Keep Your Calendar Open
For Hunting Sales Success
By Jade Moldae
Think about it: New camo patterns, that must-have big-game rifle, game-specific cartridges, technology-packed laser rangefinders and versatile carry packs comprise just a fraction of the many products your hunting customers are scouting out year round.
While we may be in the “summer doldrums,” it’s actually the ideal the time to start preparing your hunting season inventory. According to Kittery Trading Post Shooting Sports Buyers Bryan Hurst and Josh DoByns, successful dealers regard hunting season sales as a year-round effort.
Located in Kittery, Maine, Kittery Trading Post has been a mainstay in the Northeast for nearly 80 years. The store does brisk business with hunters, especially those in New Hampshire and Maine. Whitetail is “hands down” the most popular game in the area, according to Hurst, and the store attracts a fair amount of bear and moose hunters.
Hurst oversees the orders for firearms, ammunition, reloading and optics, while DoByns handles archery, hunting clothing and firearm accessories. Together, they provide an experienced perspective of how to integrate hunting season sales year round.
“We don’t approach hunting as seasonal,” Hurst shared. “It’s about looking at it as a 12-month season, and not just ‘I have to do it all in three months.’ There are too many people doing this; they’re not able to get the product during those three months because the manufacturers are trying to supply everybody. It’s kind of a domino effect from that. Anyone I’ve worked with who looks and thinks about it as a 12-month season has always been successful.”
Hurst, who also has a sales rep background, pointed out hunters will often be on the lookout for new products, even if it’s out of season — benefitting those retailers who maintain a current selection of products in this category.
“One thing retailers should realize: hunters are not just buying hunting stuff during hunting season. Yes, that’s when they’re going to buy the most, but they’re always looking, shopping and thinking about hunting,” he noted. “As a hunter myself, if I see a product and it catches my eye or if it’s something I need, I’m going to get it — no matter if it’s April, June or right during the season in the fall.”
SIG SAUER SIG HT .223
Kittery Trading Post maintains an expansive supply of camo, and DoByns has observed a shift in recent years.
“We’ve seen a lot of manufacturers move toward proprietary or military-style camo. Kryptek is very popular. We expect to carry products associated with those patterns,” he said.
In an encouraging sign, some clothing manufacturers have gone away from the “shrink it and pink it” mantra to better appeal to women hunters.
“Companies are a lot more aware of women hunters as ‘hunters’ who don’t necessarily want to be called out with pink or anything,” DoByns said. “There are still some subtle colors in it, and aqua looks like it will be strong this year. Aqua stands out a little better on the rack as well.”
When it comes to hunting accessories, game cameras are consistent sellers. Moultrie is the store’s bestseller in this category, while Spartan Cameras and Cuddeback have also attracted interest from hunters.
“Game cameras have been the number one thing for scouting and everything else,” DoByns said. “There has been a tremendous boom in cellular technology for game cameras; we also have cameras able to communicate to each other via Bluetooth. Now, people can see what’s happening at camp three states away and it comes right to their phone, tablet or computer.”
“You can be scouting in the woods while sitting in your office,” Hurst added.
Kittery doesn’t see too many hunters who use MSR-style rifles, but it does have a small segment of predator hunters who prefer the autoloading Browning BAR. Most hunters who frequent the store use either shotguns or bolt-action rifles.
“Our leading hunting shotgun vendor is Benelli,” Hurst observed. “Browning is our top-selling hunting rifle brand, and we sell a lot from Ruger as well. In handgun hunting, 10mm has been very popular; .357- and .500-caliber revolvers make great backup guns for bear hunters.”
There has been a recent trend of manufacturers offering rifle/scope combination packages, which has proven popular with customers. Kittery sells the Ruger American Rifle with Vortex Crossfire II Riflescope, Savage Axis II XP and others.
“These packages are convenient, and they tend to appeal more to the weekend warrior-type guy who will go hunting once or to find a package for his kid,” Hurst said. “We’ve seen major growth in this segment for sure.”
“The offerings have gotten wider, you can hit just about any price point now with those combos,” DoByns continued.
Moultrie S-50i Game Camera
Remington V3 Field Sport MOBU Country
Getting Customers In The Door
Following several strong years, the industry continues its adjustment to the “new normal” with a president who openly supports the industry. The lack of a fear-induced environment has impacted the frequency of visitors in many stores, and Kittery has realized a change in how it handles its marketing.
“Instead of waiting for the sales to come fall in our lap, we know we’re going to have to work harder for the sale than before. This is why we’ll be very proactive with our promotions. We’re going to have hot prices to make people come in here and give them plenty of reasons to come back,” Hurst relayed.
In-store events remain an effective way to boost traffic.
“We’ve had great success through special promotional events — things like Ruger Weekend or SIG Promo Weekend — using direct mailings. We’re able to go back and research people who had purchased firearms from us before and add them to our targeted direct mailing list,” Hurst shared. “It’s costly, but works very well for us.”
Not every store can accommodate a large-scale event; there are other opportunities to set your store apart from the competition. For instance, Kittery hosts free hunter education seminars — bringing more unique customers into the store.
If you want to enhance your store’s profile among youth or women hunters, Hurst says it starts by stocking products for those customers.
“Dealers that actually carry hunting products for the youth, women and left-handers are going to sell those items — and it’s helped if the word gets out. So when it comes to the retail portion, it’s a matter of actually having these items in stock,” he said.
Photo by Howard Communications
The Bottom Line
Hurst and DoByns provided some final thoughts on how to be successful this year.
“For the smaller shops, they need to be known as the place to go, by offering a specific rifle setup or bowhunting equipment — specialization separates you from the competition,” DoByns shared. “They need to be the shop people know they can go to because Bass Pro, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Field & Stream are all showing up everywhere. If you can’t compete with them in price, you better beat them in service and knowledge.”
“If a consumer comes in with one need, you want to be able to fill that one need immediately — not just relying on special orders. Not to say we don’t do special orders, we do, but we also want to make sure we have a wide selection,” Hurst said. “If someone wants to get a hunting bolt rifle, there’s no reason why they’re not leaving with one when they come in.”
One way to stay on top of trends in the hunting segment is to engage with customers. DoByns said Kittery Trading Post has adjusted its product mix after hearing about new products from customers; this helps with an updated inventory to match trends.
“As the hunting demographic changes, the products we carry change. We can’t continue buying the same products we bought 10 years ago,” he stated.
A thorough knowledge of the products that sell well for hunters in your area and superb customer service will help you meet the needs of customers without delay.
“The internet has made the world very small,” DoByns continued. “So if we don’t have it in the store by the time the customer gets to the parking lot, it’s just been purchased somewhere else.”
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