ON THE COVER: Player to watch - Breylin SmithREAD ONLINE
Outdoors onlinePublished March 18, 2012 at 2:24 a.m.
RIVER VALLEY and OZARK AREA Back a few weeks ago, I managed to slip out of the office to share a boat with Colton Lindsey. The occasion was the Lindsey’s Media Days event at Lindsey’s Resort on the Little Red River outside of Heber Springs.
I was roughly the fourth victim - I mean client - for the now 18-year-old as he embarked on his guiding adventures during such an event a few years back. In that time, we’ve struck up quite a friendship and try our best to stay in touch.
Somehow, the allure of the river’s ripples and runs melts away the age difference, leaving us simply as fishin’ buddies and friends. And, of course, that means a trip on the water brings with it a myriad of conversational topics.
On that most recent outing, Lindsey noted that the resort was in the process of revamping its website. The mention of something in the works had me hooked, so I asked for details.
“We want the website to be more user friendly and to showcase the updates being made at this time on the resort,” he said, noting that www.lindseysresort.com has been a part of the business’s 47-year history since 1995. “We want to be able to update and post pictures on the site right from the guides’ phones. It just brings us more into the 21st century, really.”
Furthermore, Colton said the resort is researching how to utilize Facebook, blogs and Twitter for their advertising value and the social media’s ability to provide immediate updates on fishing reports, special deals and more.
As usual, a flat-bottom discussion led me to ponder the bigger picture of something. So, what is the Web presence of various entities within the outdoor industry, how does that presence affect the site owners, and how do those sites touch us - the consumers?
FROM ZERO TO HERO
For Ben Sanders, the creation of www.arkansasstripers.com led to an entire new career.
That site, Sanders said, “was originally built as a personal information site to learn about striped bass.” Then an avid largemouth angler, he watched as the site blossomed into the top Web destination for those wanting to find out more about freshwater striped bass fishing. That was in 2000, and the growth has continued, with the site tallying 969,514 visits last year alone.
Something funny happened, though. Because of his site, Sanders began to get requests for guided trips to Lake Ouachita and Lake Hamilton. Starting from zero, he contacted a Hot Springs-area guide to take trip referrals, then began to work with him when he had too many bookings. Now Sanders, a former automotive service manager, has been guiding for 12 years.
“I have never done the trade shows or any other advertising,” Sanders said of his business’ success. “One-hundred percent of my business comes through the site. As a guide, it took me from zero to hero in less than a year.”
Furthermore, he said, referrals from the site have bolstered the business of other area striper guides. Also, Sanders said, the site continues to inform visitors about striped bass.
“On the content side, I hope it has educational value for anglers to understand that striped bass are not the evil fish some portray them to be and that they belong in the big lakes and reservoirs of the nation,” he said.
LURED IN FOR PRODUCT INFO
As far as lures go in our Natural State, one would be hard-pressed to find an angler who has not tied on something that falls under the PRADCO umbrella. Its lure lineup includes time-tested names such as Heddon, Rebel, Cotton Cordell, Bomber and Arbogast, along with newer introductions such as Yum and Booyah.
“PRADCO - in its current form - is 50 years old,” said Lawrence Taylor, the company’s director of public relations. “Before we started making fishing lures, the company made plastic injected parts for refrigerators and air conditioners.”
The company’s website, www.lurenet.com, went online a decade ago. Currently, Taylor writes two or three stories each week for the site; however, he said, “The real contact with the angling world is through Facebook now. The lurenet.com Facebook page has more than 21,000 people watching it, and it’s amazing when I post a picture of one of our pros or a question. I immediately get a bunch of responses.”
While sales through the site amounts to less than 10 percent of PRADCO’s take, Taylor said the Web presence is “essential” and believes that its importance will grow in the future. “When an angler hears about a new product, the first thing he does - if he’s younger than 35 - is look it up on the Web. We need more and more info, video, personal observations and ratings added to the site every day.”
