By Tim Barker
• Complement Top-Selling Handguns With Strong Inventory
• Promote New Products In-Store & Online
• Use Your Store’s “Tactical” Advantage
Your customers may not be in the mood to plop down large chunks of money on new handguns, but it doesn’t mean they won’t invest some cash on the handguns they already own. A customer’s existing platforms represent the opportunity to sell a wide array of accessories — from holsters to spare magazines to red dots and night sights. There may even be a few things you haven’t considered.
Take pistol braces, for example.
It’s been an area of unexpected demand at Ace Sporting Goods in Washington, Pa., where Owner Ben Romanoff has witnessed a surge in buying over the past 18 months. The trend has been fueled by the growing popularity of AR-style pistols and others designed to run with a brace.
New manufacturers of these stabilizing braces have been moving into the market, creating many options for customers who want the look of a short-barrel rifle, without having to go through the expense and red tape to get one. Makers include Springfield Armory, SIG SAUER and Daniel Defense. A top seller is Diamondback’s Maxim brace, despite its hefty price tag of nearly $500.
It’s the kind of thing that draws in the experienced customer looking for something different.
“This isn’t a first-time buyer coming in for a brace gun,” Romanoff offered. “It’s more the nostalgia of an SBR without paying the $200 tax stamp.”
Holsters Lead The Way
At the top of the accessories list, however, is the holster. It’s an item Romanoff sees as giving the store an edge over online competitors; customers get an immediate feel for a particular holster.
“We’re a specialty store when it comes to holster fits,” he said. “The key to it is having them. There’s a huge section of our store dedicated to holsters.”
Top brands include Galco and Blackhawk. A lesser-known brand, Tagua, is also popular, with leather holsters selling for around $50 each. “The leather doesn’t look as good as a Galco, but they’re sturdy and reliable,” he informed.
The story is similar at H&H Shooting Sports in Oklahoma City, where General Manager Mike Rust says holsters are almost an automatic purchase for the store’s handgun buyers.
“It’s such a necessary thing. Oklahoma seems to be a gun-carry state,” Rust said. “It’s so easy to slide them over to the holster aisle and see what they need.”
Obviously nobody is going to carry a holster for every gun in a shop. At H&H, they look at their top 25 selling handguns and devote half of their holster inventory to the top 10 guns.
“Then, of course, we’ll have a small section for the rest of the guns. We also special order for the people who want something strange,” he added.
Top sellers are Safariland, Bianchi and CrossBreed. Most are geared toward CCW, though they also do a steady business in duty holsters. Unlike most shops, they also have what is effectively their own in-house brand. Local leather holster maker Looper makes its holsters in a workshop located inside the H&H store. Most of the holsters end up being sold at H&H.
“We want to get deals, so we can give deals.
It really seems to be working for us.”
Mike Rust, General Manager H&H Sports, Oklahoma City
Top Of The Gun
Both shops have a fair share of success selling night sights, though Rust says the sector has slacked off a bit due to a couple of different factors. “I’ve got them, but I’m not carrying as much as I used to,” he shared.
Sales haven’t been helped by the fact so many manufacturers are offering guns with night sights already installed. Then there was the decision by Trijicon to drop its MAP pricing rules — opening up intense competition from online-only dealers.
Still, he does carry Trijicon and Meprolight, but not Ameriglo as so many handguns are already equipped with them.
“We’re in a little bit of a challenging place figuring out exactly what we want to stock,” he revealed.
At Ace Sporting Goods, they’re selling a set of night sights each week — but they’ve also seen the impact of so many guns coming out of the factory already equipped with them. To help boost business, the store offers free installation of sights purchased there, provided they’re going on guns with trouble-free installation. There are some (CZ-USA in particular) the shop is hesitant to do the work, fearful of damaging slides.
Adding to the mix, red dots have seen an uptick in sales, fueled by all the guns — including the GLOCK MOS versions, FN 509 Tactical and Smith & Wesson’s M&P Pro Core — coming out of the factory already milled for optics. They do strong sales of the Leupold DeltaPoint Pro, though the biggest seller is the Vortex Venom.
