Plummer always had his customers’ interests in his sights


There was a time when anglers, hunters, target shooters, gun collectors, and firearms owners throughout the area knew just where to get their questions answered, where to find the right equipment, and where to get advice that was rock solid.

They would take a drive out Secor Road, and just ask Ned.

Ned Plummer — the hunter, fisherman, skeet-shooter, fly-tier, knife-maker, and wood-worker who owned and operated the Trilby Sport Shop for about three decades — administered his expertise in a folksy, friendly manner to anyone who came through the doors of the place.

“He was the go-to guy for information on firearms,” said Ron Satkowiak, who used to live in the Toledo area but is now retired and living in Nevada. “If he didn’t have what you needed in stock, he would get it for you. If you wanted to know about something to do with hunting or fishing or guns, he could tell you. Ned was an honest and helpful businessman who just enjoyed taking care of people.”

When the Trilby Sport Shop closed at the end of 2001, following the same path that ultimately claimed a number of other former Toledo gun suppliers, it was not due to the usual suspects — competition from big-box sporting goods stores, or the snarl of federal regulations and red tape associated with the business. Ned, who will turn 75 on Monday, was just ready to retire.

“I don’t miss the headaches and all of the paperwork, but I really do miss the people,” Plummer said. “I loved talking with my customers.”

Plummer, who graduated from Maumee Valley and attended Colorado College before going into the Army, has had a very long relationship with sport shooting. He had displayed considerable prowess in target shooting while in the Army — Plummer posted the highest score ever recorded with an M1 Garand rifle on the target course at Fort Knox, setting a record that has never been broken.

He was working at DeVilbiss Corporation when he got introduced to skeet shooting about 50 years ago. He enjoyed it, and started shooting regularly, and he still does.

Once Plummer got involved in shooting skeet, he started working Saturdays at Lickendorf's House of Guns on Stickney. His rapidly developing proficiency in the sport grew into the opportunity to visit area shooting clubs to demonstrate guns, but when Lickendorf’s closed, Plummer needed to find a new business association.

He was also teaching fly-tying classes at the time, and selling the flies he tied to a half dozen sporting goods stores in the area, including Trilby Sport Shop. Plummer came into that specialty niche out of necessity.

“I was fishing one day and I lost $11 worth of flies, so I figured I’d better learn how to make my own,” he said. One of Plummer’s students in those fly-tying classes was Chris Helm, a Toledoan who is widely recognized as one of the premier fly tiers in the world.

“I tell people that I was just his kindergarten teacher, and then he went on to earn a PhD in fly tying,” Plummer said

While selling flies he had tied, Plummer got to know Don Turner, the owner of Trilby Sport Shop, and after Lickendorf’s closed, Plummer began filling in at Trilby. Plummer worked part-time at Trilby for about five years, then left DeVilbiss in 1973 to work fulltime at the shop. When Turner was ready to retire the following year, he sold the enterprise to Plummer.

At the time, Trilby Sport Shop sold hobby supplies, electric trains, Hot Wheels cars, Converse athletic shoes, baseball bats, and a wide array of other sporting goods equipment and custom embroidered team uniforms, besides fishing and hunting gear. For a while, Plummer also supplied the shorts and T-shirts for the physical education classes at Whitmer.

But as technology changed and competition chewed away at certain segments of the business, Trilby Sport Shop narrowed its scope but stayed right in the target area of Plummer’s strengths — hunting, fishing and shooting sports.

“Every time we lost something, we added a few more guns and fishing rods,” he said. “Towards the end, the inventory was pretty much just hunting and fishing, and some clothing.”

When sporting clays were introduced to the shooting market in the late 1980s, Plummer gave that a try and liked it enough to establish a direct purchasing arrangement for ammunition with Remington, and he was proficient enough to qualify for the world championships in Colorado Springs in 1991.

He continued to develop a reputation as the area’s foremost expert on guns. Shotguns, rifles, rare, antique, collectible, premium, specialty firearms — Plummer knew a lot about them all.

“He knew guns, inside and out,” said Jim Frankowski of Curtice. “Ned had the knowledge about the products, and he was very fair with people. He always got along great with his customers, and Ned was always willing to help people out in any way he could. I’m not sure you see that kind of service around anymore.”

Plummer said his gift of gab might have negatively impacted the bottom line a bit, but he considered it one of the real pleasures of doing business in Toledo.

“I’ve had people tell me that I’d sell more stuff if I didn’t talk to the customers so much, but I never looked at it that way,” he said. “I never regretted buying the store. I knew most of my customers by name, and every day I went in there to open up, I was just tickled to death to be running that place.”

The inventory was sold to a Michigan sporting goods retailer when Trilby Sport Shop closed, but the reputation remains.

“I remember that he carried only quality stuff,” said John Zuelke, an avid hunter and angler who visited the Trilby Sport Shop on occasion. “He didn’t stock any junk.”

Plummer also enjoyed the sports he supplied, hunting Dall sheep, caribou, moose, black bear, antelope, ducks, geese and other game. He was part of the winning team on one of the first Lake Erie walleye tournaments, and has been trout fishing in the American west. He is a former Eagle Scout, and a former scout leader.

Today, Plummer still makes high quality knives in his shop at home, and travels to sports shows to sell them. That venture gives him contact with some of those customers who made Trilby Sport Shop an institution.

“When it came time to close the place down, I was prepared for it. I had been thinking about it, planning on it for about three years,” said Plummer, who used to display the photos of successful young hunters under the glass counters in his shop. “I always tried to give people my time, give them the best advice I could, and help them make the right choice when they were considering buying something. I think those little things all added up to make a difference.”

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.