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The hunting market has changed somewhat in the past decade, and is also being impacted by the current industry downturn. Nevertheless, the keys to solid sales in hunting firearms and accessories remain the same for the independent retailer.
“He should do what he does best,” says, George Romanoff, 39-year industry veteran and owner/president of Ace Sporting Goods near Washington, Pa.
“Be aware of what’s going on outside your store and keep the product lines that are not in as much direct competition. If someone comes in and is undecided on what he wants, lead him to the quality items you want to sell so you’re not going head-to-head with your competition,” Romanoff said.
Romanoff’s son Ben joined him as the store’s general manager five years ago. Together, they’ve formulated multigenerational strategies that work in Ace’s hunting business.
“If I look at something and wonder if it will work in our store, and I say ‘maybe’ but he says ‘no’, we’ll usually go with the ‘no’ because that’s what his gut says,” said Ben Romanoff.
On the flip side, Ben readily embraces electronic communication and social media to help keep Ace front and center with savvy hunting enthusiasts who have money to spend. This includes using social media and email blasts for promotions and advertising discount coupons.
“We see more husbands and wives coming in. A lot of people my age (mid-30s) grew up in the woods, and those children of Boomers may have more discretionary funds to spend on hunting,” Ben pointed out.
NEW BUYING TRENDS
Women hunters have nearly doubled in number since 2001, according to the NSSF. Their presence continues to influence the product mix, and they’re helping to bring more youth back into hunting as a family activity.
“Two lighter rifle calibers seem to be our most popular during hunting season,” George said. “If you do a survey of most dealers, certainly those across the major hunting areas, you’ll find the .243 Winchester and the 7mm-08 Rem. calibers — especially the .243 — are top-sellers. They’re good for women and younger hunters, and even for some of us older folks who prefer a lighter rifle and a lighter recoil rather than something like a .30-06 or .270.”
George says he has seen a drastic change in how hunters purchase new bolt-action or lever-action rifles in recent years.
“It used to be people were buying the more expensive rifles, like the Remington 700 BDL. But we’ve seen people gravitating to the less expensive guns. So, we carry the Ruger American and a number of the Savage rifle packages. Those rifles usually come with a 3-9X scope. This trend is pretty much nationwide,” George said.
George and Ben Romanoff have successfully integrated their shared knowledge
of the hunting market to embrace new media while maintaining a core of
best-selling products at Ace Sporting Goods.
BUSINESS NUTS AND BOLTS
Knowing the competition is vital for dealers who want to make the most of hunting season. A new Field & Stream/Dick’s store recently opened across the street from Ace, and the Romanoffs are embracing the challenge.
“Big-box stores may take a little bit of our business, but they also are bringing a lot of people into the area. It’s kind of neat for me to walk out our front door and see a lot of vehicles making left turns onto our highway from the big-box stores and then pulling into our driveway. Our prices are better and we have the selection, but more importantly, we have the knowledge because our employees have been here so long. And that’s what people come for,” George said.
What are the chief challenges facing independent dealers as they prepare for hunting season?
“One thing that’s always a challenge is inventory control. It can be difficult to know how much to carry and when to carry it. You also have to have the right mix of ammunition; you can’t keep enough of it. Add-ons — slings, swivels, cleaning kits — are certainly beneficial to our bottom line. It’s important not to go overboard on anything,” George said.
In addition to good inventory management, George and Ben Romanoff recommend dealers should be willing to carry both premium and hard-to-find items.
“When you can find an item that may be a little bit higher priced, but the quality is better than some of your meat-and-potato-type lines, go with it. Our customers appreciate it,” George said. “We carry a complete line of left-handed firearms. A lot of stores won’t carry left-handed rifles or the lighter, higher-grade rifles like Kimbers or Noslers.”
“Muzzleloader hunting is still fairly strong around here, and we stock that section of our store well. We pride ourselves in having some of the hard-to-get items,” Ben said.
Another tip? Be willing to go the extra mile for your customers.
“If you come into our store and ask for a rifle or a shotgun we don’t carry, we’ll check to see if we can find it in our network of distributors while the customer waits. If a distributor has it, the customer puts down a 50 percent deposit and we can have the gun here for them within a week. The customer is happy, you’ve made your profit and you didn’t have to stock it,” George said.
Don’t overlook the sales boost from used firearms.
“Our guys may suggest a great used rifle sitting on the wall to save someone a couple hundred bucks. It’s typically going to have a better scope and be a better outfit. We just have to be careful how many used rifles we pick up after hunting season — but if a great hunting rifle comes in right now, we’re going to pick it up,” Ben said.
The Ruger American rifle paired with a Redfield Revolution 3-9x40mm
riflescope is an upgraded model for hunters desiring a quality hunting
rifle/optic combination. It comes factory-installed and boresighted
from Ruger, an added selling point for customers.
Ace’s top-selling bolt-action rifle brands are Ruger, Savage and Remington. Optics brands vary, depending on which long-gun packages hunters prefer.
“Savage and Ruger have come out with a higher-quality optic on some of their packages, like Nikon or Redfield. People like that. In optics as add-ons for us, Leupold is one of our mainstays, and we do well with Nikon and Bushnell,” George said.
“We move a few Swarovskis, but we’ve learned people are happy with the VX-3 Leupold. It’s a great optic for about half the price of the Swarovski,” Ben said.
“We carry all the majors, but the Vortex scope line seems to be very popular,” George added. “We’ve listened to what a number of our sales clerks have said because they use them.”
Ben says Ace has backed off some on binoculars and rangefinders, as more of them are offered in the big-box stores or bought online.
The top-selling hunting shotgun brands/models for Ace are the Benelli Super Black Eagle and the Remington 870.
Top hunting ammunition brands for Ace include Remington, Federal Premium, Hornady, Winchester, Weatherby, Nosler and Sako.
Ace sells mostly Hoppe’s and Outers in cleaning kit brands, but they also stock a good-quality KleenBore kit that features a lot of accessories. Additionally, they carry a locally made lubricant called Weapon Shield.
“Our gun tech and sales guys use it, and we’ve passed it on to our customers. It’s a phenomenal product and it’s been a big seller for us,” Ben said.
Regardless of the factors dealers see as challenges to their hunting business this year, George and Ben Romanoff are confident independent retailers can do just fine.
Editor’s Note: Part II of this father/son team’s hunting business advice — including more on new products and some of the latest industry surveys — will be in the August issue of SI.
By Greg Stauton