Catering To The High-End Customer

By Carolee Anita Boyles

Jonathon Garza, GM of Nichols Guns, shares his store will often special-order firearms to pique
the interest of high-end clientele. Here, Garza is holding a custom rifle built off a Bighorn TL3
Action with a Bartlein Barrel and MasterPiece Arms Chassis (topped with a Kahles K624i and SilencerCo
Harvester suppressor) and a Nighthawk Custom VIP Turnbull 2 1911 — two products that will appeal to
discerning customers and collectors.

High-end customers are both a boon and a blessing. They think nothing of dropping substantial dollars on a classic or collectible gun, and they can add an order of magnitude to your bottom line.

At Shooter’s World in Tampa, Fla., GM Bruce Kitzis has set up a “store within a store” for classic and collectible guns, where luxurious furniture and soft lighting create the illusion of a gentleman’s personal gun room. When it comes to new guns, he said, catering to these customers is all about the details.

“We pride ourselves on providing the same service to everyone, whether the customer is spending $200 or $20,000,” Kitzis shared. “But for the high-end customer, you need to be extra sensitive to details. You need to be a fantastic listener, as well as knowledgeable on the products they’re looking for.” This includes knowing about engraving patterns and everything about the gun that can be customized.

“Make sure you’re attentive to their needs and wants, and take the time to show them all the options, because there may be a lot of options they don’t know they want,” Kitzis said. “I equate it to having a suit made: You can buy one off the rack, or you can go to a tailor and get fitted — the high-end customer wants theirs to be fitted.”

Shooter’s World also does a good bit of business in older, collectible guns.

“This customer is very astute,” Kitzis observed. “He already knows what he’s looking for. For this customer, it’s all about making him comfortable and giving him the tools he needs and the time to really look at the gun to evaluate it.”

It’s also crucial to know your clientele, Kitzis emphasized.

“When I get in a gun, whether it’s a 1911 or a beautiful old WWII Garand, I already know who I’m going to call to come look at it,” he said. “It’s important the customer feels like I’m looking out for him. He may not always want to buy the gun, but he sure appreciates the call when I have something I think he’d like to see.” It’s more like calling a friend than trying to sell something, Kitzis added.

Finding The Right Gun

Johnny Dury is one of the owners of Dury’s Guns in San Antonio, Texas. He said high-end customers — those who purchase what he calls “investment” guns — represent only a tiny fraction of his overall customer base. What they spend, however, far outpaces any of his other customers, and it’s not always in terms of traditional sales.

“For instance, I just sold $173,000 worth of guns for one guy,” he shared. “The buyer purchased them directly from the seller, and I just made a commission on them. That $173,000 didn’t go through my register, only the $17,000 in commissions.”

Dury considers any gun more than $5,000 is a high-end or collectible gun.

“The price goes up from there,” he said. “We’ve sold guns for as much as $750,000. The average high-end gun we sell is between $5,000 and $20,000. That’s the sweet spot in collectibles. After that, you’ve got to have a pretty big customer.”

One thing Dury has found is it’s harder to find the right gun for the customer than the other way around.

“The customer is the easy part,” he concluded. “Finding the gun is the hard part.”

Dury has several female customers who purchase high-end guns.

“I have a handful who purchase for themselves,” he said. “I just sold one of them a pair of Holland & Holland 20-gauge over-and-unders for $150,000, and I sold a friend of hers a $20,000 gun.” Dury also has a couple of female customers who purchase guns as gifts for their husbands.

Shotguns are the easiest to sell, Dury conveyed, and rifles are the most difficult.

“People can have multiple shotguns to do different things,” he said. “They have a dove gun and quail gun and a duck gun. It’s just like somebody who’s into high-end watches. They have a watch they wear on their boat, one they wear to black-tie dinners and they have one for everyday wear.”

In other words, customers aren’t buying investment guns just to store them in their gun safes.

“I’d say about a quarter of them shoot their guns,” Dury estimated.

Dury has sold his high-end customers some very special handguns over the years.

“We sold the very first factory-engraved Colt pistol that Sam Colt himself took around to show the investors,” he recalled. “That was a super cool gun.”

When someone starts collecting investment guns, Dury said, he has some specific advice for them.

“I tell them, ‘First, you need to buy what you like,’” he shared. “If you’re into Cowboy and Old West guns, that’s what you need to buy — so you have pride of ownership in the guns. Then, buy guns in the best condition you can afford. You’re better off to have 10 good ones than 50 fair ones. Buy the best of the best, and go from there.”

Dury also cautioned to be sure of the provenance of collectible guns. There are a lot of fakes out there and substantial money can be lost if you make a mistake.

Shooter’s World in Tampa, Fla., has a “store within a store” to meet
he needs of its high-end customers.

Meeting The Need

Jonathon Garza is the GM of Nichols Guns in Corpus Christi, Texas. One thing making these customers unique, he said, is they know what they want before they walk in the door.

“They’ve seen what they want and have researched it,” he contends. “Customers know what they want when they come in and also like a variety. They don’t just buy MSRs or pistols. They collect.”

This doesn’t mean these customers aren’t willing to listen to suggestions.

“These customers have open ears,” Garza said. “They really like to pick our brains for what we think. Since we’re knowledgeable about guns, sometimes we’ll say ‘That’s nice, but we’d like for you to look at this gun.’”

Keeping their customers’ interests in mind, Nichols Guns does some additional special ordering. Because Garza has taken the time to get to know his customers, he also can anticipate what they’re going to buy, and stocks guns he thinks will pique their interest.

These collectors are not the aging consumer we often fear represents the decline of our industry; many customers who collect classic or high-end guns are fairly young.

“They’re anywhere from 22 to 50 years old,” Garza reported.

There’s a consistent pattern to how these customers purchase guns, too.

“The customer starts as a new collector,” he said. “He wants to buy just about anything. Fast forward four years and the same person comes in and says, ‘I’d like to trade in a few things.’ What we see then is their first buys as they move into really nice things, because now they know what they want.”

Serving this customer involves developing a relationship, Garza concludes.

“I’ve seen this person for 5 years now, two or three times a week,” he explained. “He’s become a friend, and I know what he likes. So it becomes ‘Hey, buddy, I have something I think you’d like.’ I’m not trying to sell something; I just think he’ll think it’s cool.”

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