These days, Orvis Co., the upscale outfitter founded in 1856 and based in Manchester, Vt., sells more clothing and gifts than its original stock-in-trade--fishing and hunting gear. But "without our fly-fishing heritage," says catalog manager Tom Rosenbauer, "we'd be just another rag vendor."

To reel in new generations of loyal customers, the company markets its long history by offering classes in fly-fishing. These classes run for two to three days, cost $350 to $400, and are held in beautiful, trout-stocked waters. Instructors teach enthusiasts a variety of casting styles, how to assemble a reel, and basic fish behavior, without boring them with long-winded sales pitches. Not every student buys a rod and reel, which can cost upward of $500, but some might spring for a shirt as they fondly remember their days of fishing. The strategy works: Orvis sells more than $350 million a year, and its customers know they are buying from "the best in the business."