A Year-End Blowout
or Targeted Sales?

Get The Most Out Of Big Sales Events & Promotions

Whether it’s planning a weekend sales event or big year-end blowout, one of the biggest challenges facing gun stores is finding a way to grab the attention of increasingly distracted customers. 

After all, if you walk into any store in the country, you’re virtually guaranteed to find something “on sale.” Discounting has become so common in the modern retail landscape the word “sale” is threatening to lose any substantial value. 

At some point, customers just tune it out, suggests John Phillips, president of Poway Weapons & Gear (PWG), located north of San Diego.

Putting some muscle back into the word requires creativity and planning. At Poway, this means a heavy focus on weekend events (think GLOCK Days or SIG Days) to attract attention.

“We make them manufacturer-specific so there’s a purpose for people to come in,” Phillips said. 

These events can also drive future marketing efforts. The store uses manufacturers’ swag and various discounts to convince customers to share an email address and cell phone number. 

“Instead of just giving everything away at a discounted rate, we’re getting something in return from the customer. We’re getting their marketing information,” he explained.

Larger storewide sales are reserved for weekends around Memorial Day, Labor Day and Black Friday — the sales customers are programmed to expect. More frequent are “flash sales” on specific items.

“These are more emotionally driven, with people racing in to get it because they think there’s only so much of it and it’s going to go away quickly,” Phillips pointed out.

Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio, focuses on specific customer interests instead of trying to devise sales with broad appeal. The facility, for example, has a strong shotgun customer base — with sporting clays, skeet and trap ranges on site. So, a sale on Benelli shotguns plays well.

“We try to find the type of sales that work for our customers and the types of products they’re typically going after,” said Co-Owner Mark Gore.

Black Wing promotes a couple of large events each year, including an annual Summer Blast featuring live music, a hog roast and car show. This summer’s event included reps from nearly two-dozen brands.

“It’s kind of a way for us to try to drive traffic into the store when things are slow,” Gore shared.

While promoting a sale on ammo this fall, PWG made a cross-section of loads available from big-name brands.

Be Strategic With Inventory

Of course, you can’t plan a special sales event — where you’re expecting a significant increase in foot traffic — without doing some advance inventory planning and deals that will be offered.

One strategy for this is to stock up in the months ahead, grabbing deals as they come along, said Jessica Ulrich, co-owner of Marksman Indoor Range in Waterloo, Neb.

The shop typically plans several significant events each year, including Black Friday, quarterly “members-only” events and a Christmas in July showcase. To prepare, Ulrich works with distributors to find bulk purchases that will appeal to her customers.

“We really have to be strategic and think at least a quarter ahead,” she confirmed.

These events also offer an opportunity to leverage manufacturer incentives on larger purchases, said Phillips in Poway. 

“If we know it’s something we can turn around, we can certainly take advantage of it and either do it as a flash sale or incorporate it into one of our planned events,” he explained.

Even easier is simply using these events to move some existing inventory that doesn’t seem eager to leave your shelves, mentioned Gore in Ohio.

“We’ll try to focus on the products or the categories where we are overstocked,” he said.

“Instead of just giving everything away at a discounted rate, we’re getting something in return from the customer. We’re getting their marketing information.”

John Phillips, President
Poway Weapons & Gear, Poway, Calif.

Get The Most Out Of Your Range

Few things get customers more excited than the idea of shooting a gun — particularly if it’s a gun they don’t own and it’s cheap (if not free) to shoot. This makes it only natural to include your range in any significant event. It’s particularly easy to do if you can get manufacturers to drop by for the day or a weekend. They’ll bring a selection of current offerings and maybe even free or discounted ammo.

Think of it as getting customers onto the range for what amounts to a test drive of guns they might later buy, suggests Gore.

“We’re trying to make it cheap and easy so they can go in and try stuff,” he clarified.

At Marksman Indoor, Ulrich uses the range for a variety of themed competitions. In December, they offer Christmas tree targets. November has turkey targets. And there’s the October event where customers compete to shoot faces on paper pumpkins.

To keep things light, the prizes are more about fun than money. The winner of the pumpkin contest, for example, gets a pumpkin pie.

“It keeps everybody coming back,” Ulrich said. “It never gets too serious when you keep the prizes light.”

Even if you don’t have a range, it doesn’t mean you can’t introduce some fun into your events. Poway has a couple of spinning wheels (one sits on a desktop and the other stands about 6′ tall) they break out for promotional events. Customers spin the wheel to win prizes — mostly T-shirts, water bottles and the like. The cost? The customer’s email address or cell phone number.

