Dazzling Optics

Today’s Trend: Consumers Demand
Higher-End Products.

Has the business of selling optics changed in recent years? Yes and no. Value and customer service are still king, but the demand for higher-end products has increased, say dealers on both coasts. Today’s optics consumers are more knowledgeable than ever, and many are willing to spend big bucks on a quality product.

Translation: dealers need to be prepared for tougher questions concerning optics as customers are doing detailed homework — most of it via manufacturers’ websites — before they enter stores. The strength of the local dealer vs. the online retailer is still the experience factor, along with the personal, tailored-to-the-consumer touch.

Leupold is the top-selling optics brand at Yeager’s Sporting Goods. New for 2013,
the BX-4 McKinley Binoculars offer enhanced color rendition and low-light visibility.

Demanding Higher Quality

With a solid background in marketing, John “Westy” Westerfield, store manager of Yeager’s Sporting Goods in Bellingham, Wash., has a lot of expertise to share with other dealers. Yeager’s has been outfitting hunters in the Pacific Northwest for 92 years.

“Really cheap optics are nearly impossible to sell,” Westerfield said. “We don’t even stock them. People want better quality, and because so much better quality is available today, it’s silly not to demand it. Our customers are willing to pay a higher price to get a better optic.”
The arena of high-tech optics is quite competitive, with manufacturers offering many brands and models of riflescopes, binoculars and spotting scopes. If there is a challenge to selling optics, to Westerfield’s thinking, it is the simple fact that optics are “way overproduced” in the U.S.

“It makes it very difficult for the dealer to decide what to carry. You pick a few of the top brands and hope that will be what your customer is looking for, and if not, you may have to change your mix,” he said.

The crowded optics market means it can be difficult for the consumer to know what to buy. The number of optics available also demands a highly educated sales staff.

“The most important thing is to have your crew trained in optics so they understand how a riflescope, a spotting scope or binoculars work, and they can explain the differences in quality and price. The secret to a good scope is, first of all, the glass — the quality of the grinding, the number and quality of the coatings and the overall robustness of the product. Cheap scopes break easily, better scopes don’t,” Westerfield said.

Westerfield sees selling optics as a give-and-take proposition.

“We find it important never to talk down to the customer, but we make sure we give them a fair understanding of the features and benefits of the product. We want to ensure that whatever research they have done is supported by what we say,” he said.

In selling optics, it’s especially important to have a customer look through the glass and experience the “wow” factor.

“We have a number of ways of demonstrating optics for our customers. We have some dummy, non-firing rifles we can put scopes on. They can take it outside and see the clarity or the power of the scope,” Westerfield said.

Westerfield notes that his most popular-selling optics brand is Leupold, manufactured in nearby Oregon. Yeager’s also sells riflescopes, spotting scopes and binoculars from Redfield, Bushnell, Nikon, Pentax and Browning.

“We’ve been happy with all the optics companies we work with,” Westerfield said.

Swarovski’s major consumer ad campaign features the new ATX/STX Modular
Sporting Scopes, which offer three interchangeable objective lens.

Expect The Unexpected

Dustin Helms, manager of Eagle Guns & Range in Concord, N.C., also has noted the trend toward higher-end optics, and he has been pleasantly surprised by how much some customers are willing to pay.

“In the past year, we started picking up Swarovski and some of the really high-end optics that we didn’t stock before because we’ve had quite a few requests for them. We even sell several of Swarovski’s Z6i models each year now, and that’s a $3,600 rifle hunting scope.”

Helms also sees his customers doing their homework and coming to him with very specific requests for optics preferences.

“It seems to be getting easier to sell the higher-end optics, and most of the companies do a good job of having good information on their optics on their websites. That helps a lot,” Helms said.

What are Eagle Guns’ top-selling optics brands?

“Of course, Leupold is always going to sell well. The biggest increase in sales I’ve seen in the past year is in Trijicon’s Accupoint line of scopes for traditional hunting rifles. It helps that the military is using a lot of their optics, so the name is out there. Our best-selling midrange optics brand is Nikon. They cater a lot to the bolt-action, long-distance shooter,” Helms said.

Helms also emphasized the importance of letting customers test-drive optics outdoors.

“We have a really nice optics display and we can walk our customers outside to demo an optic. We’ve got a pretty far-distant treeline, so you can get a good spectrum of what the scope looks like,” Helms said.

Zeiss’ new for 2013 TERRA ED line of binoculars, offered in 8×42 and 10×42 models,
feature German quality at a lower price point.

Binocular Options

Hunters toting scope-mounted rifles tend to be divided over whether to also take spotting scopes or binoculars to the field. Spotting scopes are popular for range shooting and longer range hunting from a fixed position.

Binoculars remain popular with birders and campers. Even stargazers find them useful. Nearly every household has a need for good binoculars, so it pays to be educated and to stock a good cross-section of binos for your customers. They tend to be a life time purchase, so folks may be willing to spend a bit more.

Eagle Guns & Range carries binoculars from Leupold, Nikon, Trijicon, Swarovski, Walther and Zeiss.

Both Yeager’s Sporting Goods and Eagle Guns & Range are situated in heavy hunting country, and that guarantees a brisk optics business, especially in riflescopes. Oregon and Washington have good mule deer and elk populations, along with bear.

North Carolina is known for its whitetail hunting, and feral hog hunting is on the rise there. Coyote and other predator hunting is growing in popularity all around the country, and long-range rifles with high-quality scopes are in great demand for these hunters.

Dustin Helms, of Eagle Guns & Range, says he has seen a big increase in sales
of Trijicon’s Accupoint hunting scopes like the TR22 series.

For 2013, Minox has enhanced its line of ZE 5i riflescopes with three different illuminated
reticles. Four models of the scope are available: 1-5×24, 2-10×50, 3-15×56 and 5-25×56.

Manage Like A Businessman

Minnesota is also teeming with hunters seeking a variety of game. Jim Rauscher, owner and president of Joe’s Sporting Goods in St. Paul, Minn., says his optics sales remain steady, and are even increasing.

Rauscher has a reputation for being a savvy business manager, and he says optics are a core product line for every dealer. Too many dealers, he says, are “afraid to recognize what is hot or trending right now and buy deep into it.” He also urges dealers to focus on optics brands whose manufacturers are anxious to be team players.

While Joe’s is moving its share of higher-end optics, the store has an impressive track record with the Vortex brand. The store does a steady business in Vortex riflescopes, spotting scopes and binoculars, including the Diamondback and Nomad lines. Rauscher says Vortex offers great quality for the price point, with the added benefit of very good profit margins.

“Vortex has worked very closely with us. They offer over-the-counter replacement, and they stand behind the dealer. I can’t say enough about them and the quality you get for the price,” Rauscher said.

Joe’s stocks Vortex riflescopes in a wide range of prices, from $150 up to $900. As far as the upper-end options go, Rauscher sells Leupold and Zeiss lines.

Like Westerfield and Helms, Rauscher knows his customers can access lots of optics information online, including a variety of videos. He has chosen to localize those sales aids, however, and allows some of those videos to play in his store.

“Customers don’t always want to be sold by a salesman, especially now with the Internet. But if they see a video about how the product is beneficial, those featured products can sell very well,” Rauscher pointed out.
By Greg Staunton

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