By Massad Ayoob
If your customers and colleagues have a sense of humor, they may have copied you on an email making the rounds lately. It depicts a giant billboard displaying: “September Is ‘Buy Your Husband A New Gun Month!’”
Where was this billboard located, exactly? Well, it turns out the image came from a generic meme generator. This message would be welcomed within the industry as dealers have reported a widespread downturn of firearm sales compared to the previous few years. So, how do you generate sales instead of memes? One answer is the oldest one in retailing: Stock what your customers want to buy, and let them know you have it!
Carry The New Hotness
Whatever the product type, customers are drawn to new — especially from established product lines. Take for example the recently introduced GLOCK Gen5 pistol.
It had been a matter of speculation for months and GLOCK fans in particular were chomping at the bit to get their hands on one. When the Gen5 pistols were announced on August 30, 2017, the gun forums lit up with shooters who proudly announced they had been among the first to hold them, fall in love with them and buy them.
Of course, there were also GLOCK fans who were skeptical their already possessed “GLOCK Perfection” could get any more perfect. Smart gun sales folk were ready with answers: The return to straight-front grips after more than a quarter century allowed the guns to fit hands that might have been incompatible with the Gen3 and Gen4 finger-grooved models. The ambidextrous slide release was all the more southpaw-friendly. For the first time, a factory-flared magazine well speeded reloads for seasoned shooters and made loading easier for new shooters as well. The new trigger pull in particular probably sold more old GLOCK owners on this new GLOCK than anything else.
The gun-buying slowdown has brought prices down. The Smith & Wesson Shield, for example, with recent rebates has become one of the best “values for what a dollar is worth today” on the market — and it has enhanced sales of a pistol with more than a million units already sold in just a very few years.
Entry-level MSRs were scalped for four-figures during the “panic-buying episodes” of the last few years are now going out the door for under $500 sticker prices. Yes, it seems desperate … but it’s selling stock, keeping the lights on and allowing employees to go home with a paycheck to feed their families.
One of my favorite gun shops, Pro Arms in Live Oak, Fla., recently advertised “Ten Guns For Under $275.” It definitely sparked business. I was in the shop one day watching more folks than usual purchase single-barrel shotguns, .22s and lower-end pistols from the Taurus line. The local “gun people” already knew this shop was the place to go in the area to examine and buy something like a pricey Nighthawk .45 or a top-of-the-line Smith & Wesson 340 M&P five-shot .357 revolver. Advertising “Ten Guns Under $275” brought in ordinary folks who otherwise might have gone looking for a cheap gun at the local Walmart, walking distance away.
Letting customers know you have a hotly awaited new gun in stock — like this Gen5 GLOCK 19,
shown on its release day — should bring in traffic.
Seek New Markets
There are always new markets to be explored. I’m sure you already know about SASS (Single Action Shooting Society), whose game requires a couple of cowboy-style six-shooters, a lever-action carbine and a period shotgun. This is four new guns for every single customer who wants to get into the game, not counting holsters and belts and reloading set-ups and such. (You can learn more about SASS at www.sassnet.com.)
But are you familiar with the corollary sport, Cowboy Fast Draw? Only one gun is required: a single-action six-shooter, caliber .45 Colt. Yes, it’s only one gun and leather rig per customer — at least to start. However, because they are fired with wax bullets, matches can be held in a club member’s backyard, no actual shooting range required. There are a couple of benefits here; amazingly, few gun shops play to their advantage.
One is, for the very reason only one gun is required, it’s a whole lot cheaper and easier to get into the sport, which means a whole lot more potential customers!
Secondly, if a guy can host a Cowboy Fast Draw match in his backyard on the edge of the suburbs, your shop can host a demonstration and even a match in the parking lot or behind your place of business. Advertise it in the local newspaper, on social media and your website.
Visit the Cowboy Fast Draw Association’s website at www.cowboyfastdraw.com to get more information. My experience is the participants in this sport are so enthusiastic they become ambassadors for it, and will be happy to set up their wax bullet backstops and electronic timing gear at your place. They’ll even bring guns and holsters for first-timers to try, and charge no more than a few dollars to cover all the primer-driven wax bullet loads they’ll bring.
An additional advantage — because these events are colorful and photogenic (with the Old West garb and all) — is it’s entirely possible it will generate a feature story in the news or sports section of the local paper. Favorable publicity like this never hurts.
Every person who shows up is likely to take a walk through your store before they leave. And some will have their appetite whetted to buy something like a Ruger Vaquero in .45 Colt, and of course, suitable belt and holster. (As any retail manager can confirm, a suddenly whetted appetite generates impulse sales.)
Don’t Forget First Responders
Have you reached out lately to your local first responders? The police department from which I recently retired issues each officer three handguns: S&W M&P .45 service pistol with Streamlight TLR light, S&W M&P Shield .45 for plainclothes/backup/administrative uniform wear and the Ruger SP101 snub-nose .357 revolver for backup — not to mention a Ruger MSR and Remington 870 in every patrol car.
It’s a very rare police department that outfits its officers. Most agencies require patrolmen to buy their own backup and off-duty guns. More often than not, they require the officers to purchase their own patrol rifles, too. Reach out to the unions or fraternal organizations in your area, offer a police discount and let them know because you appreciate their service you’d be happy to serve their personal firearms purchase needs. All it will take is a few phone calls and emails. Police tend to appreciate those who appreciate them.
It’s a challenging time in the marketplace, but the above suggestions will hopefully make it a little more manageable.