By Michele Murphy
If anyone can bat down the notion a small business can’t make it in Sheffield Lake, it’s Craig Lewis, owner of Erie Outfitters on Lake Road.
Sheffield Lake business owner Craig Lewis with his best bud (Press photo – Michele Murphy)
Lewis just shakes his head when he hears anyone say “woe is us” over the proximity of the lake, or claiming there are “no customers on the lake.”
His response: “Take advantage (of it)!” He then goes on to explain there are tens of thousands of licensed boaters here, and all of them shop. “I hate the attitude that we only have three walls — use it to bring people here.”
Lewis believes businesses and communities need to figure out “how you choose to attract those customers to your community.”
He adds if you have a unique product people want, they will come.
And do they ever. At 7:30 a.m. one recent morning, six men were standing or seated around the front door of the store, sipping coffee and swapping stories. One was passing around a photo of a fish with nasty-looking teeth reportedly caught in a nearby retention basin.
Lewis welcomes one and all and occasionally steps out from behind the counter, where he assists customers or works on repairs or other projects, to chat with the assemblage. He knows not everyone is there to make a purchase and he is OK with that. Bringing people together is the other thing he believes makes for a successful business.
Lewis has run his business in Sheffield Lake for 20 years. He also lives in the community.
He describes the business as a bait and tackle store. However, his “hook” is offering an array of custom and handmade fishing equipment for anglers in quest of walleye and steelhead trout, specifically. He also sells two very unique fishing boats and is happy to provide free education in the store, out on the lake he loves, or at nearby rivers and streams.
While describing himself as a “worm counter,” he launches into a half dozen ideas for how local businesses can promote each other.
He’s a big believer in the importance and effectiveness of having “a personal touch” with customers. As an example, he recounts the time last fall when Debbie Suarez, a volunteer with the Sheffield Lake Civic Pride Committee, came in to ask him to get involved with the city’s Halloween decorating contest. He not only contributed to prizes, he decorated his store window with lights, pumpkins and scarecrows. “I wanted to win!” he grins, then added the business next door also decorated in a friendly competition once Lewis filled him in on details about the contest. The point, says Lewis, is he would not have gotten involved if someone had not stopped in to talk with him and ask.
He wishes the city would do more to help connect businesses to each other, while acknowledging city staff is as stretched for time as local business owners are.
Then he again launches into ways local businesses could cross promote if there was more opportunity for them to know each other and what they were planning. He says he would be happy to tell customers to shop or make purchases at nearby stores, especially if they have a special going or were doing a fundraiser to help out a local charity.
There are many who might drive by his store only somewhat aware the parking lot always seems full. To those who fish, from novice to expert, Lewis’ reputation is legendary.
If proof was needed about his unique product lines, personalized customer service and desire to connect, he spreads out on the counter an assortment of the past few days’ online sales. Customers are from Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Ontario.
Lewis is the brains behind a walleye fishing contest held in November called Fall Brawl. Last year it drew 1,600 participants from all over the country during the five weeks the tournament ran. This year, he believes the number of participants could double, just as it has in previous years.
“The lake is a huge draw,” he maintains, “In November, I can draw 300 to 400 boats here a day (during Fall Brawl).”
“We need to find better ways as a community to take advantage of it,” he concludes.
Contact Michele Murphy at email@example.com
Tags: Sheffield Lake
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