit. For example, with standard 2D sonar for searching, in 20 feet you’re seeing about 8 feet (diameter circle) of the bottom. With Side Imaging for searching, you can set the coverage at 200 feet (100 feet to the right, 100 feet to the left) if you want, so you can see so much more, you can learn so much more, and you can cover water so much faster. Once a Side Imaging unit is set properly, you can see bottom transitions, rocks, weeds, fish, everything.

 

DM: Do you sell both Humminbird Helix and Solix models?

JR: Yes. For Helix, we sell 5s, 7s, 9s, 10s and 12s. During the peak selling season (late March through July in Minnesota), we’ll have a few of each in stock. In the touch-screen Solix, we sell 10s, 12s and 15s. We don’t stock a lot of the 15s because that’s a pretty big unit, but we can get them in a couple days.

 

DM: Your in-store display of fish finders and accessories is impressive. Tell me about it.

JR: I apologize for the minimal number of units on display right now (author visit was in mid-September) because we’re transitioning into ice fishing electronics. During late winter, when customers are beginning to think about open water and spring, we’ll have this display fully operational with all our best-selling units. And the display will remain full throughout the summer.

 

DM: I like the way all the units are running on simulators. Are customers encouraged to press buttons and explore fish finder features on their own? If someone is interested in learning more about a particular unit, is there someone at your store who is the “electronics guy?”

JR: As you can see, we don’t have any signs telling customers to ask for assistance. In fact, we encourage them to dive right in on their own. At Thorne Bros., everyone on our staff who works the floor is trained on fish finders. Customers don’t have to hope “so and so” is working when they visit our store for help. Everyone on our team is an avid angler, and they all run one of these fish finders on their days off, so they know the units inside and out. We also stock a wide selection of electronics accessories, including bulletproof mounting systems from Cisco and RAM.

 

DM: Is price the primary factor in determining where a customer buys a fish finder?

JR: I don’t think so. Thanks to MAP, we don’t have to worry about price-matching. We make the sale based on the service part of the equation. They can buy the unit from us, and I’ll personally install it. If they have any problem after the fact, they can call the store to get ahold of me, and 9 out of 10 times I can walk someone through an issue on the water. Typically either the kids or grandkids pushed a lot of buttons, or they have to do a software update.

Installation is really the key to making the sale. If you buy a unit from us, I’ll install it for a discounted rate. In our area, the standard boat rigging rate is $125 per hour. And that’s what I’ll charge if someone buys a fish finder from a competitor and wants me to install it. We appreciate their business, too, and I’m happy to do it. However, I charge only $75 per hour for installation if you buy the unit from Thorne Bros.

Customers schedule an appointment with Thorne Bros. to install electronics on their boat and then Roundsley takes over in a dedicated work space adjacent to the store.
Customers schedule an appointment with Thorne Bros. to install electronics on their boat and then Roundsley takes over in a dedicated work space adjacent to the store.
Thorne Bros. President John Roundsley carefully unboxes two Humminbird fish finders to install on a customer’s Ranger.
Thorne Bros. President John Roundsley carefully unboxes two Humminbird fish finders to install on a customer’s Ranger.

DM: Explain more about the installation part of the equation.

JR: Absolutely. It typically takes 2 hours to install one fish finder on the console, mount the transducer to the transom, and run all the wires. So, if a customer buys the unit from us, then the installation charge is $150 ($75 x 2 hours). If they bought the fish finder elsewhere, it’ll cost them $250 ($125 x 2 hours).

Now, consider an angler who buys a Humminbird Helix 12 for the bow, another Helix 12 for the console, plus a Minn Kota Ultrex trolling motor, and he wants everything installed and working together as a one boat system. That boat rigging job will take me 6-7 hours. For the installation discount of $50 per hour, it makes sense financially to buy all the equipment from us.

I’ll be honest: Rigging boats is basically a full-time job for me during spring and summer. At times I wish I had an assistant to help with the work load. But I do like it. Every year I go to Garmin, Lowrance and Humminbird training to be certified as an installer.

