Editor’s Note: For businesses on a downward trend, Ernest W. Fair recommended first diagnosing the cause and taking relevant steps outlined in this article — which originally appeared in the Aug. 1960 issue, back when Shooting Industry was known as Shooting Goods Retailer. Have a comment after reading? Contact the SI team directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF you can chart your business in a steady upward slope, without dips or depressions, you must be unique in the shooting sports business. Most businesses show slumps, seasonal or otherwise, that can turn a dealer’s hair gray while they last, and can wreck the business if they’re not corrected.
Here are some steps experienced gun dealers have taken to correct such personal depressions. The first step, of course, is to recognize the slump early and take action. Every day of delay carries that business curve (and your bank balance) further downward.
You should look first, naturally, at your business area. If your trade area is dead or dying, your problem is serious. You must either move to a new up-and-coming community or — you must expand your trade appeal to include surrounding areas where conditions are better. Either can be done, but these are usually costly operations to cure a major malady. Usually, the problem is much simpler, capable of less drastic solutions.
Maybe on the other hand, your slump is a result of community growth. Maybe your area has grown so customers who used to find it easy to drop into your store now pass you by because they can’t find a place to park. This can happen without your notice. You get down before the parking spots are filled, or maybe you park your car behind the store, so the problem doesn’t affect you. But it can affect your business.
If you have let this situation develop to the point where there is no vacant lot available for parking near, it’s a big problem. You must, somehow, make it easy for customers at the wheel to park and enter. Shopping centers have taught them to demand this kind of easy access.
Other Declining Factors
Most business dips come from less complicated causes. Maybe your customers have just grown tired of the way your store looks. Maybe a major or minor external face-lift would revive your business. (It has, in many cases.) People notice change, like the new look … maybe as simple a thing as a rearrangement of counters or an interior redecoration would solve the problem. A little well-thought-out shakeup might make your store operation more efficient, too. Few firsts are perfect; yet a lot of storekeepers refuse to improve their first store layout, however outmoded.
Like it or not, you’re going to have to look also at the way of doing business. Are you keeping up with the times, or are you trying to sell this year’s customers what last year’s buyers wanted? Last year, hunters wanted fire-red jackets. Many today want yellow. Do you stock yellow jackets or are you in the red by stocking red only?
Keeping up with the times is one thing; keeping pace with the tempo of the times is another. Customers today are in a hurry. They shop in a hurry, or want to. Are you too slow in serving them? Friendly chat is fine if the customer wants it, but he’ll like brisk efficiency better if he’s shaving minutes off a busy day. Teach yourself and your sales people to match the customer’s mood.
Like it or not, you’re going to have to look also
at the way of doing business. Are you keeping up with
the times, or are you trying to sell this year’s
customers what last year’s buyers wanted?
Are you still making customers know you’re glad to see them, or have you and your sales people gotten a little blasé — even a little grumpy in your sales contacts?
Are your competitors offering services, shopping conveniences or new products you haven’t bothered to offer? Watching a competitor, making sure he doesn’t outdo you, even copying (or improving on) his ideas, doesn’t necessarily mean admitting he’s smarter than you are. Even a simpleton may come up with a good idea occasionally; why be too proud to learn from him?
Or, has your advertising fallen into a rut? Are you so satisfied with the “old reliable” procedures that you never try anything new? Worse still, have you slackened your advertising effort? The swift competitive pace of today’s business makes it essential a dealer never let up in advertising, promoting his business.
Has your business become stale with merchandise? Lack of week-to-week attention to inventory can inevitably result in a business decline. When the bulk of inventory is old merchandise, there is neither money nor space for the new goods which customers are demanding. Merchandise offered has to be kept as modern and alive as any other phase of today’s business operation.
Have you checked the records of old customers who haven’t been in lately, and found out why they deserted you? This often happens in either an old, established business or in one doing such a volume of business that the management has little time to keep close track of its customers. In either case, one of the best ways to cure a business dip is to discover why these old customers are no longer spending their dollars with you — and correct it.
Have you kept the quality of the merchandise you’ve been offering high — or have you fallen for fatter profits at the expense of customer satisfaction? A business built on quality merchandise can never expect to hold onto its customers when the management veers away from quality standards.
Or have you been trying to force the merchandise of your choice onto your customers? This happens frequently without the dealer ever realizing what has occurred. Good business is always built and maintained on a policy of giving customers what they want.
Or is your failure simply a matter of poor cost-control accounting? In these times, the overhead costs of any business change from month to month. Checking every year or so may result in operation at a loss for the major part of the year. Even the smallest business must utilize modern accounting systems in order that its owner may keep aware of the exact costs of doing business from day to day.
Is your business holding its own, gaining a little as it should be doing? Or has it been slipping a little?
Remember — the quicker the situation is recognized and action taken, the easier it will be to correct it.