Bringing Out The Competition

Why You Should Target Growth In Competition Shooting Segment

By Tim Barker

Every other Monday night, a few dozen customers gather on the range at C.I. Shooting Sports in Normal, Ill., for a game they call Monday Night Marksman. The game was invented by the shop’s owner, Stephen Stewart, who describes it as a combination of two other popular shooting sports — bull’s-eye and Police Pistol Combat (also known as Precision Pistol Competition).

Stewart is a veteran of several shooting disciplines, including 3-Gun, USPSA and NRA Action Pistol. And he sees several reasons to host these sorts of events at his range, where they also have bull’s-eye and USPSA matches during the week.
On one level, they fit with the store’s belief customers should strive to be proficient with their firearms. “It’s better than standing there shooting at a piece of paper,” he said. “It also gives the customers something to look forward to.”
But there’s also a pragmatic business angle to these types of events. They generate enthusiasm and fuel customers’ interest in guns, ammo and accessories. It’s not uncommon for a novice shooter (or at least someone with no previous competition experience) to come in a try out one of the events and become hooked.

“The next thing you know, they’re buying a 1911 Range Officer for Monday Night Marksman,” Stewart shared.

There’s a similar story at the Centennial Gun Club in Centennial, Colo., where they host monthly competitions in a wide range of handgun sports, including USPSA, IDPA, bowling pin and Steel Challenge.

Joey Mizufuka, a sales manager and instructor, said the store started becoming more active in the competition shooting sector about four years ago. He’s been a USPSA shooter since 2007. The push into this arena has helped the shop differentiate itself in a crowded market.

“That’s the direction we’ve been leaning toward more and more. We needed something. We went for it and it’s been very successful,” said Mizufuka, who also hosts a monthly introductory class for customers interested in competition.

USPSA, in particular, is popular in the area, with matches available every weekend of the month at various ranges. Their own match is on Sunday evenings after the shop closes. They max out at 50 shooters (each paying $20 to shoot) — and in four years, they’ve only failed to sell out once.

With that level of local interest, it just made financial sense to attempt to tap into the market.

“Nobody carries this stuff locally,” Mizufuka relayed.

Appealing to local competition shooters represents another way your store can
stand out from a crowded field of options. Image Courtesy Of Davidson’s

Nosler Custom Competition Bullets

Keys To Success

To be clear, for both shops, the competition shooter represents a relatively small business segment. These shooters — particularly the more advanced competitors — tend to have specific needs. And many of them are met by small online specialty shops that cater to the various shooting disciplines. One of the keys for a local store is knowing what to offer, said Stewart from Illinois.

“They don’t buy a whole lot of the competition stuff from us,” he said. “But we still get enough of the business to make it worth our while.”

Of course, these games start with the gun. And each of the games tends to be dominated by a small number of guns. Visit a local USPSA match, for example, and you’ll see a heavy emphasis on 2011s, CZ Shadows (with the newer Shadow 2 rising in popularity) and various Tanfoglios.

Entry-level shooters, however, often tend to show up with whatever they happen to have in their gun safe. As they become more interested, most invariably find themselves eyeing guns designed with these games in mind.

Stewart carries a range of popular competition models, including the Springfield Armory Range Officer, STI’s line of DVC guns (both in 1911 and 2011) and CZ Shadow 2s. And with the fast-rising interest in USPSA’s new pistol-caliber carbine division, he stocks the SIG MPX and CMMG’s 9mm carbines.

The guns, however, aren’t the biggest moneymakers.

They also carry reloading equipment, including Dillon presses, powder, primers and bullets. And they offer a line of Blade-Tech holsters and ammo pouches used by many gamers.

“The accessories are obviously what’s going to do the best for us,” Stewart said. “We’re always looking for the next cool product for competitors.”

At Centennial Gun Club, the offerings include a heavy emphasis on Tanfoglios (the Stock 2 and Stock 3) and CZs from the CZ Custom Shop. In December alone, they sold around 40 of the new CZ Shadow 2s.

“GLOCKs are still popular with USPSA and IDPA. And we sell a ton of Walthers,” Mizufuka reported.

The store is one of only a couple in the nation to carry mag pouches and belts by specialty manufacturer Guga Ribas. And they stock a line of competition base plates by the Henning Group in nearby Longmont, Colo.

Tanfoglio Stock III Xtreme

Walther PPQ Q4 TAC

Establishing Credibility

Both shops illustrate one of the key considerations for any store venturing into the competition-shooting sector: They have people on staff who know the sports — people who can speak the language of the competition shooter — and know what those men and women need.

“Having some knowledge is a big thing. It just worked out well I’m in the industry. I use the stuff. I don’t just go by reviews,” relayed Mizufuka, whose store also hosts special events from time to time, including a recent class by pro USPSA shooter JJ Racaza.

It’s about credibility, maintained Stewart, whose Illinois store is a sponsor of a state USPSA match that draws in hundreds of shooters from around the region.

“We can talk about anything with these people,” he shared. “And we have a reputation for running a great USPSA match. Our stages are always exciting.”

It’s worth mentioning competition communities tend to be close-knit and heavily involved on social media. As a result, the only real advertising they do is through the shop’s Facebook pages (one for the store and one for the USPSA club operating out of the range). Word-of-mouth among the shooting community largely takes care of the rest.

But how important is it to have an on-site range? There’s obviously a monetary angle there, with matches pulling in as much as $1,000 a night — often after regular business hours. Still, there’s no reason a shop couldn’t reach out to the competition community by carrying the right mix of firearms and accessories, Stewart relayed. It’s just a range — and the competitions you can host — provide an advantage.

“It gives people the opportunity to come in we might not see otherwise,” he concluded.

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