Know Your Market, Reap The Benefits

Trop Gun Shop in Elizabethtown, Pa., has expanded and moved into a facility that’s much larger and better equipped to meet the shop’s growing numbers of customers. It’s a controlled expansion that was a long time coming.

The store’s name dates to the early ’60s when it was the location of the Tropical Treat Diner. In 1976, it became Trop Gun Shop. Today, David and Tara Dunn own 70 percent of the business. Dave, president of the company, handles the daily management of the store. He comes from a career in consulting, where he was heavily involved in the firearms industry.

When I visited Trop’s original location in August, I found a clean shop with its walls, shelves and showcases packed with some 2,000 firearms. The facility also included a full-service gunsmithing shop. At that time, the business occupied around 7,600 square feet. Trop employed 64 men and women; 35 were full-time employees and the rest consisted of part-time employees to allow for expansion and contraction during the business seasons.

My visit fell on a Monday, and at mid-afternoon the store was quite packed, even though this is traditionally the slowest time for gun shops.

The sheer volume of customers present was evidence enough expansion was no longer an option for Trop, but a necessity.

The new modern facility is located in a renovated building some five miles across town, and cost an estimated $5.8 million. It covers a sprawling 34,000 square feet — almost four and a half times the size of the original facility — and includes a 12-position indoor range suitable for handguns and centerfire rifles. There is even a fitness center. One final very important feature: it offers more parking, which was a problem at the original Trop.

With this larger facility, Trop now requires a larger staff. By the end of the first full quarter, Dunn expects the entire Trop operation to employ about 100 people, and offer as much as twice the current firearms inventory.

An artist’s rendering of the new Trop Gun Shop showcases the estimated
$5.8 million expansion, which features 34,000 square feet of floor
space and a 12-position indoor range.

Owners Dave and Tara Dunn (right), alongside JoAnn Marchiori,
maintain an emphasis on providing good customer service.

Understand Your Clientele To Recognize Trends

One of the most valuable business points to learn from Trop’s expansion revolves around the thought of “knowing your market.” Dunn’s career taught him to analyze the market and the customer base, and to recognize and predict trends.

“Trop is located in the middle of the Susquehanna Valley,” he explains. “We have 1.67 million residents within a 35-mile radius.”

The region encompasses Lancaster, Hershey and the state capitol, Harrisburg. Pennsylvania has long been one of America’s deer-hunting hotbeds, but Dunn has watched the demographics change.

“About 70 percent of our business caters to personal-defense, family-defense needs and action shooting sports like 3-gun,” Dunn explained. Only about 30 percent is the recreational side — the hunters and the traditional target sport shooters. It isn’t the way it used to be. The majority of the population does not hunt and has not been exposed to hunting. We’re finding defensive handguns to be our best selling product by far, and the modern sporting rifle is a close second. Everything else trails considerably behind in comparative popularity.”

Dunn recognizes trends have changed over time, which motivated him to build an indoor range, where he is using a mix of Meggitt and Savage range equipment.

“There are lots of gun clubs in this part of the country, but a great many of them are oriented toward hunters, plinkers, and trap and skeet. Many of them were founded by WWII veterans who came home and wanted a place to shoot for sport. Our customers are now looking for places where they can practice rapid fire, year-round in a four-season climate,” he said.

Customers inside Trop Gun Shop can expect a variety of products to choose
from and the well-rounded, helpful knowledge of the shop’s staff. Women
are well represented throughout Trop’s operation, creating a welcome
environment for women shooters.

Enhance Customer Service With Small Details

Being unafraid to broaden its services appears to be one reason for Trop’s success. I chatted with resident gunsmith James Clark (no relation to the famous Shreveport gunsmithing family, but certainly an admirer of theirs). I examined some of Clark’s work and found it excellent.

Humans have personalized their weapons since the first caveman fashioned a club, and customers like quality work from someone they can talk to, and are able to come back and see, should there be any question about the final product.

Details matter in business — even the little ones. On the back of Dave Dunn’s business card is a minute-of-angle (MOA) ruler, printed in centimeters and inches. A customer can pull it out at the range to measure his or her shot group — and be reminded of Trop Gun Shop. Useful for the customer, and clever for the dealer.

The sales crew at Trop is eager to serve and please, with a good balance of men and women on the sales staff.

“I was delighted to see a woman behind the first counter I came to, and to have the staff guys come up and ask if they could help me,” a first-time woman customer told me. “It’s amazing how often female customers are ignored in gun shops.”
Women are well-represented in many facets of Trop’s operation.

“We have five women out front in Customer Services and two on our leadership team, which is essentially management,” Dunn explained. “There is one woman in receiving and another in bookkeeping. We also have two women, one full-time and one part-time, that work in the graphic arts department helping to prodwuce all of our videos for YouTube and our company flyers. We expect the number of women on our staff to probably double by the end of 2013.”

Trop has experienced an increase in women customers over the years.

“I would estimate our female clientele to make up about 35 percent of our business. Their numbers are better represented on Facebook, where half or more of our Facebook followers are women,” Dunn said.

Trop is very active on the social media front, a key to public and customer interaction today. Their Facebook page boasts over 6,700 followers.

“We’re active on Facebook and Twitter, with two of our staff working in social media,” says Dunn. “Our output there includes daily product updates, and daily inventory updates, which are especially critical at this time due to supply shortages and product availability issues.”

After my visit, it isn’t difficult to see why the Trop Gun Shop is so successful, and is expanding greatly.
By Massad Ayoob

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