Fishing Republic reeling in the customers as popularity grows

Casting off: Steve Gross, the chief executive of Fishing Republic, said that fishing is now on everyones radar following the success of TVs The Big Fish Off. Picture: Daniel JonesCasting off: Steve Gross, the chief executive of Fishing Republic, said that fishing is now on everyones radar following the success of TVs The Big Fish Off. Picture: Daniel Jones
Casting off: Steve Gross, the chief executive of Fishing Republic, said that fishing is now on everyones radar following the success of TVs The Big Fish Off. Picture: Daniel Jones
Fishing Republic, one of the UK's biggest fishing tackle retailers, is cashing in on the new craze for fishing following the popularity of programmes such as ITV's The Big Fish Off.

The Rotherham-based firm is expecting strong growth this year as it branches out of its Northern heartlands and opens stores in the South.

Like-for-like sales shot up by 45 per cent in the second half of 2015 and sales are expected to carry on growing as it opens new stores and demand increases for its online products.

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Fishing Republic’s CEO Steve Gross said: “Fishermen are buying more tackle. Instead of going fishing half a dozen times a year they’re going a dozen times. They’ve seen programmes like The Big Fish Off. Fishing is showing up on everyone’s radar.”

He added that the younger generation are particularly interested in carp fishing.

“You can catch a big fish, take a photograph, put it on Facebook and then put the fish back,” he said.

Finance director Russell Holmes added: “The big trend is carp fishing and you need a lot of equipment for it. Anglers in our stores are like kids in a sweetshop.”

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They were speaking as the firm announced a 22 per cent increase in revenue to £4.1m in 2015 while underlying pre-tax profits rose by three per cent to £305,000.

The firm is in the early days of its expansion and sees bigger growth ahead.

It floated on the stock exchange last June and costs associated with this knocked pre-tax profits back to £6,000.

Fishing is now the UK’s biggest participation sport and the sixth biggest sport overall, behind armchair sports such as football and rugby.

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Children are increasingly interested in the sport and will often make a weekend of it, frequently with Dad in tow, and camp overnight using set-ups of two or three rods.

The sport is being boosted by big retailers such as Tesco stocking a small amount of basic fishing tackle.

“That isn’t a worry for us as the retailers are offering starter kit. In fact it’s good for the sport as it’s bringing people in,” said Mr Gross.

In contrast Fishing Republic offers specialist kit and its two websites have 20,000 different products across all types of fishing disciplines.

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Mr Gross sees the fishing retail market going the same was as pet shops and cycle stores.

“We see ourselves as the equivalent of Pets at Home in the fishing market,” he added.

The group is looking for acquisitions across the UK and is keen to open up in the south.

In December it bought Cotswold Angling and raised £500,000 through a share placing to pay for the deal and to fund the opening of a new store in Crewe as it presses ahead with its national expansion plans.

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Mr Gross said the acquisition of Cotswold Angling has established Fishing Republic with a presence in the South and the new store in Crewe will complement the company’s existing outlets in the North of England.

It also opened stores in Hull and Birmingham earlier this year.

“Swindon gives us a foothold to look at other roll outs and Birmingham is a nice half year in between. We are doing an organised, planned roll out,” said Mr Gross.

Fishing Republic generates almost half of its sales online via its own and third-party websites and the group is keen to expand its online presence.

Internet sales rose 30 per cent year on year.

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The retail value of the angling trade in 2011 was £541m and it has grown rapidly since then.

Steve Gross established Fishing Republic with a store in Barnsley 10 years ago. His mission was to sell tackle for all types of fishing disciplines – coarse, game, carp and sea fishing. Only the latter discipline involves fishing for eating while coarse, game, carp are just for the sport.

“Some lakes even name the individual fish,” said Mr Gross.

He adds that fishermen care for the fish, making sure they don’t get damaged and applying ointment if the fish has a wound.

The group is on the hunt for acquisitions following its float on AIM last June which raised £1.5m. The fishing tackle market has around 2,500 independent retailers, many of whom are looking to retire.

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“There are very few fishing tackle chains. Most are Mom and Pop shops and these are the stores we are looking to buy,” said Mr Gross.

“There are no other PLCs and no-one else is consolidating. As these store owners come to retirement there is no-one to sell to. I’m in a good position having sold to these businesses for the first 20 years of my career.”

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