Kevin Hansen has been in the men’s clothing business long enough to understand its seasons: The middle of the summer is slow, as is late winter. A fisherman’s mind turns to water in those offseasons, if not all seasons.

Men’s clothing is where Hansen earned his reputation in Greater Des Moines. Take a few minutes to talk with him, though, and you know where his mind is. Fishing, fly fishing in particular.

“He’s a clothing guy who fishes and talks about it all the time,” said Laura Palmer, Hansen’s spouse and a Greater Des Moines freelance illustrator. “I’m a fisher by marriage.”

In June, Hansen opened Rod & Rivet in a tight space that is more of a nook behind a storefront at 5810 Franklin Ave. Shortly after the opening, a “Gone fishing” sign was in the window. Yes, Hansen had gone fishing.

If Palmer isn’t on those fishing trips, she often is behind the counter at Rod & Rivet, selling spools of tippet material — small-diameter monofilament line intended to mask the connection between an imitation caddis fly or faux minnow and the heavier fly line that delivered it to the fish — fly fishing books, maybe some gear. She cautions that anyone with technical questions about fly fishing should contact Hansen; he might have gone fishing, but he still responded to email. 

If her schedule doesn’t allow, the shop is closed.

The sign generated some discussion, with Palmer wondering whether potential customers would be put off. Hansen, paraphrasing author John Gerlach, reassured her that fishermen would understand, some would even be jealous.

Rod & Rivet (a simple reference to fishing and the rivets found in blue jeans) is the state’s only shop dedicated to fly fishing — no night crawlers here, just imitation worms — and it is the only authorized Orvis retailer in the state. Orvis is an iconic name in fly fishing, founded in 1856 in Manchester, Vt. These days, the company, with more than $340 million in annual sales, according to Forbes, and 1,700 employees, might be just as well known for its clothing, outdoor gear, even its dog beds and eco-travel operation. 

The Orvis connection was by design. Even for folks who don’t fly fish, the name triggers thoughts of the outdoors, mountain valleys, northeast Iowa coulees, clear waters, pristine beaches and wave-smacked, boulder-pocked shorelines. Hansen worked with the company for 1½ years as he prepared to open Rod & Rivet. 

“They are incredible. They are one of the best vendors I have ever worked with,” Hansen said. “There are so many resources for fly fishers on their website, a full range of products, incredible customer service. If you break a rod, they turn around and get you one right back. [This Business Record reporter can attest to that.] And also they give 5 percent of pretax profits back to the resource, which I think is really cool.”

Hansen is a member of the Iowa chapter of Trout Unlimited and represents the organization on the Iowa Environmental Council board.

“Part of the reason I want to do this is that the more people who are fly fishing, who are spending time outdoors, the more they are going to care about the environment, about conservation, about getting their children outside, about getting excited about spending time outside,” he said.

The Orvis shingle hanging outside Rod & Rivet has drawn passers-by who were unaware a fly shop was operating in Des Moines.

“It has definitely helped get some people inside the store,” Hansen said.

We should point out that this is a small business in a tiny market. Others have tried their hands at operating higher-end outdoors shops as independent businesses. Few remain, and certainly none that specialize in fly fishing. The big-box outdoors stores make fly fishing gear and fly tying materials available to their customers, but those areas take up little store space. At one point, Scheels All Sports pulled fly fishing tackle from its displays at the Jordan Creek Town Center store. These days, a limited amount of fly fishing gear is on display.

By most estimates, fly fishing accounts for no more than 10 percent — some estimates are 5 percent or less — of a sport fishing market that had its hooks into an estimated 47.2 million Americans ages 6 and up in 2016, according to a report from the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Foundation.

The market in Greater Des Moines is larger than Hansen anticipated. Expose yourself to his unbridled enthusiasm, and the numbers could grow larger. “You should be fishing” is a shop motto.

“We have been very pleasantly surprised,” he said. “I knew there was a community here that just didn’t have a place to go; it isn’t big.”

It takes more than enthusiasm to sustain a business, though. Rod & Rivet also hosts fishing trips (Hansen and Palmer will host a group of local fly fishers in Belize next spring) and corporate outings, and offers fly casting lessons, fly tying classes, the opportunity to test-cast fly rods before making a purchase, and guiding, particularly to the trout streams of northeast Iowa’s Driftless Area. The hosted trips focus on the western United States, the Caribbean and, above all, the Driftless Area.

