Tournament fisherman looks to turn passion into career
Most people will say a job isn’t really “work” if you’re doing what you love. Just ask tournament fisherman Brian Keller. He’ll be the first to admit that.
Keller, 31, recently parlayed his years of outdoors expertise into an ambitious business venture, opening The Reel Shot in Oshkosh, featuring all manner of fishing, hunting and outdoors gear and apparel, as well as a bait shop, pro shop, lounge, seminars and its showcase feature: a 45-foot long, 11,000-gallon freshwater aquarium (filled with perch, bluegill, bass and walleye) complete with casting/demonstration platform.
“All I really ever wanted to do was fish,” says Keller. “The whole idea [of the store] started because I love tournament fishing, but it’s a tough deal to try to make a living at. The only way to solve my dilemma was to start a sporting goods shop.”
After a soft opening in January, the store held a grand opening in March.
Bringing the outdoors in
With a degree in computer programming, Keller worked for several years as technology manager at J.J. Keller & Associates, a regulatory compliance company in Neenah, where his father, James Keller, serves as president. But, he says, “I’ve never been one to sit inside a lot.”
He and his father financed the venture on their own, allowing the store to open debt free.
“We’re in a very good position,” says Keller. “We’re not your typical start-up; most start-ups have to charge more.”
Aided by secure financial footing was a boon, since The Reel Shot opened during Wisconsin’s frigid winter, as well as during a recession. Still, Keller believes that his store’s vast selection, along with a professional staff with a combined 120 years of outdoor retail and tournament experience, will make The Reel Shot a destination.
“The Appleton market is kind of saturated, and Green Bay was too far away,” says Keller, explaining his choice of location.
Oshkosh has a history of being a tough location for retail, but Keller remains confident. “I’m kind of right at the footprint of where Oshkosh and Appleton meet. [Plus] the real core of walleye fishing is around Lake Winnebago. There are more fishing tournaments on Lake Winnebago than anywhere else in the state.”
Size, staff matter
At 6,000 square feet, The Reel Shot is much smaller than its bigger name “big box” competitors. But that’s exactly what Keller intended. “In order for retail to survive, I believe that the big-box stores are going to be forced to shrink their footprint,” he says. “I built a store this size on purpose.”
Catering to a younger, and very avid, clientele may also be a key to success. “I believe retail as a whole is going to see a major shift,” says Keller. “My generation isn’t very patient. We are not going to wait for a retailer to get another shipment in; we’re going to go online and get it.”
Keller says reaching that clientele has come in a very 21st-century way – through social networking. “Most of the local buzz was done through Facebook; we’ve got almost 1,000 ‘likes,’ which isn’t a lot, but I haven’t spent money on it, either.”
Some of the buzz, as well, has centered on Keller’s staff of incredibly knowledgeable and technically skilled staff. Office manager Jeff Kunz has more than 30 years’ experience in outdoors retail, previously working as a district manager for Gander Mountain. And the store’s pro staff is made up of members of the AIM Pro Walleye Series and FLW Walleye Tour, including Travis Manson, the 1st Elite Series Pro from Wisconsin.
Professional walleye fisherman and Shawano businessman John Schneider believes that approach will be key to the success of The Reel Shot.
“Brian has hired a staff of people that are very knowledgeable and are going to treat you with respect,” he says. “The most important thing is customer service; to me, that goes a long way.” Keller agrees.
“The store itself is going to take shape because of it,” he says.
Keller hopes a successful launch of The Reel Shot could lead to more stores in five to 10 years. And keeping the fishing and hunting hobbies strong will be vital to that mission. To that end, he’s aiming at getting today’s youth engaged in the hobbies.
Last year, Keller recalls, he shot his first deer with his son, Jimmy, alongside.
“I’ll never forget it; it’s just the coolest experience,” he says.
“I believe that [the next generation] is the future of my business.”
For more information, visit www.thereelshot.com.