Overcoming A Difficult Retail Environment


Image: Adobe Stock / freshidea

Owning a retail store of any kind has been challenging the past few years. Supply chain issues, COVID shutdowns and restrictions and rising transportation costs are only a few of the problems store owners have faced. Add in the legal and regulatory requirements of selling firearms, and you have a retail environment with plenty of difficulties to overcome.

The Personal Touch

Anthony Puglia, owner of Puglia’s Sporting Goods in Metairie, La., said acquiring inventory continues to be a problem for him. He hasn’t been able to entirely solve this problem, but he has improved the situation.

“The way I get more inventory in a timely manner has been to increase my purchasing power through my buying groups,” he shared.

Puglia is a member of Nation’s Best Sports (NBS) and takes advantage of their shows and other buying opportunities.

“Generally, we go twice a year to their show in Fort Worth, Texas,” he explained. “All the major manufacturers are there.”

Puglia always attends the NBS Semi-Annual Markets so he can see manufacturers whose sales reps don’t visit his store. Now he takes it a step farther: Puglia goes into the show with a list of what he wants from each manufacturer, not just in the near term, but farther out.

“Not only do I place an order, I place future orders,” he noted. “This way, I’m sure I’m in line for the product when it does become available.”

Puglia is also relying more on sales reps who come into his store.

“If you place two orders in a year from a manufacturer, you only speak to the rep a couple of times a year,” he said. “Now, I’m more personable with the reps. I rely on them more than ever. They have really stepped up and helped us out tremendously.”

A Little Creativity With Online Raffles

At We Kick Brass in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., Owner Dawn Westendorf shared one of her biggest problems over the past few months has been the economy. Even though the decision to purchase a firearm is often for someone’s safety, many customers still are reluctant to spend money.

“With gas prices, the cost of groceries and everything else being so expensive, we’ve had to be a little more creative,” she said.

Westendorf is doing a lot of marketing online and coming up with innovative ways to drive sales. One of Westendorf’s ideas was an online raffle.

“We created a Facebook group where we raffle off a gun or a suppressor or whatever it may be,” she informed. “Not everyone can afford an $800 gun, but they may be able to throw in $20 for a chance to win an expensive gun.”

While the raffles are fun for customers, the store must observe certain restrictions and limitations on how they run raffles.

“We have to stay within legal bounds,” Westendorf said. “For example, there’s a limit on how many tickets you can sell per item we’re raffling.”

Another restriction is We Kick Brass can sell raffle tickets only until they reach the MSRP of the firearm; at that point, they must cut off sales.

“We can’t sell tickets for anything more than the MSRP of the item,” Westendorf added.

We Kick Brass has gotten creative with its online raffles —
while being mindful of certain restrictions.

Leveling The Playing Field

At Ultimate Defense in St. Peters, Mo., Managing Director Paul Bastean noted product availability continues to be an issue.

“I think many manufacturers have focused on what sells really quickly and they haven’t made their full line of product,” he observed. “We have customers coming in who want specialty products that are just not available. We had a guy in today who wanted a Springfield M1A, and it’s one of those things we still can’t go to a wholesaler and buy. It’s been several years since we’ve been at a point where we can order from a wholesaler and get something in within a few days.”

Even more of a problem than product availability, according to Bastean, is competition from online retailers. Many customers have switched from purchasing firearms in a store to buying online because they have the
ability to purchase online 24/7.

“They’re able to get on at 2 a.m. when they can’t sleep and see something they want and buy it,” he said.

Often the price for online purchases is lower as well, but the level of service doesn’t compare to what storefronts can provide.

“There’s nobody online that early in the morning to tell you this may not be a fit, or this is the experience we’ve had with this particular firearm or it may not be the best firearm for what you’re buying it for,” Bastean said.

One way Ultimate Defense has leveled the playing field with online retailers was to increase the transfer fee for firearms their customers purchase online.

“An increased transfer fee gets the cost of the firearm much closer to what we have it for in the store,” Bastean stated. “It’s not uncommon for us to spend half an hour with a customer explaining the features and benefits of a particular firearm, and then have them thank us, take one step back from the counter and look up it up online to see if they can buy it cheaper.”

Bastean also points out to customers if they purchase the item in the store, they can have it sooner than if they order it online. The “buy it now” mentality of many customers can drive some of those sales.

One other thing Bastean uses to encourage customers to buy in the store is a series of pictures of what he calls “FedEx fatalities.”

“These are pictures of guns that were destroyed in transit,” he said. “Even if you’re saving a few dollars, you’re taking a risk. That package may end up getting lost or damaged and you may have an extended delivery time. Those are the kinds of things we try to present to people so they know they have a better option than buying online.”

Battling 4473 Errors

The big challenge of the past year for one retailer — who asked not to be identified — was an ATF inspection that went sideways in two different ways.

This particular retailer had been using paper 4473s. During the inspection itself, the Industry Operations Investigators (IOIs) entirely missed two file boxes of forms and charged the retailer with having sold almost 1,000 firearms without background checks. As a result, after a harrowing hearing, the retailer had to go through their A&D book line by line and match a 4473 to every firearm ever sold in the store and provide the information to ATF.

The same retailer also had a problem with traces. A store employee turned several firearms in during a “gun buyback” so they ended up in police hands. In a different event, a customer was admitted to a local hospital under the Baker Act, and his firearms also went to the police. All of those firearms had come from this retailer’s store, and they all traced back.

During the very busy time of COVID, the retailer missed a letter from ATF asking for additional information about those traces. This omission, combined with the error during the inspection, came within a whisker of costing the retailer their FFL.

“In order to keep my FFL, I’m now required to use an electronic bound book, which doesn’t integrate with my point-of-sale system,” the retailer said. “I’m still trying to work it out, but this is what I have to do if I want to stay in business.”

This is just a small sample size of the myriad of challenges facing independent storefront dealers today. Creativity, business nous and tough skin are some of the unwritten requirements of the job.