Selling Hunting In A Changing Market.
As independent firearms retailers prepare for the coming fall hunting season in their respective regions, they face an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on a number of factors refocusing the spotlight on hunting.
Hunting remains the primary impetus for fall firearms and related products purchases, according to Southwick Associates’ November-December 2014 survey of shooters and hunters. However, the entire industry is facing a reshaped market as the sales boon of recent years has slowed greatly. The soft market means dealers can’t view hunting season as a done deal turning of the calendar.
The father/son team of George and Ben Romanoff at Ace Sporting Goods near Washington, Pa., shared their hunting business strategies that remain constant, regardless of market flux, in “Gearing Up For Hunting Season” (June 2015). They also know a solid hunting business requires the willingness to adapt with the times and the changing market.
As the old song goes, independent retailers must “accentuate the positive.” For starters, this means recognizing the arc of hunting season sales.
“It used to be that your last quarter of the year was your best quarter. It still is, but where mid-September through December was your busiest time, now it’s probably the two weeks before hunting season, which begins the Monday after Thanksgiving here in Pennsylvania, and then December,” George Romanoff said.
The veteran firearms dealer says he has observed a decline in his Western Pennsylvania region’s hunting over the last decade because of decreased hunting lands and a smaller youth hunting population. Nonetheless, Romanoff knows a silver lining in this cloud is the surge in women hunters, who help drive hunting as a family activity.
“We are selling more pink (Muddy Girl) camo rifles now than we have in recent years,” George said.
Almost as many women hunters as men pursue whitetail deer, by gender percentile (67% vs. 68%), according to Southwick Associates’ “Women in the Outdoors in 2014” survey. Women are also only one percentage point behind men in hunting predators and upland game birds.
Female shooters are gravitating more to sporting clays, trap and skeet, and George points to this as “a natural transition to go hunting, especially for small game.”
The Nikon PROSTAFF 7i rangefinder has a number of features hunters will find useful,
including a range out to 1,300 yards, waterproof up to 1m for 10 minutes and the
ability to measure overlapping subjects with a Target Priority Switch System.
Building on the success of the Micro H-1, Aimpoint released the Micro H-2
earlier this year. Product enhancements include a new sight housing, which
allows for the addition of front and rear protective flip covers.
Make Change Your Friend
Another vital step toward seizing the advantage in the current hunting-market climate is to capitalize on the positive changes that impact the hunting business, such as improvements in hunting laws. In fact, independent firearms dealers are all potential frontline activists in the campaign for laws that will positively impact hunting (see NSSF sidebar).
An enthusiastic segment of the hunting market, both men and women, continues to take to the field with modern sporting rifles (MSRs). While NSSF reports as many as 27 percent of hunters carry MSRs, this trend doesn’t impact Ace’s hunting sales much since it remains illegal to hunt with MSRs in Pennsylvania. That law may change eventually, but in the meantime, the Romanoffs know their hunting business isn’t just confined to their own state.
“We do see some MSR pick-up from West Virginia, since we’re a half-hour from the border, and even more so in Ohio, where they now allow straight-walled cartridge hunting,” Ben said.
Another factor impacting the hunting business for retailers in 11 states, including Pennsylvania (which has legislation pending), is Sunday hunting is either restricted or prohibited. However, neighboring West Virginia, where some counties allow Sunday hunting, and Ohio also help fill the gap for Ace’s hunting customers, George and Ben are quick to point out.
The Romanoffs and the Ace team had to be encouraged to see the late-April, Pennsylvania-wide op-ed (www.pennlive.com), “An Easy Bullseye — Allow Sunday Hunting in Pennsylvania,” from Janet Nyce, co-chair of Hunting Works For Pennsylvania. Not only did she present a strong case for Sunday hunting, but she’s also a strong voice for women hunters.
“The full economic impact of hunting in Pennsylvania as we know it now is $1.6 billion. Now, imagine if we had an extra day. What would those numbers look like? We’re talking about increases of about 27 percent,” Nyce wrote.
Nyce’s commentary is applicable everywhere, of course.
Hunting with a suppressor is legal in most states now, including Pennsylvania. Many dealers can get a nice sales bump from steering customers toward this nontraditional hunting accessory.
