One year ago today, I returned home to the coast of Maine in a snowstorm after a trip to Manchester, Vermont, where I had the privilege of showing the first two trout Angler’s Pints to a buyer at the Orvis Company. I kept that trip under wraps because, quite frankly, I was nervous I might be shooting too high hoping to place the Angler’s Pint at Orvis. A year later, with four Angler’s Pint designs proving very popular in the Orvis catalogs and at retail locations across the country, I’d love to share some of that trip with you, as well as a few thoughts about the past year and what comes next.
As I wrote about last week at the Angler’s Pint Blog, the Angler’s Pint concept was conceived years ago on the banks of a tributary to the Kern River in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and consolidated on a napkin at the Kern River Brewery later that night over a bourbon stout. I was inspired by glassware that our parents grew up with, some of which had made it into my cupboard as hand-me-downs. I knew some of that glassware featuring sporting subjects such as waterfowl and upland game birds had originated from Orvis, and I remember saying “Wouldn’t it be cool if Orvis sold the Angler’s Pint?”
Fast forward to last March. A space had opened up last minute at the New England Made wholesale show in Portland, Maine, and I was seriously considering taking it to launch the wholesale side of the Angler’s Pint business. With two successful Angler’s Pint Kickstarter campaigns under my belt and increasing online sales of the Angler’s Pint through www.KarenTalbotArtOnline.com, I was feeling like the concept had been proved and it might be time to take it to the next level. Seeing that I’d never lost sight of the idea “Wouldn’t it be cool if Orvis sold the Angler’s Pint?”, I decided to take a risk and call Orvis to see if they would have a buyer at the show.
Voice mail. I left a message.
To both my surprise and delight, I got a call back from the Orvis buyer early the next morning saying that she was not going to be at the show, but that she would love to see the Angler’s Pint in person. The only hitch was that they were making decisions for the 2016 holiday catalogs in a matter of days. Was there any way I could get some samples to Manchester?
It’s about a five and one-half hour drive from Rockland, Maine to Manchester, Vermont, so I loaded up the car and headed west and south along the coast and then west across New Hampshire and into Vermont. I spent the night at Upper Pass Lodge at Magic Mountain in Londonderry. It had been a really crummy ski season, and the Mountain was closed for the season, so the rates at the lodge fit my budget and there was plenty of availability. What I didn’t expect was the bar at the lodge (the restaurant is called The Red Slate) with local beers on tap as well as a wide selection of Vermont spirits–but that’s another blog entry in-and-of-itself!
The next morning, I drove over the mountain past Bromley and into the valley of the famous Batten Kill River just north of Manchester. My meeting with the Orvis buyer wasn’t until after lunch, but I wanted to take some time at the Orvis Manchester Flagship Store, which I had never visited.
If you have not been to this store, I suggest you go! Obviously there is more than enough gear for an angler to oogle over, but there is also the trout pond, free Fly Fishing 101 classes and plenty of solid local information that will help make your angling in the valley a success. If you want to plan a trip, consider visiting on Memorial Day weekend–I’ll be painting a big trout in the store!
Unfortunately the American Museum of Fly Fishing, which is just across the lawn from the Orvis store, was closed, so after a trip to the Orvis outlet store, I headed to The Equinox for a quick lunch on my way down the valley to Sunderland, where Orvis headquarters is. Lunch was amazing, although by that point I could barely eat, given how nervous I was thinking about my meeting. A glass of wine helped (if I drink beer at lunch, I fall asleep!), and before I knew it, it was time for my meeting.
The Orvis Company’s headquarters in Sunderland is not far from the banks of the Batten Kill River, and I was wishing I had time to fish. Many people don’t know that Orvis, named for its founder Charles F. Orvis, is the Nation’s oldest mail-order outfitter and longest continually-operating fly-fishing business. Today the company, which is now privately owned by the Perkins family, does more than $340 million in sales and hires approximately 1,700 employees. With around 70 retail stores and 10 outlets in the US, not to mention 18 retail stores in the UK, chances are that if you are a fly angler, there is an Orvis store somewhere near you or near where you fish. Of course given its roots as a mail-order company, it won’t surprise you to know that Orvis mails more than 50 catalog editions each year, with a total annual circulation in excess of 55 million. The website offers more than 5,000 products and sees somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 million visits per year. Central to my desire of wanting to work with Orvis is the company’s commitment to conservation, a commitment my business shares. Orvis donates 5% of profits annually to protecting nature, supporting communities, and advancing canine health and well-being.
As you can see, I’d done my homework!
The receptionist at Orvis led me into a large conference room with beautiful fly fishing art on the walls. Unfortunately, by that point I was on the verge of hyperventilating because of my nerves, so I can’t say I fully appreciated the art. What on Earth was I thinking? This was Orvis, a world leader in fly fishing with a massive retail business and hundreds of fantastic and unique products like the Brackish Feather Bow Ties, Chris Williams’ knives, A.L. Swanson’s handmade wooden fly boxes, and, of course, the classic loop optic barware featuring Richard Bishop’s upland game birds and waterfowl–the very ones that had inspired the Angler’s Pint in the first place! Would an Angler’s Pint created by an artist in Maine with a relatively tiny business really stack up well as a gift for anglers in a catalog sent to millions of people across the country?
Thankfully, my buyer at Orvis could not have been nicer. I didn’t own a Fitbit at the time, but I don’t think my heart rate dropped until I was back in the car after the meeting. To be honest, it was all kind of a blur, but I left her with samples, and she said she was confident Orvis would place an order for a limited number of Angler’s Pints for fall 2016. On the drive back to Maine, I imagined what it would be like to see the Angler’s Pint in the Orvis catalog, and I worried that packaging as many as 400 Angler’s Pints would be a challenge.
How much difference a year makes…lol. I now pack thousands of Angler’s Pints at a time for Orvis and ship them out on pallets loaded onto tractor trailer trucks. I’ve converted part of my 19th century barn into an Angler’s Pint fulfillment center, and I order boxes and other packaging materials by the pallet. The first year of scaling up the business has not been without its challenges, of course. As many of you know, we had a backorder situation that was the result of unexpected demand for the glasses through Orvis prior to Christmas, coinciding with the manufacturer of the glass itself suffering a catastrophic furnace fire. Orvis was wonderfully supportive through these challenges, and I feel so lucky to be working with a company committed to seeing a small business grow.
It’s fun to think about what the next year will bring, and whatever it brings, I look forward to sharing it with you here at the Angler’s Pint Blog. Cheers!