It was the nineties when I first took a deep breath and eased my way into a whole new world. At the time I was living just outside of Faversham in Kent, I was being mentored by the pioneers of their day – Paul Forward – who we lost tragically earlier this year and arguably one of the finest all-round anglers I have been honoured to fish with.
Also, the remarkable Lee Jackson, catalyst for so much back then… they lured me into The Tackle Box. I blame them entirely.
What a treasure trove I stumbled into. For an utter newbie to carp and specimen angling, I received a welcome, kind, generous and feely given information and demystification of a complex world. And came out feeling poor… but with the gear I needed.
That was then. Now?
The Tackle Box has grown but the core values, dedication to the angler and kindness, remain. Without their help, Fishing for Schools would not enjoy the seismic success it has had in north Kent. Their assistance with funding projects is not only our oxygen but kindness personified. The Tackle Box don’t just talk about things, they do it, support it and ensure the sport grows.
The Peet’s and The Tackle Box are really, rather remarkable.
- Charles Jardine, Director of Fishing for Schools
What lead up to you both creating The Tackle Box and the inspiration behind its development?
KEVIN: As youngsters we fished at Horton Kirby and regularly ran out of maggots and scrounging off the older anglers was sometimes daunting. Our discussion on these occasions was always “if only there was a tackle shop in Sutton-At-Hone”, which was only a ten minute walk from the lake, we could get some more.
GARY: Originally to just provide a simple maggot and hook shop for the local community and visiting anglers to the Darenth, Sutton-at-Hone and Horton Kirby Lakes.
Back in the early days at Sutton at Hone, The Tackle Box soon became the meeting point – the crucible – of carp fishers in the area. Was this intentional?
KEVIN: Not sure about “soon” but it did eventually become a meeting point and sort of social point eventually. We were always conscious of the dangers of a clique forming so we always attended to casual callers immediately, and tried hard not to get immersed in conversation with groups of anglers when other customers were in the shop. One of the reasons we stopped making tea for people was because of the danger of leaving someone out, but in the end, we just didn’t have the time. Both of us had been victims of THE CLIQUE in other shops and it doesn’t feel nice.
GARY: Yes, The Tackle Box became a meeting point for many outstanding anglers and problem solvers. It became the arena for discussion and debate, The Tackle Box was just the catalyst for overcoming problems associated with carp fishing, carp anglers had very little interest from the fishing industry at the time and problems were resolved by the anglers. We were very fortunate to witness such a great crowd of customers resolve problems and create the first of many products that are commonplace today; we even got involved with helping some developments, but mostly our fishing benefitted from being involved with it.
The Tackle Box has always provided a supreme level advice to customers. Was this always the aim? And how do you manage that “personal” service via the internet?
KEVIN: I think that this is something that comes naturally to you, and I don’t mean just us, any customer facing business doing well will often have a people person or persons at its core. Both Gary and I were in sales before the shop and neither of us were in it for the quick sale, we both would rather form a longtime relationship with customers not going for a quick buck.
Trying to do that via online channels is a bit more challenging, but it’s all down to quick efficient service and good communication when problems arise.
Having visited your store (and it's like the Aladdin’s Cave of carp angling joy but utterly bewildering if you do not know precisely what you require) where do you begin? In my case as someone who does not carp fish or specialist angle, I wouldn't know where to begin. How do you advise a newcomer to shop when confronted by so many products?
KEVIN: To a beginner, seeing all the equipment in the shop it would look daunting, but its because we offer choices in all areas. Our job is to guide customers through those choices, so firstly, we would establish a budget from the customer, and because most or all venues have definite rules on minimum equipment required when carp fishing, like unhooking mats and landing nets etc, these items are compulsory so need to be worked into the budget.
Finding out how often the customer intends going and tailor the products to both budget and frequency of use, but making the customer aware of the choices that are available. I have made it sound simple, but there would be a lot of questions asked and advice given accordingly, but the customer would not be sold anything they did not need, and we would try to keep under budget, however it is not always possible if the customer has underestimated what is needed as a minimum requirement.