“Some people are suppressing their bolt-action rifles while hunting. Hopefully those sales will increase as people learn more about it. It makes sense to hunt with a suppressor. How can I talk to my dad if I have earplugs in?” Ben Romanoff pointed out.
Yankee Hill and SilencerCo are the leading suppressor brands for Ace’s hunters, Ben says.
As general manager, Ben sums up a day in the life of Ace’s hunting business thus: “We zig and we zag.”
A Glance At New Hunting Products
What’s hot in new hunting products for 2015? In a word, anything that utilizes new or improved technologies or innovative designs. How about the first, new Winchester bolt-action rifle in 50 years?
Winchester Repeating Arms’ new XPR bolt-action rifle utilizes the latest technology and metallurgy advances. Featuring a 60-degree-lift bolt, the 24-inch barrel version comes in .270 Win. and .30-06 calibers, while the 26-inch-barrel model is available in .300 Win. Mag. and .338 Win. Mag.
Barnes’ VOR-TX all-copper centerfire rifle ammo line has two new 5.56 loads (62-grain and 70-grain), a .300 AAC Blackout 120-grain TAC-TX FB round and a .338 Lapua 280-grain LRX BT round.
Bushnell has added two new series of more compact Elite riflescopes with multi-coated optics, the Elite 3500 and the Elite 4500.
The new Minox DTC 400 Slim Wildlife Camera is roughly 1 inch thick and is slightly curved for an easier fit onto tree trunks. Its IR flash has a range of 49 feet.
The waterproof Nikon Pro-Staff 7i premium rangefinder, capable of readings out to 1,300 yards, is impressing serious hunting enthusiasts. It includes a two-year warranty.
Aimpoint has a new micro H-2 sight, which is more rugged and features enhanced optical lenses.
Streamlight’s new ProTac HL USB flashlight can be recharged handily from a vehicle’s outlet. A single charge lasts for 90 minutes to 12 hours, depending on lumens output.
Buck Knives’ new ergonomically designed Open Season line of hunting knives offers 10 blade styles, making it highly versatile for hunters of all kinds of game.
Last but not least in importance, Zippo’s popular hand warmer has been revamped into a mini-sized version, which boasts an easier-to-light burner and an improved, pre-measured system for refilling.
Winchester Repeating Arms’ XPR bolt-action rifle is designed to appeal to today’s
hunter, with an affordable price point and durable polymer stock. The XPR has a
three-round, detachable box magazine and is available in .270 Win., .30-06 Sprg.,
.300 Win. Mag. and .338 Win. Mag.
NSSF Helps “Arm” Hunting Ambassadors
Dealers who grasp the changing landscape in the hunting market will see current challenges as opportunities to better educate their customers and send them out the door as “well-armed” ambassadors for hunting. In fact, the NSSF is providing a number of powerful, new infographics dealers can use to keep hunting front and center in the public eye.
Even trends impacting hunting that appear negative at first blush can be turned into positives, if handled in the right way. Take the activist push against lead ammunition, for instance. As expected, California is leading the movement to ban ammunition with lead components. Again, enter NSSF to help with a new campaign aimed at addressing the fallacies in the ammo debate, along with the adverse economic impact of such ammo bans.
Using data from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, NSSF has also produced a new brochure called, The Economic Impact of Sunday Hunting. It spells out the projected economic impact on the nation’s economy from the 11 states with Sunday hunting bans of some kind in effect, were those restrictions to be rescinded. The NSSF estimates such a move would lead to the creation of as many as 27,000 new jobs, resulting in a total revenue boost of more than $2 billion. The impact is also broken down state by state.
Another clear and impressive infographic produced by NSSF is How Wildlife Is Thriving Because of Guns and Hunting (left). It illustrates the relationship among hunters, the firearms industry and wildlife/conservation agencies, while recapping the history of America’s conservation movement.
Independent firearms dealers and every serious hunter they outfit should be familiar with this basic information. Be ready to “tell the story” everywhere of hunting’s conservation and wildlife preservation heritage, in addition to its vital impact on our nation’s economy.
By Greg Stauton