High-End Appeal

Give Customers Another Reason
To Visit With Upscale Inventory

High-end pistols (like the Staccato P, foreground, or Staccato XL, background) may not be a
customer’s first purchase, but having them on hand will encourage customers to step into
new platforms that come loaded with features. (Photo: Staccato)

Eddy Rodriguez remembers the days when customers would walk through the front door of his former shop, Pistol Parlour, and make a beeline for a particular display case. It was the one filled with Staccatos, Nighthawk Custom 1911s and upper-tier CZs.

“We had people who would just shop out of that case. They’d ignore everything else. It told me there was a market for this,” said Rodriguez, now the general manager of a store dedicated to those high-end firearms.

It’s not entirely accurate to refer to the Pistol Parlour as his former shop, since his current Mesa, Ariz., store has the same owner. In fact, it’s right next door.

But during the early days of the COVID outbreak, Rodriguez and the store’s owner started brainstorming ways to help the business set itself apart from others. The idea was born for The Vault at Pistol Parlour — a boutique shop for the best of what the firearms industry has to offer.

And it won’t take long for any fan of the John Wick movies to know where they got their inspiration for the décor and atmosphere. It’ll take even less time to realize The Vault isn’t the place to go for a run-of-the-mill GLOCK.

“There are probably more customers interested in higher-end gear than many shop owners realize.”

Guns sold here aren’t cheap. The least-expensive gun in the shop right now is a Colt King Cobra at $800 — and only because they’re hard to find. You can’t get a semi-auto for less than $1,300.

For customers looking for Staccato, Nighthawk, Wilson Combat and Atlas Gunworks, this is the place to go. They carry rifles from Knight’s Armament, Noveske and Geissele. And at the top end, there may be a $16,000 Cosmi shotgun on display.

Rodriguez draws comparisons between the shop’s offerings and the luxury cars and watches sought by some customers.

“There will always be a market for it,” he said. “There are people who want the nicer stuff. Is it for everybody? No.”

While it may not be for your shop, The Vault offers a glimpse of the existing demand for handguns and rifles selling for north of $2,000. Every market is different, and what works for one set of customers may not work for another. But Rodriguez argues there are probably more customers interested in higher-end gear than many shop owners realize.

“A lot of people are just scared to take the leap and don’t realize the market is out there,” he suggested.

It’s also a chance to develop a new line of customers — and relationships with those who aren’t shy about investing in pricey guns.

“It’s not like they’re buying one Staccato P and you never see them again,” he said. “You build a relationship with these folks.”

The upscale The Vault At Pistol Parlour provides a one-of-a-kind customer experience with the
finest handguns, rifles, knives, optics and accessories on display. (Photo: Vida Pro Productions)

Meeting Demand

That’s certainly been the experience of Maryland Elite Firearms, just north of Baltimore, where Staccato has long been a popular brand with customers.

“They kind of have the market cornered if you want a double-stack, 1911-style gun. They’re everywhere and it’s what people are looking for,” remarked Owner Dan Hartman.

After half a dozen years of being the most-expensive guns in the shop, those Staccatos are about be dethroned. The shop recently signed on with Atlas Gunworks — whose guns top the $5,000 mark — to be a stocking dealer.

Of course, it’s not easy to make this sort of inventory decision. Starting from scratch with a custom shop can be a daunting task. Often, there’s a vetting process, minimum purchases and annual sales targets to meet.

With production lead times for some of these shops stretching out a year or two, it’s even more difficult now to make those investments. “What will the market be like in a year? You just don’t know,” Hartman pondered.

Still, he sees a demand he hopes to meet.

“We have a customer base that own Staccatos already,” he said. “They’re looking to level up.”

Sales Magnet

Obviously, not every one of your customers is in the market for one of these pricier guns. But it doesn’t mean they don’t want to see them. And hold them.

Having one of the guns used by Keanu Reeves in the John Wick movies can give everyone a reason to step into the shop and browse. Think of them as sales magnets. Everyone carries GLOCKs and any number of polymer guns, but when you can offer something no one else has, it gives people another reason to visit your store.

“When people come in and see the higher-end firearms and accessories, they want to come back. It’s almost like they take your shop more seriously,” Hartman reasoned.

Just giving them the chance to fondle the gun can lead to a sale — even if it’s not until several months down the road.

“They may not buy one today, but they’ll remember you when they’re more financially ready,” Hartman said. “Just getting to hold one plants the seed.”

Dan Hartman, owner of Maryland Elite Firearms, has forged a reputation for maintaining
a robust supply of high-end inventory. When customers come in for a visit, he acknowledges
they may not purchase immediately, but just getting to hold a high-end firearm “plants
the seed” for a future sale.

