Light ’Em Up

Put A Shine On Flashlight Sales

Thirty or more years ago, a flashlight was an inexpensive plastic thing you purchased at the corner drug store.

Although you can still find cheap plastic lights, most of today’s lights are high intensity, high-tech accessories more at home in the gun store than the five and dime. The popularity of modern lights also means they provide a significant positive impact to the independent retailer’s profitability.

Image: Nightstick (TCM-550XL Pictured)

Lumens & Price

At Red’s Trading Post in Twin Falls, Idaho, Sales Manager Larry Barksdale shared when customers come in to purchase a flashlight, they ask two basic questions.

“The first question is about lumens,” he said. “They always want the highest. Next it’s price, and they want the lowest price.”

Typically, the lights with more lumens in stock at Red’s are the most expensive.

“Most manufacturers put the lumen on their packaging,” Barksdale relayed.

Barksdale noted few customers pay attention to candela, or candlepower; instead, they focus on lumen, which is not necessarily the best measure of how a flashlight is going to perform in the field. He thinks the reason people get focused on lumen is because they’ve seen it on packaging and in the sporting press.

“Typically, candela is a better rating system for lights,” he said.

“85 to 90% of our customers just say, ‘I want a light.’ They aren’t set on any specific light; we need to help them figure out what they want.”

Larry Barksdale Sales Manager Red’s Trading Post

Lumen is a measure of total light output, Barksdale explained, while candlepower takes into consideration the brightest part of the beam and the distance.
“Nonetheless, people focus on lumen, and they want the brightest light they can get,” he added.

When it comes to bright lights, new flashlight technology means many choices. Most of today’s lights rely on LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) rather than older incandescent bulbs. This means cost efficient and long-lasting bulbs are able to produce much higher-intensity light than traditional flashlights. Different types of LEDs include solid-state bulbs that can run for a long period of time on very little power; “chip on board” (COB) LEDs consist of multiple LED chips bundled together as one lighting module; and a combination of the two.

The way flashlights are powered has also changed. Customers are no longer limited to flashlights that run on disposable batteries; rechargeable flashlights using nickel metal hydride or lithium ion batteries sit in custom charger holders. Other flashlights have lithium ion batteries with a USB rechargeable system.

Streamlight TLR-9
New for 2020, the 1,000-lumen Streamlight TLR-9 features customized ambidextrous
switches with either a low or high position to match the user’s preferences while shooting.
It features a rail clamp designed to rapidly attach to/detach from a full-size handgun rail.

The INFORCE WML White – Gen2 represents a reliable, ultra-compact white-light option for
rifle or carbine owners. It generates 400 lumens and runs 1.5 hours on a single lithium battery.

Outfitting Customers

Once customers get past the questions of brightness and price, Barksdale said, then they ask about the size of the light.

“Sometimes I’ll get someone looking for a handgun light, which is a lot harder than just a handheld flashlight,” he acknowledged. Many people who carry a handgun don’t realize if they mount a light on a gun, they’re going to need a different holster fitted to the gun and the light, not just the gun.

“For a long gun such as an AR-type rifle, a light is easier to put on,” Barksdale declared. “You don’t have to worry about it. It’s going to fit in the case you normally have it in, or in the safe. It’s a whole different deal with a handgun.”

This spring, Barksdale noted customers have been asking for both new and older SureFire lights. He stocks SureFire, Streamlight and Inforce. Customers particularly want lights for mounting on the SIG SAUER P365.

When customers come in and ask for a light, according to Barksdale, they seem to be at one end of the spectrum or the other in terms of knowledge.

“They either just say, ‘I want a light,’ or they know exactly what they want because they’ve already done their research,” he shared. “But 85 to 90% of our customers just say, ‘I want a light.’ They aren’t set on any specific light; we need to help them figure out what they want.”

The process for determining the right product for the customer begins with Barksdale asking the customer what he or she is going to use the light for.

“Once that’s determined, then we can ask about their budget,” he said. “At the same time, we’re thinking about what we have in stock. What do we have that’s going to fit their needs, and what do they want to spend?”

Barksdale has a good handle on his customer base and who comes in asking for either a flashlight or a light to mount on a firearm.

“My typical customer is a male between 25 and 45,” he noted. “Women only make up about 5% of customers looking for a flashlight.”

Volusia Top Gun’s Ray Chan assists customers during a long-gun purchase. Most of his clientele are
homeowners seeking defensive handguns and rifles — with many preferring weapon-mounted lights.

On-Gun Preference

Ray Chan is the sales manager at Volusia Top Gun in Daytona, Fla. Volusia Top Gun is a unique independent retail location in it’s not just a gun store and range, but also a restaurant called the Double Barrel Grill that caters to more than just store customers.

Chan’s customers purchase few handheld lights anymore, preferring weapon-mounted lights for both handguns and long guns. He said this is partly because of what his customers ask for, and partly the overall market in the area.

“Most of us in the store carry firearms with weapon-mounted lights on them,” he stated. “Some of us have specific training, and some of us are former law enforcement officers. So, it’s what we’ve been taught or issued.”

Stocking today’s high-tech lights means meeting significant customer demand while adding dollars to your bottom line.

When they teach classes, it’s also what they pass along to their students, so regular customers gravitate toward weapon-mounted lights.

Volusia Top Gun carries Streamlight and SureFire.

“In SureFire, customers like the 300s,” Chan said. “In Streamlight it’s the TLRs.”

Chan’s typical customer is a homeowner looking for a light for home- or self-defense weapons.

“Customers are mostly buying lights for handguns,” he confirmed.

Chan merchandises lights in a glass display case so customers must ask to see them.

COVID-19’s Impact

Light sales have been slow this spring, Barksdale at Red’s Trading Post shared, as customers have continued to react to COVID-19 in their buying patterns.

“If things continue the way they’re going, we’ll probably see a downward trend in accessory and flashlight sales,” he predicted. “Right now, people are focusing on firearms and ammunition; it’s the vast majority of what we’re selling right now. After things calm down, people will need to outfit those guns they bought with whatever accessories they didn’t pick up.”

Barksdale compared today’s events to after the last Obama election, and after Sandy Hook.

“When things were scarce and hard to get, it was guns and ammo,” he recalled. “Later, they wanted other things. People forget about the entire spectrum of accessories and focus on getting guns.”

Overall sales have increased along with concerns about COVID-19 at Volusia Top Gun, according to Chan.

“Things have been a lot busier than normal,” he noted.

Like Barksdale, he expects to see sales drop off over the summer and pick back up again in the fall, in part because it’s an election year.

Not Your Grandfather’s Flashlight

Today’s lights are not your grandfather’s plastic flashlight. Regardless of whether customers ask for handheld or weapon-mounted lights, stocking today’s high-tech lights means meeting significant customer demand while adding dollars to your bottom line.

Have successful stocking/merchandising strategies to share? Contact the SI team:

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