We want to know these places really well,” Hansen said. “That way our clients have a good experience. There is just a lot of demand for that dollar.”

And for those who have spent time in small outdoors stores of any description, friendly banter is always in the air.

Hansen’s emergence as a fly fishing retailer came via his long experience as a men’s clothing retailer. He was the buyer and manager at men’s specialty clothing store Badowers, where Sportswear International identified him as a “retailer to watch” in 2011, and later a consultant for Des Moines startup Men’s Style Lab.

“I parlayed my clothing business. We started hosting trunk shows essentially in northeast Iowa. We would rent a lodge or a big cabin and I would pair with one of my clothing brands. The first trip, we had 12 clients. We would do one every summer and and every fall. From that I had a lot of customers ask me, ‘Could you help me pick out the right [fly fishing] gear?’ Or ‘I’m going out west or I’m going to Florida; could you point me in the right direction?’ You can’t overestimate the demand for those kind of services,” Hansen said.

The hosted trips are a result of his early experiences as a fly fishing traveler. For the do-it-yourselfer, those trips can be daunting.

“All of the places we host at we have been to multiple times, so we know the area,” he said. “It’s a little intimidating going to a place where you have never been; you’re spending all day with a stranger, basically, trusting them with your life on their boat, floating down a river or out in the Everglades. I remember when I first started traveling to fish and trying to find a guide, there were a lot of unknowns.”

Hansen was credited with expanding Badowers’ appeal across generations. During his tenure, Esquire named Badowers the No. 2 men’s store in the country.

While at the storied men’s retailer, Hansen hosted a trunk show for Todd Snyder, the Huxley native with a fancy for fine clothing who became a bit of a boy wonder in the New York fashion scene. Along with his private label brand, Snyder started the Tailgate Clothing Co., a retailer that specializes in vintage-styled collegiate clothing. In a deal that involved Greater Des Moines investment banker Eric Lohmeier’s NCP Inc., Snyder sold Tailgate Clothing Co. to American Eagle Outfitters for an estimated $11 million in 2015. Tailgate opened a store in late summer at Jordan Creek Town Center.

Hansen met Snyder through Lohmeier, a fellow Southeast Polk High School graduate. It was during that trunk show in 2011 at Badowers that Hansen asked Palmer out for a date. 

At the time, Palmer, a Muscatine native, was building her reputation as an artist, illustrator and fundraiser. She started her freelance business, XO-LP in 2005, designing unique greeting cards. She was with Drake University for seven years, serving as its major gifts officer when she left to be the resource development director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa. In 2012, she co-founded the community arts program Make/Break. Also that year, she was named Young Person of the Year by the Young Professionals Connection. 

In 2015, Palmer and Hansen were married. She is the proud illustrator for Rod & Rivet’s custom-built fly bin, organizer of the shop’s social media presence, builder of its online store; her illustrations are featured in a living art display at the Outlets of Des Moines.

“Aren’t those flies labeled so nicely,” she said. “If he married me for one reason, it was my penmanship.”

“Plus you have great taste in music,” Hansen responded. Palmer is working on the soundtrack for the shop. 

Hansen started his private client clothing business, the Good Fancy, about three years ago. As for fishing, he guesses he has been casting a rod for most of his 40 years.

“My parents had a camper. I think the first weekend I was born, we went camping,” he said. The Rod & Rivet Instagram page is full of photos of a young Hansen proudly hoisting various species of fish. “We spent every weekend, every summer outdoors, camping, fishing. I started going to northeast Iowa when I was probably about 20.”

He took up fly fishing about 10 years ago. 

He has been fishing long enough to remember the few small shops that provided a smattering of fly fishing tackle. One was 2nd Avenue Bait House and Fly Shop, once located along the south bank of the Des Moines River. Proprietor Jene Hughes was a teacher, writer, musician, photographer, carpenter and avid fly fisher. He was the author of the “The Complete Guide to Iowa Trout Streams.” Hughes died in 2014.

Hansen figures he has about three years to prove that a fly shop can succeed in Greater Des Moines. Fact of the matter is that he would like to open another one in northeast Iowa.

For now, he is happy to provide a shop for like-minded fishers.

“I wanted a place where people who wanted to learn about the sport or were involved with the sport could come and get real advice and really good gear, quality fishing gear,” he said. “It was lacking; it hadn’t been here forever. The first week we opened, we had a couple dozen people just say thanks for doing this. It felt really good to hear that from people who enjoy the sport; it was sincere.”