New, Innovative Products Build Up Customer Intrigue.
Consumers continue to have a love affair with high-tech gadgets and gizmos. Firearms and the accessories that go with them aren’t exempt from this fascination; shooters and hunters are just as hungry for high-tech toys as everyone else.
Casey Burke, owner of Southern Guns in Longwood, Fla., said many of today’s high-tech trends have migrated from military applications to the general shooting market.
“Customers in the civilian market want to buy what they see being used by the law enforcement and military,” he said. “They know what people use in L.E. and the military aren’t inferior or lacking reliability. Many products we’re selling to the public now — such as night vision — are things you couldn’t get in the past. Today, they’re things you can order from your regular distributors.”
The popularity of high-tech products, however, goes beyond just interest in L.E. and the military, according to Burke. “It’s like Magpul’s slogan, ‘The Unfair Advantage’ — it’s what everyone is looking for, and technology helps you get it.”
Like high-tech products in other retail channels, the prices of high-tech products related to shooting have come down over the past few years.
“There’s a growing community of people who want the latest and greatest items, and manufacturers are getting their price points down,” Burke said. “For what you would pay for a nice high-end scope, you can now get night vision optics.”
The new Crimson XChange Technology (CXT) from Crimson Trace provides an
interchangeable laser or light system for the Ruger LC9s-Pro. It comes with
a CXT red laser sight or 100-lumen CXT light pre-installed; a pushpin is all
that’s needed to switch from laser to light or the reverse.
FLIR Systems brings thermal imaging to smartphones with the FLIR ONE system.
Available for Android and iOS platforms, this technology allows users to
measure temperature changes through clear, embossed images.
Technology Promotes Excitement
Technology from other industries is cross-pollinating with the shooting sports, creating innovation in our industry. Manufacturers are coming up with apps for smartphones and ways to connect cameras and other devices to firearms.
“One manufacturer came up with a mount to put on an MSR where you could connect your phone to the mount and use it like a red-dot scope,” Burke said. “You could even record your actions on it. This builds excitement in the shooting sports community.”
Other manufacturers are coming up with all sorts of apps related to the shooting sports. Ruger’s Extreme Dimensions iHunt Speaker, paired with their iHunt app, turns a smart phone into a game call system. Leupold has developed the Mount Systems app to help shooters find the right rings and bases for specific firearms. And Federal Premium has launched a Ballistics app, which contains a ballistics calculator, load recommendations, where to buy and where to shoot.
A quick look at the Google Play store reveals just how many apps are available. Search “ballistic calculator” and you’ll find apps from Swarovski, Norma, Federal, Sako, Lapua, Hawke, Battenfeld, Cabela’s and many others. Alternatively, search for a manufacturer’s name and you’ll find all sorts of apps related to the brand.
Other high-tech products for outdoor enthusiasts to hit the market recently are Carson Optical’s Hookupz Universal Smartphone Optics Adapter, which allows the user to connect a smartphone to a binocular and take pictures through it, and Midland’s wearable XTC camera system, which provides on-body video recording for hunters and other shooters.
Pulsar builds on the success of the Digisight product line with the release
of the 850 LRF, a digital night vision riflescope featuring a built-in laser
rangefinder. It has a maximum measuring range of over 400 yards and includes
a scanning mode to track fast-moving objects.
Using a spotting scope or binoculars, Swarovski Optik’s PA-i6 Adapter
turns an iPhone 6 into a telephoto zoom lens.
“Customers Are My Eyes And Ears”
Burke said he hasn’t had to do any special promotions to encourage customers to purchase high-tech products; they’re usually ahead of him on what they want to buy.
“Customers are my eyes and ears,” he said. “You can only look and read so much and still run a store. They come in and say, ‘Have you seen the new fill-in-the-blank?’ and I have to say ‘no’ and then look it up.”
Burke does watch pricing on the high-tech products he has in stock.
“You have to stay competitive,” he said. “With online sales being what they are, you have to be very competitive across the board on prices. Customers will pay a little more for a local, impulsive, get-it-in-your-hand kind of deal, but at the same time they want to buy as many toys as they can, so competitive price points are important.”
When asked to identify the category of high-tech products his customers ask about most, Burke said accessories for MSRs are most popular. “We see people wanting to build or buy an MSR and accessorize it,” he said.
In recent years, Burke has observed his customers have less interest in products such as rangefinders and high-end optics.
“In the four years the store has been in this location, I’ve probably seen single digit sales in rangefinders every year,” he noted. “It’s just not something my customers use. Maybe if we were in the West — where shooters need to know elevation and long unmarked distances — I might sell more. But here, hunters are lucky to get a clean shot at more than 100 yards.” Those longer distance shooters have an increasing number of options in rangefinders, such as Nikon’s PROSTAFF 7i Laser Rangefinder, which is accurate to within 1.5 yards at 1,000 yards.
New innovative products will attract attention from customers, according to Burke.
“Anything that’s unique will sell to a certain extent. Whether it’s through exposure on YouTube or by reading magazine articles, if you show a product able to change the dynamics of shooting, people are interested in it,” he said. “It’s like the Tac-Con AK-47 Raptor trigger; the company had them pre-sold for months with a waiting list before it released them, and at full retail they were $500 triggers. Any time you’re inventing innovative products, there’s a good potential for followup with supply and demand issues.”
One company continuing to push the limits of high tech, Burke said, is Magpul.
“They’re expanding and making more products, such as the M-LOK system — which is becoming the new standard for rail mounts,” he said.
Inceptor by PolyCase Ammunition has attracted interest from consumers
with its proprietary Cu/P material that’s lead-free with high tensile
strength nylon binder. Using a bright tracer compound, PolyCase’s
FireFly line of ammunition is visible in full daylight.
At Red Rock Sporting Goods in Miles City, Mont., sales of high-tech products have followed the same trajectory as the sales of firearms over the past few years.
“For a lot of those products, we could sell whatever we could get and as much as we could get,” said C.B. Schantz, who owns Red Rock Sporting Goods with his brother Cliff. “Things slowed down in February, and now our sales are back to normal.”
Schantz said for his store, high tech includes high-end firearms.
“I consider high tech to include items like $7,000 rifles,” he said. “I’d also consider any of the critical defense-type ammunition to be high tech because of the cost difference between this type and what you would consider range ammo.”
The Schantzes recently started carrying PolyCase ammunition.
“Carrying PolyCase is new for us, and we’re selling some of it,” Schantz said. “The market is going to have to build — it’s going to take time for people to understand this new type of ammunition.”
Even items such as innovative products from Magpul have slowed down a lot, according to Schantz.
“A year ago, what would normally be a $20 magazine from Magpul, I could get $70 for it. It’s all back to normal now,” he said.
When it comes to promoting high-tech products, Schantz said his philosophy has been to get customers into the store for the products they always need and then introduce them to these new offerings.
“We don’t push just the high-tech stuff,” he said. “We get people in for the everyday things they need and then turn them on to the high-tech products because it’s where we make our money.”
Burke takes a similar approach. “I stick with the meat and potato items,” he said. “Everyone is always going to go through ammunition. They’re always going to want magazines and accessories for their guns, and they’re always going to want the new guns as they come out — then they’re going to want holsters for them. We try to keep ‘on’ with whatever the trends are and listen to our customers to figure out what’s trending.”
There are a variety of approaches to selling high-tech products and astute dealers will use every resource at their disposal — so for you, this could mean including your customers’ thoughts on new high-tech products to boost your sales in this profitable product category.
By Caroless Anita Boyles