“You’d be amazed at what people will give away in terms of marketing information in order to win a T-shirt or a pen,” Phillips confirmed.

He pointed to marketing statistics that value a customer’s contact information at $17. So, if they have 100 people sign up to spin the wheel, it’s $1,700 worth of marketing data.

“I’m perfectly willing to give that away in products and manufacturer swag,” he added.

Encourage Manufacturer Involvement

Poway hosts a half-dozen or so events during the summer months featuring different manufacturers, including GLOCK, SIG SAUER and Smith & Wesson. Company reps bring an assortment of guns, swag and, possibly, free ammo.

The guns are particularly appealing for customers in California, which severely restricts the models that can be sold in the state. Customers get to shoot guns that aren’t on the state’s approved roster. The events also allow the store to tap into the manufacturers’ own marketing power, with brand-loyal customers traveling from outside the store’s normal customer base.

“It’s a great opportunity to introduce the range and the facility to people who may not have been here before,” Phillips said. “We typically see a 20–40% increase in sales every weekend we host one of the manufacturers.”

It’s easier to grab the attention of manufacturers when you have a large store in or near a major metro area. Without this benefit, stores may need to get more creative in drawing a crowd large enough to convince manufacturers it’s worth their time and effort to participate.

“You can still go out and have a barbecue in the parking lot,” Phillips shared. “The whole point is to bring more people in so you can grow into a bigger store.”

Black Wing, in Ohio, involves manufacturers in both its annual Summer Blast and a month-long anniversary celebration in October featuring different gunmakers every weekend. They work ahead of time with reps, keeping them in the loop with event planning. By doing so, the store has a better chance of grabbing extra products and giveaways to use for promotions.

A key to working with manufacturers is understanding what they want from the relationship. Obviously, they’re looking for face time with your customers. However, each of them may have different ideas about how to best accomplish this, Gore said.

“You’re getting a lot of people in the store they can talk to. It’s what’s important to them,” he observed. “But there are some companies that want to have the weekend to themselves, and there are some who don’t want a competitor there.”

“We try to find the type of sales that work for our customers and the types of products they’re typically going after.”

Mark Gore, Co-Owner
Black Wing Shooting Center, Delaware, Ohio

Spreading the Word

The relationship between the gun industry and big-tech companies like Facebook is tense, to say the least. But it remains true social media is one of the most effective avenues for reaching customers.

“We’ve tried every medium: radio, print, TV, everything. But the biggest success we’ve had is heavy social media,” said Phillips, whose Poway store also sees significant returns from email marketing.

With any large event, they start marketing it at least a month ahead, ideally with support from manufacturers. Poway’s go-to sites are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and, more recently, the TikTok video platform.

“You’ve got to follow the social media trends,” he advised. “You’ve got to make new content relevant. You can’t get away with just a single picture. Videos with sound or movement get people’s attention.”

It’s difficult to talk about social media without addressing the issue of potential censorship and account suspensions.

It’s one of the reasons Poway is active on so many platforms. If the store runs afoul of ever-changing rules and gets suspended on one of the sites, it can still reach customers through the others. It also helps, Phillips contends, to entrust all social media communications with a single employee who can keep track of current rules.

Black Wing, in Ohio, focuses most of its social media efforts on Facebook. The company also has tried a variety of traditional media options without much success. What works best for the shop is email, in-store sales flyers and good old-fashioned word of mouth. Getting the latter to work takes some effort.

“You need to get the staff excited about the event and get them on board with spreading the word,” Gore informed.

This means more than just putting a flyer in a customer’s bag when they check out. Instead, you want your staff to work upcoming events into conversations with customers.

“If they see someone who loves GLOCKs, let them know the GLOCK rep will be on site,” Gore said. “If they’re working with someone interested in a CZ, but is still deciding on which model, encourage them to come demo the guns when the rep is in.”

For Ulrich, in Nebraska, marketing (via social media and email) is based more on emotions than specific products.

“If you check our social media pages right now, you’ll see pictures of fathers and sons shooting a .22 rifle for the first time. You’ll see posts about competition with guys shaking hands. You’ll see women hugging after knocking down a bowling pin. And you’ll see the joy and friendships cultivated through the sport,” she expressed.


Dealers, what year-end events have worked for you? Let the SI team know: comments@shootingindustry.com.

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