High End – What Does That Mean?

From the perspective of someone who truly understands the term “high end”, there’s nothing much worse than hiring a consultant and then finding out later they don’t understand some basic expectations.

But, it happens way too often.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure to work for, and with, people who have high expectations. Before that, I spent the better part of two decades figuring out the fundamentals of my career as a fisheries biologist.

At first, I thought the “mission” was to grow big fish, fast. People always seem to want trophy fish. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times, “I want to grow the biggest bass on the planet!” Oh yes, we dealt with runaway aquatic plant growth, finicky fish feeders and leaky boats, too.

But, with some age and experience, and a few forehead slapping epiphanies after losing a key client from time to time, the little light bulb behind that forehead began to shine.

Rich, and often famous, people began ringing my phone, wanting to talk about their lakes and their ideas. After getting past a twinge of “star struck”, I realized these folks are just good people with higher expectations than the results they were getting. They are the same as I am…always thinking, trying to reach higher standards. They saw the big picture with their lakes and fish, but didn’t quite understand which pieces were missing from their puzzle.

There was a developing niche…and it looked like there might be a good fit for yours truly.

I’ll always remember a client in upstate New York. He and his property manager wanted to hire me to create a fishing program on their 5,000 acre private wildlife preserve. After a few visits, I began to see the problem. At first, a fisheries biologist looks at the fish. To this day, almost every time I encounter a private fisheries biologist, the first thing they talk about is the lake, the fish, the plants…all that biology stuff. Certainly, that’s important, but that isn’t “it”.

As we sized each other up, this prospective client was clearly dissatisfied with his lakes and their performance. Then, another revelation. I found out, about two years earlier, they had hired the recently retired head of inland fisheries for the state of New York. This fellow had dedicated his entire adult life to serving the people of the Empire State with their wondrous fisheries resources. I’ll tell you…if you don’t already know…there are some spectacular fishing opportunities in upstate New York, with more diversity than any state I know.

Well, his round of retirement didn’t last long,

My prospective client fired the guy less than a year into the gig at the preserve. He couldn’t do what was needed.

He simply swung and missed.

As an entrepreneur and longtime pond management practitioner, my hair stood on end and my heart rate rose a little bit when this tidbit entered my thought process through our negotiations.

If this guy, with all his history and credentials couldn’t please these folks, what did he miss? How could I help this client hit a home run?

A revelation…another epiphany. The retired biologist didn’t get “it”.

Neither had any of the other guys who treaded this path before me.

This was a crucial turning point in my career.

I had to do something different than this long line of distinguished, hardworking biologists before me…fifteen years’ worth.

What would I do differently?

Finally, after wrangling this concept throughout my mind and hashing ideas with the preserve manager, often with slightly elevated, passionate voices, I asked a simple question, “If the Secret Service called, and you found out President Bush was coming at nine tomorrow morning and wanted to fish, would he catch any?”

The answer set the stage for a business model I use today.

“Yes…but I would go get my boat, my rods and reels, my tackle bag and we’d start out over at that cove. There’s a pile of rocks and I always catch fish there. If that didn’t work, we’d head around to some sunken timber and fish on that. If that didn’t work, we’d pull out the ultralight and work some vegetation that’s just starting to grow and see if we could catch some sunfish.”

At that point, I knew what needed to be done.

I’d figured out the “it”.

Sure, we could set up feeders and do what everyone else does. We could stock some fish and help the fishery. We could do all that electrofishing and the things a biologist is expected to do.

But, that wasn’t “it”.

In this case, the “it” was that the property owner was embarrassed by catch rates when guests came fishing. And, lots of guests came fishing. High end guests. He was convinced the fishery was amiss…and he wanted it changed.

Guess what we did?

We focused first on the experience. The guest relations. In this case, it made sense to hire fishing guides, train them to our expectations and get the proper gear in order. They fished the lake, learned it and were taught how to handle guests. We bought what we needed, set up a cool tackle shop inside a boat house, bought digital cameras for each boat, took pictures of catches on the water, put them in frames…oftentimes it was the guest’s first fish, ever. Over cocktails, the guide would bounce up the stairs, hand the guest a custom-framed photo…holding a fish. Guess what happened? Those were some excited guests…and the owner beamed like a new daddy.

We figured out details of the experience…before any of the “biology” stuff.

As that program developed, we then focused on the fishery. We collected data, studied the fish and began to figure out there were issues…not related to the fish.

Ah, another one of those moments. I knew from years’ experience that you can’t money-whip a fishery and fix it. Most people just want to stock more fish…or toss in more feed. In this case, the environment was a big part of the problem. Sure, the lake should hold more catchable fish, but the water put up a big argument for four weeks of the year.

Four weeks.

The entire fishery responded to water quality changes which lasted a mere four weeks.

We solved the problem, once we knew what it was.

In the span of two years, the preserve’s fishing program went from average to above expectations. Very little of it had to do with the fish.

Since you’ve read this far, I have a question.

You have amenities on your property. You have fish. Are you satisfied with what you are getting? If not, there are things that can be adjusted or tweaked. There may be elements you haven’t thought of…simply because this isn’t your core business.

When someone experiences what you have to offer, do they look at you with a giant grin and say, “Wow!”?

If not, why not?

What sets you apart?

Sure, you’ve done what the book says. You’ve followed good advice. But, what will it take to get you over that little plateau?

Call me… (903)564-5372.

Bob Lusk is the nation’s leading private fisheries consultant. He is also editor of Pond Boss magazine, the world’s leading resource for pond and fisheries management information. Check out more of his work at www.pondboss.com or contact Bob Lusk, the “Pond Boss” himself, at 903-564-6144. His books, Basic Pond Management, Raising Trophy Bass and Perfect Pond, Want One, may be purchased by calling 800-687-6075 or ordering online at www.pondboss.com.


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