“We do a good Leupold volume, but Vortex is really taking off. People are just more price conscious now,” Romanoff said.
Trijicon, however, holds the top spot at H&H, outselling the Vortex by a two-to-one margin, Rust shared, whose shop has also seen rising demand for slide-mounted optics.
“People are starting to see the value. They’ve learned it’s really a fast way to acquire a target,” he noted.
Lights & Lasers
Lasers aren’t moving well at either shop, and Rust isn’t sure what’s going on.
“Lasers have slowed for us,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. We’re still selling some of them, but they’re typically already on guns.”
Romanoff sees the same thing in Pennsylvania. He attributes the decline to the same factor sapping sales of some other accessories: the fact manufacturers are incorporating more of these items into their various gun models.
“Are we selling guns with lasers? Yes. Lasers for guns? No. Not like we used to,” he admitted.
Sales of weapon-mounted lights have fared a bit better, particularly for customers interested in prepping a nightstand gun for home defense.
At H&H, the top seller is Streamlight, though they also carry SureFire and Inforce.
“For civilians or concealed carry buyers, it’s fairly slow,” Rust relayed. “But it’s more than it has been in the past. I think the general public is understanding the value of having a light on a gun in the home.”
Considering how often manufacturers are giving away extra magazines with gun purchases, you’d think magazine sales would be a solid candidate for a slowdown. It’s certainly been the case for Romanoff, who says online sales have also had an impact.
But it doesn’t mean magazine sales are dead, suggests Rust at H&H. Despite the giveaways from the factory, he said customers are still accumulating extras.
“People seem to want three, four or five magazines for their guns,” he confirmed. “Some of the firearms still come with only one magazine. Those folks will usually grab at least one extra.”
So how do you decide what to carry?
Similar to its strategy on carrying holsters, H&H focuses on the store’s top 10 selling guns, and largely ignores the more obscure models: “I don’t want to invest in inventory and then have it sit on our shelves for eight to 10 months,” Rust said.
“We’re a specialty store when it comes to holster fits. The key to it is having them. There’s a huge section of our store dedicated to holsters.”
Ben Romanoff Owner, Ace Sporting Goods, Washington, Pa.
Building An Audience
Both shops use different approaches to capture the attention of current and prospective customers.
In Pennsylvania, Ace has had luck with email blasts to folks who sign up for promotional announcements. Wary of going overboard, they do this once a week, at most.
“We put some pretty good values on there — deals that are only good for email recipients,” Romanoff shared. “It’s how you get people to join the list.”
They have some success with radio spots, but very little with newspaper ads and they don’t do TV.
Their top local advertising strategy is a trio of billboards, including one on the main route between Washington and Pittsburgh, which sits about 35 minutes to the north. While it costs about $2,000 a month, the billboard approach has proven its worth.
“It’s not cheap, but the number of people who mention it is huge,” Romanoff said. “They’re really productive for us.”
And like most stores, Ace has a Facebook page, though they primarily use it to let customers know when they receive some hard-to-find gun in stock.
“When one of those comes in, we’ll snap a picture and put it on there,” he added. It’s not uncommon for those posts to prompt a quick purchase.
In Oklahoma City, H&H has adopted a more aggressive strategy with the popular social media site. Videos have become a major emphasis, with Rust assuming the role of video spokesman.
“If we get a new product in or get a special deal, we’ll do a video to announce it,” he said. “I couldn’t get anyone else to do it. So, somehow, I’ve been voted the Facebook video guy.”
The shop is in the midst of a major shift in tactics. No longer are they worried about simply reminding the public the store exists. Instead, it’s all about promoting particular products and specials: “We have this item. It’s great. And it’s on sale,” Rust summarized.
This helps filter the store’s buying strategy as well, Rust said. They’re constantly scouring for deals on popular items that will allow them to do the sort of advertising to draw customers to the store.
“We want to get deals, so we can give deals,” he concluded. “It really seems to be working for us.”