Customer Retainment
Key In 2022

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With the 2022 New Business Year officially underway, dealers have an opportunity to make this the year of customer retainment. Since March 2020, millions of people have become first-time gun owners. If even a small fraction of them can be motivated to sharpen their skillset, buy accessories and become enthusiasts, dealers and range operators stand to benefit immensely for years to come.

We asked a panel of trusted dealers to share some thoughts on the upcoming year, as well as tips for retaining customers and overcoming market challenges to be successful.

A Retention Focus

Easier said than done, but prioritizing re-engagement with first-time guests should be at the top of a New Year’s resolution list.

“Bringing back all of our new gun owners will be crucial for our continued success,” shared Louis Southard, general manager of Bullet & Barrel in Huntsville, Ala. “We’ve been fairly successful selling memberships to new gun owners, which makes them long-term customers. Along with this increase in membership sales we’re pushing for more advanced firearm classes to further their knowledge and skill.”

SafeSide Tactical, with two Virginia locations, plans on using technology to facilitate customer retention.

“For 2022, customer retention is going to be a focus as we overhaul our Range Membership program,” said Mitchell Tyler, SafeSide Tactical owner/VP. “We’re working to leverage technology and existing customer data to get our range programs — and all of the new added benefits — in front of those who we’ve already had contact with.”
With new customers trending younger, Jacquelyn Clark, co-owner of Bristlecone Shooting in Lakewood, Colo., is adjusting Bristlecone’s marketing efforts accordingly.

“The overall demographic of these first-time guests in ’20 and ’21 is younger, so we’re going to be investing more in our digital marketing efforts,” she stated. “As an example, we added a staff member to our training department admin team who spends a lot of time sending targeted emails to customers who have taken our intro level and CCW classes. The emails include an offer to get them to come back in. Since they’re so targeted and specific, we’ve seen some good success here already.”

” These new customers can find information anywhere, but what they receive in the store from our staff should be accurate, and accountable. ”

Alex Hague, Co-Owner
Vandalia Range & Armory

Clay Ausley of Fuquay Gun in Fuquay-Varina, N.C., shared the customer-retainment process starts on the customer’s first visit to his store.

“Our team offers top-shelf customer service every day, and this is a level most stores aren’t willing to offer. By maintaining a large, friendly staff we’re able to ensure even if one of our clients goes to another shop they’ll typically return to us for their needs — and to get that top-shelf service,” he said.

In a similar vein, Alex Hague, co-owner of Vandalia Range & Armory (with a location in Vandalia, Ohio and New Castle, Ind.), recognizes the knowledge base of his team is crucial to developing trust from customers.

“We have an abundance of new gun owners, and we know many of them need training, education and assistance. Some of our goals are to offer more beginner courses, incentives and promotions. On top of that, our company has stressed the importance of customer service and selling information. These new customers can find information anywhere, but what they receive in the store from our staff should be accurate, and accountable,” he noted.

The Elephant In The Room

It’s no secret: Supply-chain challenges represent a real threat to undermine the progress made over the past couple years bringing new people into firearms ownership and the shooting sports.

Several of the dealers interviewed here noted rising prices and limited availability of product will be a significant obstacle limiting repeat business in 2022.

“Folks are pushing back on the price of ammo which directly affects our range business,” shared Barry Laws, CEO of Openrange in Crestwood, Ky. “I’d say lower-priced ammunition is mandatory to bring business back. Not just on promotions, but bread-and-butter staples, like ammo.”

“Ammunition supply is going to continue to be a top challenge. Getting more calibers on the shelves and getting the prices back down are one of the keys to successful range and store operations,” Tyler added.

Southard noted a mixed bag of fortunes on ammo inventory at Bullet & Barrel.

“Supply-chain issues will continue to plague industries across the board. In some aspects we’ve seen ammunition come back, but in other ammunition segments we see shortages worse than late 2020. We’re hoping the improvements continue into 2022,” Southard noted.

Doug MacKinlay, president of Diamondback Shooting Sports in Tucson, Ariz., is prepping for sudden demand shifts and is weary of President Biden’s anti-gun policies.

“Our greatest challenge will be in maintaining sufficient inventory levels to meet the demands of our customers without getting inventory-heavy and being caught with excessive inventory when the buying frenzy ends,” he said. “ Our other concern is the current administration and any attempt they may have to ‘weaponize’ ATF.”

Clark earmarked increased competition for discretionary spending as a hurdle for dealers and ranges to overcome in the new year.

“The biggest challenge is going to be competing for discretionary recreational dollars,” she said. “For a lot of Americans, things are tighter financially right now. As retailers and range operators, we compete with other recreational activities for consumer dollars. How do we stay top-of-mind and exciting enough to make those consumers spend their money with us, instead of choosing something else?”

Achieving New Year Success

Our panel shared their tips for achieving success in the new year. In short, it’s not likely to be a silver bullet.

“To be successful next year, we need to have a multi-pronged approach,” Clark advised. “From a marketing perspective, we need to be speaking the right language to the right audience at the right time … and often! On the operations side, once you get the customers in your facility, you have to do such a good job they want to return. These days, it’s everything from customer service to facilities to sanitization and safety. It’s slightly different in every market, but the common denominator is staying relevant and competitive for those discretionary consumer dollars.”

Ausley has emphasized the following on his team: Get after it and make 2022 a good year.

“I’m often asked how we continue to grow even years after record sales and the answer is simple, our team chases it! We don’t sit on our hands and complain about the downturn, instead we look for new ways to make it an upturn,” he shared. “We provide the best customer service, price and selection to keep customers coming to us. Downturns are buying opportunities to load up because the next run is right around the corner.”

Southard, of Bullet & Barrel, shared agility will be key to success in 2022.

“Being agile to the needs of our respective customers will be more important than ever. As we’ve seen in the past couple of years, we can experience industry-altering events. The agility our store is capable of will allow us to remain a leader in the Southeast,” he noted.

Hague cautioned against getting caught with overpriced inventory if prices begin to drop once supply equalizes.
“Although it’s been a struggle to get some of this ammo or product, it will be beneficial to wait until you get a cost that reflects the industry. The questions ‘Is this a good price?’ and ‘How long will we be holding on to it?’ will be important for many companies in 2022,” he said.

Tyler is looking to find a balance between a welcoming environment and further streamlined operations in the new year.

”Being agile to the needs of our respective customers will be more important than ever. ”

Louis Southard, General Manager
Bullet & Barrel

“While we want to maintain the family atmosphere in our physical locations, we’re looking at how to better automate back-office tasks, as well as giving customers more options for self-service — like our online layaway payment portal,” he said.

Laws said a buying model that better supports independent dealers would amplify their efforts, given an independent’s relationship with its community.

“Manufacturers simply must understand the issues facing their retail outlets if they want us to remain their number-one marketing tool — which we are,” he stated. “Independents are literally nationwide in every community and give out product information, customer service and training for the benefit of the manufacturers and wholesalers.

Yet, we’re treated contingent on how much money we spend without any thought of the value we give. In that model, of course, the big-box/discounters get the attention and the competitive advantage of discounts, which drive independent brick-and-mortars out of business. Seems pretty shortsighted to me.”

Editor’s Note: For more insights on how this panel of dealers is approaching the 2022 new business year, see the online version of this story at shootingindustry.com/industry-link.

Reader, have your say! What are your new year predictions? Agree or disagree with what has been presented here? Send me an email: [email protected].

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