“You Just Don’t Know.”

Another thing to keep in mind is you can never really know which of your customers — or potential customers — is the kind of person willing to pony up serious money for a firearm.

In Arizona, Rodriguez sees his share of well-dressed customers who look the part of a high-end buyer. But some of his best customers look like they just stepped off a construction site.

“There are some people who come in wearing a Rolex, but it could be the guy who walks in with muddy boots and Dickies,” he said.
Hartman agrees: “You just don’t know. You can’t tell by what the guy is wearing. It really can be anybody.”

Another thing to factor in is the evolution of your customers. They may start out with a Springfield Armory Hellcat. Over time, however, their tastes and tolerance for spending can change substantially.

“You’ll have customers come in with three or four polymer guns,” Hartman explained. “They’ve been watching Staccatos online for a few months and now they want to trade in their GLOCKs.”

CZ-USA TS 2 Racing Green

It’s an evolution that could also come into play with all those newbies — or at least some of them — who joined the ranks of gun owners during the past couple of years. The key is convincing them to get those guns out to the range, for practice, training or competition.

“We need them to realize shooting is a lot of fun,” said Rodriguez.

Often, they simply need more exposure to firearms. They might enjoy a GLOCK 34, but over time they’ll start to see the advantages offered by a CZ Shadow or Wilson Combat EDC 9.

“The majority of the guns we sell are to people who have climbed that ladder,” he confirmed. “It’s very seldom someone starts at the top right out of the gate.”

Indeed, a favorite customer who scoffs at anything that costs more than a GLOCK 19 can begin to see things differently.

Said Rodriguez: “I have a customer who used to come in and laugh at the prices. Now he buys.”

Getting In

You may also be surprised at the broad appeal these higher-end firearms have. Consider what’s coming out of the shop at Texas-based Staccato. Formerly STI, in recent years the company has embarked upon a substantial makeover — shifting from a competition emphasis to one considerably broader.

The company now has lines appealing to competition shooters as well as law enforcement (Staccatos are approved for use by some 400 agencies across the country) and concealed carry advocates.

“We have a lot of different options in the 2011 platform,” said Kristin Marlow, the company’s chief marketing officer.

The company’s guns are also generating interest from some of the industry’s newest customers. A Staccato may not be the first gun someone buys, but it’s an attractive upgrade down the line for someone who sees the appeal of a nicer trigger and more manageable recoil.

Still, the company is in no rush to see its guns on the shelves of every store in the nation. Becoming a stocking dealer for Staccato is more complicated than just placing an order. There are interviews, site visits and an examination of your customer base. When a relationship is formed, it’s followed by sales training and multiple follow-up visits and analysis.

“It’s a pretty lengthy process to be a retail partner,” said Tony Pignato, who manages those relationships as the gunmaker’s chief experience officer.

When looking for dealers to work with, the company puts a lot of emphasis on customer experiences

“When people come in and see the higher-end firearms and accessories, they want to come back. It’s almost like they take your shop more seriously.”

Dan Hartman owner of Maryland Elite Firearms

and whether the shop can be seen as an extension of Staccato’s own image. It could just as easily be a small shop in a small town as it is a large retail operation in a major metro area.

One of the goals, Pignato said, is for the fit to be right — both for Staccato and the dealer.

“They’re not going to be sitting on $100,000 of Staccatos and realize it didn’t work,” Pignato said. “We won’t let it get to that.”

Another manufacturer serving the high-end segment of the market, Nighthawk Custom produces feature-rich 1911s and is the exclusive importer of Korth German-made revolvers and Cosmi Italian-made luxury semi-auto shotguns.

Because of its dealer-direct distribution model, Nighthawk Custom Director of Marketing Landon Stone says the company is squarely focused on the success of its dealers. Nighthawk hosts Dealer Summits, a two-day intensive training and education course at Nighthawk’s Berryville, Ark., campus, disseminates an e-newsletter that supports and directs business to its dealers and offers a robust demo gun program, pistol financing, point-of-sale materials and more. Dealer field visits (promoting Nighthawk Custom Days/Weekends) provide another opportunity for Nighthawk account managers to interact with dealers and end users.

Stone shared some tips on determining a customer’s interest level in high-end firearms.

“We put an emphasis on getting to know the customer and focus on having a relationship with them, instead of assuming and profiling them,” he said. “We know most people like nice things and we help them understand the value of an heirloom piece. You can figure out that higher-end customer pretty quickly with the right questions and listening to them.”

The best way to find out whether high-end inventory will bring customers in? Ask them.

Click To Read More Shooting Industry May 2022 Issue Now!