By Jim Schmiedeskamp
Nancy and Mike Richardson decided it was time to wind down their greenhouse operation that they owned and ran seven days a week for 28 years in Geneva, Illinois. Selling herbs to retailers involved growing and caring for the delicate plants 24/7 from seed to store, which included transporting them to market in their own trucks. A day off to go fishing or take a vacation was a dream postponed based on the demands of their business.
Five years ago, the Richardson’s decided to sell their greenhouse business and pursue something different, something less demanding as a “pre-retirement business.”
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Nancy’s brother Steve was good friends with Chris Helm, a retired University of Toledo administrator and owner of Whitetail Fly Tieing Supplies, a mail order business he had started out of the basement of his house in Toledo. Steve introduced his brother-in-law Mike Richardson to fly tying and subsequently to Chris Helm, who was a nationally known fly tier and fly fishing speaker.
Their casual friendship resulted in an offer by the Richardson’s to buy Whitetail Fly Tieing Supplies when Chris Helm decided to sell his business due to cancer in 2014. After the purchase agreement was finalized, Nancy spent three months in Toledo conducting a full inventory assessment in preparation for transporting all fly tying supplies to Geneva, while Mike was starting to transform their home’s basement to a warehouse and retail showroom through the build-out of innovative displays and space-efficient product storage units.
Over 1,800 Customers Coast to Coast—and Worldwide
Four years later, the Richardson’s have grown their fly tying retail e-commerce business from over 700 customers to 1,800 with orders coming from fly tiers coast to coast—from Washington and Oregon to Pennsylvania—as well as worldwide. After creating their website and on-line catalog, the Richardson’s marketed their business through advertising in fly fishing magazines and participating in fly fishing shows throughout the country. Today, their business continues to grow thanks to customer referrals and the power of internet search engines. Their website now features a video tour of their “virtual” store.
“We continue to acquire new customers who have found us by searching the internet,” said Nancy Richardson. “In fact, we have had pilots flying company executives into the DuPage Airport for business trips, who have Googled “fly shop near me” and decided to make a personal shopping trip to visit us while killing downtime.”
Today the e-commerce business stocks over 13,000 SKUs or unique items with their specialty being in deer, elk and other animal hair materials. Nancy is primarily responsible for sales and marketing, while Mike can be found processing entire deer hides as well doing the dyeing, grading and packaging of individual products. While not a retail “walk-in” business, the Richardson’s will welcome OBTU members on an appointment basis.
About the Business
Whitetail Fly Tieing Supplies carries a full range of fly tying materials including adhesives, natural materials, synthetics, tube fly materials, threads, tools, books, DVDs and hooks. They stock hard-to-find items such as discontinued Partridge hooks, Gudebrod thread, and McClean’s Velveteen Dubbing, and manufacture the Brassie Hair Packer and the Magnum Hair Stacker exclusively for their business. Mike has also designed and built a Zonker Jig and Cutter. They also carry a large assortment of German scissors that are micro serrated on both blades.
Deer hair is one of the company’s custom items. Hides are hand selected to assure top quality, specific hair for numerous patterns. Mike personally grades all hides by season of harvest, color, texture, and length of hair. Hides are processed and custom cut to their customers’ specific needs.
OBTU Valued Sponsor and TU Business Partner
As an Oak Brook TU “valued sponsor,” Whitetail Fly Tieing Supplies supports the TU mission to conserve and restore our coldwater fisheries and donates products and gift certificates in support of the chapter’s fundraising programs such as our monthly meeting raffles and annual Holiday Party fundraiser. The firm is also a Trout Unlimited national Business Partner.
While running an e-commerce business is still a 24/7 operation with a commitment to fill orders within 24 hours, the Richardson’s are now able to do a little fishing, fly tieing and spending time with their two grandchildren. This past summer, Nancy volunteered as a mentor for the 2018 Illinois TU Youth Camp in Michigan.
Outdoors Camp Commitment
“I really believe in camps for kids as a learning experience, and being outdoors is a big thing with me,” said Nancy Richardson. “The TU camp was well run with lots of scheduled activities for both the campers and mentors. I really enjoyed the experience and plan on volunteering to be a mentor again in 2019.”
“I was delighted that Nancy joined our 2018 youth camp team,” said Willie Beshire, Oak Brook TU Vice President and Illinois TU Council Youth Camp Director. “As a first-year volunteer, Nancy jumped right in, helping with the camp planning and being a camp mentor supervising both girls and boys. I am very excited that Nancy has re-enlisted for our 2019 youth camp.”