 

DM: Do you have to travel for this training?

JR: Most of the time the training is local, and it’s often offered by our distributors. For example, Northern Wholesale, which is a big distributer, will have Lowrance Day, and all the Lowrance techs will come in and go through all the selling points, new items and installations. And Humminbird and Garmin will do the same thing.

 

DM: Are you the only person at Thorne Bros. handling boat rigging?

JR: Yes, which is nice because if there’s a problem after the fact, then the customer knows exactly who to talk to — me.

 

DM: What is the turnaround on an installation?

JR: During our peak season (May, June and July) things get booked two weeks out, but otherwise I can keep it to one week. I update my scheduling book constantly so customers know when to bring in their boat for the installation. Depending on the work being done, sometimes a customer can drop off their boat in the morning and get it back later that same day, otherwise we’ll keep the boat overnight and they can pick it up the following morning.

Roundsley insists on high-quality mounting systems for his installations. One of his favorite fish finder mounts is built by Cisco Fishing Systems.
Roundsley insists on high-quality mounting systems for his installations. One of his favorite fish finder mounts is built by Cisco Fishing Systems.

DM: Most of your fish finder customers who take advantage of your boat rigging service must be local, correct?

JR: Many of them are from the Twin Cities metro and surrounding suburbs, but you’d be amazed. Just as it’s hard to find a topnotch gunsmith you can trust, the same is true for boat rigging. It’s not uncommon for guys to trailer their boats eight hours to drop it off with me. Thorne Bros. exhibits at a lot of sports shows, especially in Wisconsin, and anglers will buy fish finders and trolling motors from us at the shows, then visit Thorne Bros. later in person for the installation.

Think about it: Some anglers are buying four fish finders plus a trolling motor, and to install those five products could take up to 12 hours. They would rather have me work at $75 per hour instead of a boat rigger near their home — who they probably don’t know — tackle the job for $125 or $130 per hour. It’s worth their drive.

 

DM: Do you ever have customers who spend a lot of money on Humminbird fish finders and a Minn Kota trolling motor but have trouble getting everything working together as well as they’ve seen on TV or online? Can you help them?

JR: Again, it gets back to service and education. If someone buys a fish finder from Thorne Bros., I offer on-the-water electronics training; it’s $150 for two hours. The cost is $200 if they bought the fish finder elsewhere.

Thorne Bros. customer service doesn’t end after the installation. Roundsley offers on-the-water training to ensure anglers get the most out of their fish finder.
Thorne Bros. customer service doesn’t end after the installation. Roundsley offers on-the-water training to ensure anglers get the most out of their fish finder.

The customer and I will meet at a convenient location (lake) and head out on the water in their boat. I’ll take them through everything they need to know to maximize the effectiveness of the new fish finder for their style of fishing. I can show them how to set up various screens properly, tricks I’ve learned to distinguish hard vs. soft bottom on traditional 2-D sonar, how to identify various types of cover vs. fish on Side Imaging, you name it. At the end of two hours of training, their fish finder is dialed in, and I’ve shown them a step-by-step process for using their electronics to eliminate unproductive water and focus on finding high-percentage spots.

 

About Thorne Bros. Custom Rod & Tackle

Known across the United States and Canada for its tremendous selection of muskie tackle, as well as its custom rod building and ice fishing gear, Thorne Bros. has been one of the most respected fishing specialty stores in the upper Midwest since the early 1980s. Located in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, Thorne Bros. carries a wide selection of rods, reels, lures and tackle for every freshwater species. As explained in this article, Thorne Bros. is also a destination for anglers looking to learn about and purchase fish finders. Finally, customers visiting Thorne Bros. can check out the Midwest’s largest selection of fly fishing tackle in its adjacent Fly Angler store.

For more information on Thorne Bros., call (763) 572-3782, visit www.thornebros.com, or email info@thornebros.com.



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.