Reiterating the site’s importance, he said, “A company’s website is its link to the public, a virtual storefront and information center. If you’re not giving consumers what they want, they’ll go elsewhere. With Facebook, you can interact directly with consumers - a great way to build a following. But, it’s also a great way to lose them, too, if you’re not on it every day answering questions and interacting.”
While Taylor serves on the fishing side of the business at PRADCO, he spent the first half of his six years there doing PR for the company’s hunting products. Now, that job is handled by Mike Mattly, who previously worked in a variety of positions with Knight Rifles, one of PRADCO’s hunting lines.
That group includes well known names such as Carry-Lite Decoys, Code Blue hunting scents, Knight & Hale, Moultrie Feeders and Summit Treestands. Those brands went online at different times, but all had a Web presence by 1999, Mattly said.
“I believe the Internet is very important for the high tech/high-priced items,” he said. “We want the site to cover the basic questions that guys tend to not ask to salespeople, and sell to the people who don’t have time to go to the local shops.”
WHEN TO HUNT, WHERE TO FISH
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has been a part of state history since 1915, but the AGFC did not go live on the Internet until the summer of 1997. One of the people charged with keeping the commission’s Web presence viable is Keith Stephens, an 11-year veteran of the AGFC who worked in the newspaper business before stepping in as public-information coordinator.
“I would say about 50 percent of our contact with the outdoor world is through the site,” Stephens said. “In January alone, we had 157,000 visits to our website, with 625,986 pages viewed.”
Roughly two thirds of those visits were from computers, while the remainder came via mobile devices. The hottest topic that month? The Hunting Seasons page received 44,000 page views.
Stephens said he expects such numbers to continue to grow in the future.
“We have many inquires, comments and suggestions that come to us electronically,” he said. “It’s hard to put a number on that. We still go out to meet with the public through outreach programs and meetings, but more and more, people are using the Internet to communicate with AGFC.”
Stephens stressed the need for a Web presence as a must for the commission, noting the “research information, 24-hour service, professional image, feedback from those interested in our agency and its programs, … and communication between the agency and its stakeholders” as important facets of www.agfc.com.
“In this day and age, we understand that our customers expect us to have this presence,” he said.
The site has won several national awards for providing such special features as “online game checking, online purchase of hunting and fishing licenses, real-time harvest reports, breaking news, program alerts, waterfowl reports, fishing reports, weekly newsletters, videos and photos,” Stephens said. “You name it, and we have it on our website.”
Furthermore, he said, “I believe it’s a good idea to keep our agency in front of our stakeholders. Through our Arkansas Outdoors newsletter, we frequently let people know about various programs we have to offer. The Internet makes it relatively inexpensive to keep in touch with people interested in what Arkansas has to offer. We also have a large social-media presence with Twitter and Facebook. Our Facebook page boasts over 45,000 ‘Likes,’ making it one of the largest followed pages of all conservation agencies. We also utilize an iPhone app that has been well-received … [and] are in the final stages of development of an Android app to continue to accommodate our constituents.”
SHOPPING FROM HOME
Among the larger outdoor box-store chains in the United States is Gander Mountain. Steve Uline, executive vice president of marketing, has witnessed much of Gander Mountain’s online success since coming to the company three years ago.
While Gander Mountain began in 1960, the Internet site for the company went online in 2008. The site supplements the physical retail space of 114 stores in 24 states, including the Sherwood location in central Arkansas.
“Our website provides a very high degree of store visibility and informs consumers across the country about our hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports products, ranging from … camping and boating gear to footwear and apparel,” Uline said.
While the company’s Internet presence currently provides only a small percentage of Gander Mountain’s total sales, Uline noted that the site is exhibiting double-digit sales growth each year.
The site, the executive vice president said, is presented to “enhance the outdoor enthusiasts’ shopping and learning experience” and to “enable our consumers to easily research, learn and buy their outdoor passions.” In other words, Uline said, it is about convenience.
Staff writer James K. Joslin can be reached at (501) 399-3693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.