By Mark Kakkuri
Ever wonder what successful firearms businesses do to make them so … successful? Maybe you’ve watched some businesses from afar, scouring their website and stalking their social media channels. Maybe you’ve spent some time in their stores, observing their staff and wondering what gets customers not only to consistently come in the door but also to consistently make purchases there. Maybe you’ve even wanted to sit down with one of the owners or managers and just listen to them talk for 20 minutes on what they do and why.
Arguably, one of the most successful firearms businesses — one known for its online prowess — is Lexington, Ky.-based Bud’s Gun Shop, which operates as an online retailer as well as maintaining an expansive storefront. Bud’s has been at it since 2002 and, in addition to the Lexington headquarters, operates in Greenville, Ky., and Sevierville, Tenn. With over 55,000 partner FFLs and over 2 million firearms sold and shipped, Bud’s has made a name for itself in the firearms business.
Shooting Industry recently caught up with Doug Ramsey, director of outreach, education and training and its chief compliance officer, to learn about what Bud’s does in terms of marketing and why. During our conversation, Ramsey made the following points: go where your customers are; partner with and invest in other key players and markets; offer something practical to your local community; build customer experiences. Let’s take a closer look at each.
1. Where Your Customers Are
Marketing isn’t just about attracting customers to your physical storefront or website; simply, it’s about attracting customers — finding them, educating them and drawing them in, wherever they may be. For Ramsey and Bud’s, sometimes it means going out to where the customers are and meeting them on their own turf.
Since 2018, Bud’s has participated in the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, an annual Sturgis, S.D., event which describes itself as “10 Days of Riding, Food, and Music” and traces its origin back to the mid-20th century. In fact, the Sturgis event in 2015 celebrated 75 years — hosting over 750,000 attendees from all over the world. So what’s a firearms retailer like Bud’s doing at a motorcycle event? Setting up as a vendor in order to bring Bud’s to a captive audience of motorcycle enthusiasts, many of whom are gun owners.
Ramsey arranged for Bud’s personnel to display a variety of firearms and discuss those firearms with Rally attendees on their specially constructed show truck; the attendees were presented with the option to shoot the same types of displayed firearms in the adjacent mobile shooting range provided by Lucas Oil, another vendor.
“Several firearms manufacturers provided display guns and range firearms, and Federal Ammunition stepped up to supply ammunition for the event — as they have before,” Ramsey shared. “The attendees were able to experience handling and shooting firearms for free in a safe and controlled environment — several certified range safety officers discussed safety rules and offered instruction right on the mobile range at all times — and many of the participants were first-time shooters. A majority expressed surprise and delight in being able to engage with all of us in ‘their’ setting.”
2. Partner With And Invest In Other Key Players And Markets
Ramsey said it was actually Lucas Oil who approached Bud’s in order to assist introducing their Outdoor Line (www.lucasoil.com/products/out-door-line) of cleaners, lubricants and polishes to the industry. Lucas Oil Owner Forrest Lucas has expressed a personal interest in outdoor sports, clearly evidenced by the introduction of the new Outdoor Line, but further illustrated by his passion for his Protect the Harvest foundation (www.protecttheharvest.com) created to defend and preserve American freedoms, while supporting farmers, ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts and animal owners.
In addition to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Ramsey says Bud’s has worked with Lucas Oil at the Guilty By Association Truck Show in Joplin, Mo., and, in late 2018, Lucas Oil brought their mobile range to the Bud’s retail store in Sevierville. Bud’s also partnered with Lucas Oil for an upcoming event at Bud’s’ “Uncle Lee’s” branded retail store, a multi-line sporting goods store that does not currently offer a range facility.
Critical to the success of these endeavors, according to Ramsey, is participation from firearms, ammunition and accessories manufacturers.
“We had a great manufacturer turnout at our recent Sturgis effort from Kahr Arms, Magnum Research, Auto-Ordnance, BFR Revolvers, KelTec Weapons, Henry Rifles and Devil Dog Arms. The ammunition sector was well represented by Federal and Streak Visual Ammunition. Sticky Holsters, Hogue Knives, Vortex Optics, Outlaw Ordnance and 1791 Gunleather comprised the accessories sector, while USCCA covered legal defense planning,” he noted.
“Our owners believe it’s critical to work with those who not only support us directly, but to engage with our entire industry across numerous disciplines,” Ramsey continued. “Other examples are our years-long relationships we have enjoyed with NRA Firearms For Freedom or with popular YouTuber Hickok45. Not every effort pays off with an immediate ROI, but as our president, Rex McClanahan, has remarked: ‘If you’re planning to have a future … you better invest in it!’”
“Attendees were able to experience handling and
shooting firearms for free in a safe and controlled environment.”
Doug Ramsey, Director of Outreach, Education & Training and CCO
Bud’s Gun Shop, Lexington, Ky.
3. Offer Something Practical To Your Local Community
Besides the customer experiences offered at the motorcycle rally and the truckshow, Bud’s also offers practical help to its local community. In September 2018, the Bud’s retail location in Lexington fulfilled a request by a local Christian academy (preschool through high school) to conduct an all-ages safety and shooting event for the students and their fathers. Bud’s personnel conducted safety training and live-fire instruction in handgun and shotgun (using clay targets) for several hundred people at a private farm.
Earlier this year, Bud’s provided active-shooter response training for members of an apartment association at the retail store’s classroom facility. Bud’s has also partnered with local Girl Scouts and performed firearms safety training for them.
“You can easily imagine how these kinds of events induce people who may be unfamiliar with our industry to begin to cross our thresholds,” Ramsey said.
“In my estimation, important keys to attracting new audiences outside our existing pool of loyal patrons is to offer expertise in various topics, and to be as flexible as possible in responding to what someone might want to do and how they would like to do it,” he added. “Of course, safety is always of paramount importance and providing these experiences for little cost, or for free, certainly appeals!”
As further proof of the company’s willingness to offer practical help to the community, check out its website and click “Community Outreach” (www.budsgunshopky.com/community
outreach). There, Ramsey offers to engage with civic, business, educational, neighborhood, church or government groups and associations for lectures or training on topics of their choosing and will consider traveling to their venue. These groups can always travel to Bud’s, as well.
4. Build Customer Experiences
According to Ramsey, these community events have proven quite effective: “We’ve made a lot of new customers and friends by meeting the attendees (i.e., prospective customers) in person and providing positive experiences. At Sturgis, participants were not only able to handle 20 firearm models on display and talk with all of us about them, but they also received advice, onsite training and of course, the live-fire experience. It’s hard to beat.”
As an additional incentive to attract Sturgis participants, Ramsey said Magnum Research, Auto-Ordnance and Henry Rifles generously offered guns as items for drawings: “We easily collected more than 1,500 names, phone numbers, and email addresses, but we also know we engaged with many more people. Several attendees also opened accounts and placed orders for firearms to be delivered to their respective FFLs.”
Finally, Ramsey cites the combined marketing impact that comes from a dozen different companies’ social media efforts all promoting the same event at the same time. “When that happens, you absolutely can call it successful!” he exclaimed.
Not surprisingly, Bud’s Gun Shop plans to continue these marketing strategies. “As word spreads about these types of efforts, we continue to look forward to growing brand recognition through increasing participation by our manufacturing partners and event participants,” Ramsey concluded.
It’s a formula for marketing success many firearms businesses would do well to follow.