Some probably envy Sean Visintainer’s ability to combine his passion for fly-fishing with his profession. Or they’re amazed he bought an established business when others his age were just starting their careers.
Luck may have contributed to Visintainer’s circumstances, but most of his success can be attributed to hard work and vision. As for dream jobs, they’re seldom as laid back or lucrative as many imagine.
The owner of Silver Bow Fly Shop in Spokane Valley corrected a few misconceptions during a recent interview.
S-R: When did you start fishing?
Visintainer: I started spin fishing when I was 8 or 9, and fly-fishing when I was 12.
S-R: What was your first job?
Visintainer: It was at Rock City Grill’s Valley location. I was a busser, but I demoted myself to dishwasher because it paid better.
S-R: How did you end up owning a fly shop at 23?
Visintainer: I was a Silver Bow customer ever since I started fly-fishing, and got to know the owner. He hired me to teach a fly-tying class, and that led to my working in the shop, and then managing the shop when I was 21. Then one night over dinner, he suggested I buy the business.
S-R: Did he offer any helpful advice?
Visintainer: He encouraged me to go with my gut instincts. He also pointed out that a lot of older people aren’t willing to take business risks, but that I’d have time to recoup if something didn’t go right.
S-R: How long had the shop been open?
Visintainer: Since the late ’80s.
S-R: That’s unusual, isn’t it?
Visintainer: Yeah, fly shops have a proven track record for failing in Spokane.
S-R: What made you think you’d succeed?
Visintainer: That’s a good question. This shop had been around the longest, and always had the best reputation for customer service and customer loyalty. I thought I could improve upon that, and there were other parts of the business I thought we could grow.
S-R: Such as?
Visintainer: Guiding was never big in this region. When I bought the shop, one of the first things I did was establish a guide service.
S-R: How many employees were there when you took over?
Visintainer: There were three of us.
S-R: Were you the youngest?
Visintainer: Oh, yeah. One of them is retired now, and the other is in his mid-60s.
S-R: How many employees do you have today?
S-R: How would you describe your management style?
Visintainer: Pretty relaxed. Everyone knows they need to pitch in and get the job done, but I don’t crack the whip too hard.
S-R: Where did you get the money to buy the shop?
Visintainer: The gentleman I bought it from basically carried the note.
S-R: After buying the business, did you ever think it might fail?
Visintainer: Sure, there are always those moments. But I’m also stubborn enough and passionate enough that I will make it work, no matter what.
S-R: Has the recession affected your business?
Visintainer: Some of the higher-end sales are down, but we’ve actually seen overall growth.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Visintainer: Meeting new people. And the different places you get to see, the things you get to do, are incredible. But guiding is still only a small fraction of the business. I spend 90 percent of my time in the shop.
S-R: What do you least like about the job?
Visintainer: Long hours for not a heck of a lot of money.
S-R: What’s a typical week look like?
Visintainer: It varies, but I’ve put in 100-plus-hour weeks. Average is somewhere between 50 and 60 hours.
S-R: What’s it take to succeed in this business?
Visintainer: It takes innovation, because it’s an oversaturated market. If you keep doing the same things traditional fly shops have done, you’re going to fail.
S-R: What’s been your best idea since taking over?
Visintainer: Optimizing the trend with feather hair extensions. I caught on early when I saw girls coming, and I bought up feathers for pennies on the dollar. My brother built a website and we were on the first page of Google for quite some time. It was just crazy how busy we were selling feathers to girls.
S-R: What are you most proud of?
Visintainer: I have a great staff, and I’m proud we’ve been able to grow the business.
S-R: Have you thought about expanding?
Visintainer: The idea of having multiple locations crossed my mind, but I think that model spreads the focus too thin. I’d rather have one regional location and work on other projects from here – things like online sales.
S-R: What’s the industry’s outlook?
Visintainer: It’s seen slow, steady growth for quite a while now. Back when the movie “A River Runs Through It” came out (in 1992), it saw a huge boom for about three years, but then it went back to that slow, steady growth, and I think that’s going to continue.
S-R: What’s your busiest time of year?
Visintainer: Summer – trout season. We kick it off with a gear swap in May. People bring in their gear, and if it sells they get either in-store credit or a check. This year’s swap is May 19-20. We barbecue and have a big tent. It’s a lot of fun.
S-R: Is fly-fishing mostly an older person’s sport?
Visintainer: No, it’s definitely caught on with the under-30 crowd. And I think my being young and having some younger staff members has helped capture that demographic.
S-R: How old are you?
Visintainer: I’m 29, and I have one employee the same age.
S-R: Any common misconceptions about this business?
Visintainer: Everyone thinks doing what you love for a living is a dream job, but when your hobby also is what puts food on the plate, you have to make sure you don’t burn out.
S-R: Any other misconceptions?
Visintainer: People think owning a business means you make tons of money. That’s not necessarily the case.
S-R: Do all your fishing buddies want great deals?
Visintainer: I take care of friends, but they respect the fact that a business has to make at least a few bucks.
S-R: What advice would you offer someone who aspires to work in this field?
Visintainer: You have to do it for the passion, not the money. But life’s about doing what you love to do, and working in an industry like this can lead to some pretty sweet adventures.
S-R: How do you relax?
Visintainer: After work I mountain bike or hang out with friends. And I fish on my days off, so I can remember why I do this.
S-R: Do you have a favorite river?
Visintainer: For steelhead, it’s the Grande Ronde (a tributary of the Snake River in southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon). For trout, the Spokane below the falls has become one of my favorites.
S-R: What fly do you recommend on the Spokane?
Visintainer: Pat’s rubber legs, a simple stonefly nymph pattern. Not that we have a lot of stoneflies, but it works really well.