Independent Dealers Can “Absolutely” Profit In This Market.
A few years ago, muzzleloaders received a modern makeover with the introduction of a number of high-tech features, including break-action upgrades, Pyrodex pellets, new types of ignitions and removable breech plugs. Those features generated a buzz that turned consumers’ heads and encouraged a new crop of muzzleloaders.
Traditions Performance Firearms is one manufacturer that has enjoyed the resurgence driven by technological advances in muzzleloading.
“What we’re trying to drive is better performance — a lighter-weight muzzleloader and better triggers. We want to make the experience of hunting with a muzzleloader more enjoyable and easier, and we want hunters to be able to shoot longer distances,” said Tom Hall, Traditions president.
Today’s muzzleloader market is also attracting an enthusiastic younger element, Hall says, and those consumers are drawn to high-tech innovations. Hall has passed on his love of muzzleloading to his daughter, Alison, who came to work for him at Traditions after graduating from college.
“We enjoy the experience of spending time together in the field and look forward to many more days hunting together in the future,” Hall said.
Many bowhunters are also dedicated muzzleloaders.
“We see crossover from the archery market. These guys will use a muzzleloader because it’s still primitive, and they can go back to the same stand where the deer was out of range with their bow and use the muzzleloader. They can still feel like they have that challenge,” Hall said.
While hunting is the primary activity for muzzleloaders, more consumers are using them for target shooting. Black powder, Pyrodex, primers and bullets are more readily available and far more economical than other ammunition, which is at a premium.
New for 2014, Traditions’ Vortex StrikerFire LDR
offers accurate, extended shooting range.
Are independent dealers missing out on muzzleloader marketing opportunities?
“Absolutely. First, if you look at the states that have a muzzleloader season, they have an opportunity to sell into that season, to let their customers come in and see what they have. The dealers who have black powder in their store have a dedicated clientele that will come in and know they are the muzzleloading experts,” Hall said.
“Second, the black powder business is heavily linked to the accessory business. It’s similar to the archery business in that regard. Consumers don’t just walk out the door with a rifle and a box of ammo like they do with a centerfire rifle. With a muzzleloader, they need to buy those accessories, and the accessory markup is tremendous for the retailer. The muzzleloader gun also typically has a higher markup than a centerfire rifle,” Hall added.
What about Internet and chain store competition? A review of Southwick Associates’ recent hunting and shooting surveys confirms that online and big-box retailers still carry a large part of the muzzleloader market. However, Halls says, there is plenty of opportunity for independent retailers.
“They need to be dedicated to the category. You can’t just throw some guns up on a rack, along with some accessories, and wait for them to sell like you could a few years ago when all that new technology was happening. Now the retailer has to have personnel who are trained and considered experts. When a consumer looks at products on a website, he or she has questions. This is where a dealer has an advantage. The consumer can come into a retail store and get those questions answered,” Hall said.
Dealers who want to become experts in muzzleloading have to train — they need to know how to shoot and clean the gun, and how to match it with accessories.
“A smart retailer trains his staff in black powder sales,” Hall said. “When you talk from experience, those consumers will say, ‘Just tell me what I need.’ Know the products so you can come across as an expert. Try holding a muzzleloader shooting event, which can really help bring consumers in. Make sure you have the guns and plenty of accessories in stock. And promote muzzleloading with advertising before the hunting season,” Hall said.
For customers wanting a historical touch, Lyman Products offers
a Plains Pistol in .50 and .54 caliber. A “kit” option is also
available, giving hands-on users the ability to assemble and
stain this black powder pistol to their specifications.
Traditions sponsors The Outdoor Channel’s “Crush with Lee & Tiffany.”
Tom Hall, Traditions president, anticipates partnerships like this
will help foster growth in the muzzleloading category — something
dealers can draw on to increase traffic in their stores.
The most successful dealers stock muzzleloaders year-round, rather than just prior to hunting season, and should offer their muzzleloader customers a range of price points.
“We market our guns in three ways, using the ‘good, better, best’ philosophy. The best, obviously, is the Vortex StrikerFire. Because of the new technologies tied to it, it has been a popular item for the past couple of years and is one of our bestsellers right now. The Pursuit line is in the middle price point, and then we go to the entry-level performance gun, our Buckstalker, which is a break-action that can shoot 150-grain and is good over 200 yards,” Hall said.
In addition to providing good training for sales staff, dealers need to take advantage of whatever marketing support muzzleloader manufacturers have to offer.
“Retailers need to have an understanding of the manufacturers and what they are doing in marketing support for the products they are going to be putting in their stores. We will put a retailer’s name on our website and help them with any supplies they might need — literature, posters, banners. We have videos on our website they can download, along with a lot of images. We’re here if they need to call us with questions,” Hall said.
The modern muzzleloader may gain dealers the most sales, but Hall recommends not overlooking consumers who want to experience “authentic” muzzleloading.
“We still have the classic ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ primitive-muzzleloader customer. They tend to buy a side-lock percussion or flintlock gun, or they build their own gun from a kit. They take time and pride to put the kit together. We make guns just for that market. A lot of these guys work up their own loads and will shoot loose powder so they can get the gun to shoot accurately at 100 or 200 yards. Getting all that together is part of the fun for them,” Hall said.
The Otis Muzzleloader Cleaning System includes brushes and
tools to clean .45 and .58 caliber in-line muzzleloaders.
Hodgdon’s Triple Se7en Muzzleloading Propellant can be cleaned
with water, making it attractive to today’s muzzleloader.
Sell The Sizzle
Hall says he is quite pleased with the consumer reception of Traditions’ Vortek StrikerFire LDR.
“The LDR is a line extension of the standard StrikerFire. What makes it a little bit different is the 30-inch barrel. Because we put a Chromoly barrel on our StrikerFire platform, it makes it lightweight, and the extra 2 inches on the barrel allows you to pick up about 100-150 fps in velocity. So it gives you that little advantage if you’re shooting out over 200 yards. Out West, that has proved to be a good-selling product for us,”’ Hall said.
Traditions has taken advantage of television publicity to give their muzzleloaders more exposure, a tactic which dealers can rely on to bring consumers into their stores.
“We’ve been involved with several TV shows in the past, but this year we’re teaming up with The Outdoor Channel’s ‘Crush with Lee and Tiffany’ and Drury Outdoor’s new show, ‘Thirteen,’ which has been tremendous. This kind of exposure is driving consumers into retailers to look at the products,” Hall said.
BY GREG STAUNTON
Traditions Performance Firearms
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