GARY: A customer normally has a specific problem or requirement rather than a general question like ‘What do I need to go carp fishing’. They would normally ask about a specific venue or method, just as a newbie to fly fishing, they would ask about stream, lake, reservoir of a specific method. So, it is simpler than it seems, we resolve small issues at a time with a customer over his visits to the shop.
You have supported Fishing for Schools massively over the last few years and we are hugely grateful for this important level of support. What was the motivation behind this assistance to us?
KEVIN: After the first few sticky years as we were becoming established, the shop was always full of youngsters. This sadly is no longer the case. The average age of someone coming into angling today is late 20s early 30s, so being given the opportunity to help encourage younger generations to get into fishing is important to us, not only for the industry but from a well being point of view. Kids are under such pressure these days, what with social media painting pictures of how you should act and look. Young people can get sucked in and get very down when failing to live up to these perceived images. Angling has so many benefits, not least for mental health, it gives a focus to, not just youngsters but all ages who may have lost their way.
GARY: We have always been keen to support good causes, it could be from the local community, health charities, UK Forces charities, any movement that enhances the progress of angling and sometimes a cause that is a mix of any of the above. Fishing for Schools mixes angling with mental health and the chance of guiding a youngster in the right direction for life.
As a strong family business, what do you see as its strengths and weaknesses?
KEVIN: Our strengths are knowing our customer base and listening to them, customer service, high stock levels, good staff who know fishing and organisation. I’m sure Gary can name a few more. As for weaknesses, I certainly wouldn’t want to go to print on those 😊
GARY: We would have never got off the ground if it were not for the help of our parents and grandparents: Grandad John was a carpenter and made/altered things for the storage and display of stock. Our mum helped serve in the shop. Dad was also a carpenter/builder helping in that capacity and later helped financially with the deposit for the move second shop in Sutton-At-Hone.
Jackie, my now wife, having a sound monetary mind, she organised our first loan to start the business, every mortgage, the bookwork, runs HR within the shop and the general oiling of the cogs ensuring we do not run out of office, cleaning items etc.
Ruth, Kevin’s wife, also worked in the business for 15 years and generated our first website; this succeeded in being one of the first in the industry that customer could order fishing tackle from.
If there are any weaknesses, they are far outweighed out by our strengths.
As passionate fishers yourselves, could you tell us something about each other that we would not know?
KEVIN: Gary once dressed up as a bride, and with one of his mates as the groom, they got a photo printed in the “recently married” section of the local paper, with full report, including who was best man and brides dress review!!! 😊
GARY: Kev is a very accomplished drummer, in the 80’s the band he was with was on the cusp of being fully professional, but it was not meant to be. Kev had the nickname of Cozy Powell; you’ve got to be old to understand who that is.
At the age of about one dad was throwing Kev up in the air, as dads do, and accidently knocked Kev’s head on the ceiling, which could explain a lot of things. 😇
And what is the funniest moment during the life of The Tackle Box?
KEVIN: A you can imagine, over the years there have been a few, but one that comes to mind involves Lee Jackson who worked with us for over thirty years. We were still in the Sutton shop, and our clothing area was at the front of the shop and Lee approached a customer from behind asking “Can I help you love?” only for the slim long haired individual to turn round with a full beard and moustache!!!
GARY: I can feel a book coming on!! The time a customer returned a set of rods saying he could not cast 100 yards with them and demanded we increased the power in them.
The retuning of some reels, the customer insisted the rota was rotating in the wrong direction. He previously owned some Mitchell 410 reels which are geared differently, the newer modern gearing rotates in the opposite direction. No one had mentioned it before or since.
There were always practical jokes going on which included the use of such items as buckets of water on top of doors, several tins of soup in someone rucksack for several weeks, PVA string as hook links, etc.