By Carolee Anita Boyles
Many retailers eschew dog-related products for a variety of reasons. Dog products are specialty items, and as such, are not for every gun shop. But for retailers who are heavily into hunting and lifestyle sales, dog products can represent a significant number of impulse and add-on sales. In addition, if you court specific market segments, carrying dog products can lead to bigger sales.
“I’ve been in the hunting business for 47 years, and we’ve always carried dog products,” shared Kevin Kelly, owner of Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear & Apparel in Tallahassee, Fla., and Thomasville, Ga. “We’re the bird-dog store — dog products go hand in hand with our customer.”
Located in the Red Hills region of north Florida and southern Georgia, Kevin’s is surrounded by quail plantations where upland bird hunting is a major activity in the fall and winter.
“We have a big presence of English cockers and Brittanies and a huge Lab business,” Kelly said. “All the Lab trainers come here in the winter months, because all the big Lab trials are here — as well as a lot of the bird-dog trials. They’re our customer. Everyone here has a hunting dog, and they all buy lanyards and whistles and electronic collars, and all kinds of accessories.”
A gun shop with only guns that doesn’t carry lifestyle products probably won’t do well with dog items, Kelly asserted.
“It’s a specialty business that goes along with lifestyle,” he said. “This category has been taken out of the gun stores because gun stores aren’t hunting stores anymore. They’re gun stores. There’s a difference between pistols and AR-15s, and shotguns and hunting stuff like we carry.” (Kelly later clarified when he refers to “hunting” stores he’s talking about independent retailers, not big boxes.)
“Most of the real hunting and fishing stores are gone,” he added. “There are gun stores, and in the coastal areas where there’s saltwater there are really good fishing stores. But as far as good, solid, old, hardcore 1960s and ’70s hunting and fishing stores, they’re few and far between.”
Kelly posited retailers who might be able to make money with dog products often overlook the category completely.
“It’s not a priority for them,” he asserted. “The category is a small piece of the pie in most hunting stores. But in good hunting stores, you’ll see dog products.”
Kelly said his market in dog products hasn’t changed significantly over the past 10 years.
“It’s still solid and good for us,” he observed.
What Products Sell?
To be successful at selling dog products, according to Kelly, it starts with understanding the customer.
“Interestingly, a lot of retailers are scared of the pet-box stores,” he said. “Or they think it’s an online business. It’s not; it’s an impulse business. The customer walks in and says, ‘Hey I need a new dog whistle.’ Or it may be a lanyard or a dog bed.”
Training accessories represent a dominant portion of dog-product sales at Kevin’s.
“We tailor-make a lot of the leashes and collars ourselves,” Kelly relayed. “The hard-core guys buy the same things they’ve always bought. They buy Roy Gonia whistles and megaphone whistles for the Labs, and the bird-dog guys buy Acme Thunderer whistles. What they buy depends on the breed they have.”
Customers also buy canvas
bumpers, mostly white ones, and a few rubber bumpers. “We sell a lot of bumpers from Dokken, and I buy a little electronic stuff from SportDOG,” Kelly confirmed. “We do a lot of Garmin. There are also a lot of little companies where we buy bits and pieces.”
Look For Local Opportunities
One category of customer Kelly regularly caters to (and is often overlooked by most retailers) is sporting-dog clubs. The members of these clubs aren’t necessarily hunters, although a few are; rather, they’re maintaining the tradition of sporting breeds by training them for what they have been bred.
Kathryn Leonhardt is vice president of the Mid-Florida Sporting Dog Association, and author of the book, Take The Field By Storm. She has been training flat-coated retrievers for the field in Maryland and Florida for 20 years.
“We want to bring out the best in our sporting dogs because they were bred to bring home dinner,” she stated. “Training them also brings out a closer connection between us and our dogs, plus they love it.”
Customers who field-train purchase all kinds of specialty equipment.
“We purchase bumpers, wingers (remote-controlled devices that throw bumpers or birds at a distance), whistles and duck calls,” Leonhardt informed.
But it doesn’t stop there. Get these customers into your store for the specialty items, and they’ll purchase a lot of things already on your shelves — further padding the bottom line.
“We also purchase camo shirts and pants, boots, wet-weather gear, holding blinds, starter pistols, ammo for the starter pistols and rangefinders — we buy the gamut,” she added.
These customers want to buy what you have to sell; they just don’t think of a gun store as a place to buy what they want.
“A lot of retailers are scared of the pet-box
stores. Or they think it’s an online business.
It’s not; it’s an impulse business.”
Kevin Kelly, owner
Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear
“Most of the time we order online,” Leonhardt said. “And big-box stores carry training supplies. But if we knew about an independent store that could give us a great deal on what we need, why would we go anywhere else?”
Finding these clubs is simple; you just need to know where to look. Most of them are sanctioned by either the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the United Kennel Club (UKC). A visit to either website can yield a list of clubs in your area.
On the AKC website, go to webapps.akc.org/club-search/#/performance to search by state to find hunt training clubs in your area. For UKC clubs, visit www.ukcdogs.com. Mouse over the Hunting tab for a dropdown menu where you can see all the different kinds of hunt training clubs nationwide.
Once you’ve reached out to this audience, cultivate them. Provide seminars and other in-store events to help them train their dogs.
“Establish a small training group,” Leonhardt advised. “If you encourage people to do this, they’ll come to your store. Do a seminar on using a winger, or on how to be a great gunner; gunners are invaluable. People want to know those things, and how to come to the line and how to be respectful of the judges.” There’s a whole world of hunt tests and people who want to run them who are potential customers.
One other thing you can do for training clubs is help them find places to train. If you know a hunt club with property that sits idle during the summer, connect them with a training group.
“Finding places with safe water to train is almost impossible in Florida,” Leonhardt stated. “Helping us find them would be a huge benefit a store could provide.”
Find Your Niche
For the most part, the big-box pet stores have the general pet market well covered. One company well known in the show and performance world just stepping into the gun-dog world, however, is RTK, short for Ruff Tough Kennels. RTKs are a favorite with hunters and field-test folks who travel with their dogs, and are widely considered the gold standard for safe, durable kennels in vehicles.
“The Ruff Tough Kennel was designed and built by sportsmen in South Dakota,” shared Doug Stangl, RTK company representative. “Pheasant outfitters and dog trainers helped design them. Our business has expanded into all aspects of the dog world; we’re working with Sports Inc. to get into independent retailers.”
Don’t overlook dog food. Big-box and specialty pet stores carry bagged kibble, but for those people who feed raw, quality food is sometimes hard to come by. A freezer of raw food will bring in anyone who feeds this way.
“We focus on independently owned stores,” said Tamara Granger, sales and technical consultant for K9 Kraving Dog Food. “Healthy food goes right along with other products for hunting dogs. K9 Kraving was formulated specifically for sporting and working dogs. It focuses on energy, stamina and muscle support, and supports skin and coat and healthy teeth; in short, it’s about overall wellness.”
By expanding your inventory to include dog-related products and gaining knowledge about the category in the process, it will illustrate your desire to cater to the customer’s individual needs — an invaluable way to earn their respect and business.