By Tim Barker
Gun Tote’n Mamas Rolling Range Bag
Turbulent times have injected even more uncertainty into the retail gun market — with shop owners forced to play a wait-and-see game which, they hope, will eventually lead to a new and predictable normal.
Gun sales remain well off the record pace seen prior to the current Trump presidency. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t profitable selling opportunities. Many of them are found not with handguns themselves, but rather with the accessories that go with the guns, shared Jason Gentz, manager of Arnzen Arms in Eden Prairie, Minn.
“When you sell them a firearm, that’s great,” Gentz said. “But there’s money to be made with all the accessories. The profit margins are almost double once you add in a holster and a magazine.”
His thoughts are echoed by Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C. It’s an area that can’t be overlooked by gun store owners in an environment where gun sales have slowed.
“I don’t know if you can make it today in the gun business just on guns,” admitted Hyatt, whose family has owned the store since his father opened it in the 1950s.
The accessories category is such a wide-open subject it can mean many things to different people. And the experiences of both stores demonstrate the importance of figuring out what’s going to work for your customer base.
Jason Gentz of Arnzen Arms says profit margins are “almost double” once you add in
a holster and magazine to a handgun sale. At Arnzen, in-store events represent the
top sales generator.
At Hyatt, this starts with a quick assessment of the customers and their experience level with firearms. The veteran shoppers tend to already own a fair number of accessories. It’s the new gun owner who represents the strongest potential for add-on sales.
Hyatt and staff encourage those customers to leave the store with at least a couple of boxes of practice ammo as well as self-defense rounds. They’re also more than likely to purchase holsters and cleaning supplies.
But the sales aren’t automatic. Consider the customer standing in front of you with a new, and very clean, handgun. The thought that it’s going to get dirty may not even occur to them.
“You’ve got help them visualize why they’re going to need a cleaning kit,” Hyatt said.
The same goes for a holster. Some may need to be reminded they can’t carry their gun around in a cardboard box. He urges his salespeople to walk onto the sales floor to grab the right holster and show the customer what it looks like with their gun inside.
“You’re not trying to get them to buy stuff they don’t need. You’re trying to show them what they’ll actually use,” he shared. “They’re going to buy it somewhere; we’d rather they buy it here.”
The store’s top handgun accessory is the holster. Some of the industry’s top brands — including Safariland and Galco — are stocked, but among the top sellers is a line of less expensive holsters by Lynx.
“It’s a good way to help a customer get their first holster before they go out and spend $60 or $80 on a leather one,” Hyatt advised.
At Minnesota’s Arnzen Arms, holsters are also the top-selling handgun accessory, with strong sales to both concealed-carry shoppers and competition shooters. Top brands include Blade-Tech, DeSantis and Comp-Tac.
As part of an effort to cater to the women who increasingly shop at the store, they stock holsters designed for purse-carry. For a time, Arnzen tried to offer a small selection of purses made for concealed carry, but found it a tough market.
“Purses are a very personal thing,” Gentz recognized. “There’s a market there, but I think you’d have to carry the entire line.”
Shield Sights RMSc
Other Key Sellers
Runner-up for top accessory is the weapon lights category, with Arnzen carrying models from SureFire, Streamlight and Viridian. While they stock lasers for customers who want them, Gentz informed it’s not a product the store typically promotes. Among other things, they worry a laser might discourage a newer gun owner from really learning the firearm.
“Proper pistol use is knowing it from start to finish, including the sights,” Gentz noted.
The store also offers standard flashlights, including the popular SureFire Fury. Gentz calls himself an advocate for carrying a light not attached to a firearm. It’s one thing, he said, to draw and point a flashlight at someone in an uncertain situation.
“As soon as you draw your gun, you’ve put yourself in a new situation,” he said.
Another steady-selling category is hearing protection — particularly electronic options by Peltor and Howard Leight. The key, according to Gentz, is having a demo model available so the customer can see what it means to wear it and how it muffles loud sounds, while keeping conversations crisp.
“They get it. It makes for a more enjoyable shooting experience,” he observed.
Interestingly, hearing protection is not a big mover at Hyatt’s in North Carolina. Hyatt attributes some of this to the absence of an on-site range. It makes it a little harder, he acknowledged, to show customers why hearing protection is needed.
And while you’d think the same thing would apply to paper targets, Hyatt said the store does well in this arena — and even offer their own branded targets: “When people take them to the range, it advertises our store.”
Hyatt Guns’ Larry Hyatt shared a significant part of selling more handgun accessories
revolves around your ability to help customers “visualize” why they need it. Holsters
are the strongest-performing category at the store.
Stand Out With Services, Specialization
Beyond the physical accessories (like those on the walls and shelves) Hyatt’s also offers several services aimed at capturing more of its customers’ shooting budgets.
A pair of onsite master gunsmiths offers a range of services, including Cerakoting, bluing, sight installation, barrel threading and stock repairs and modifications. “It’s an expensive thing to offer, and you have to have the right people,” Hyatt said.
It’s no surprise the gunsmith operation is located at the rear of the shop. The goal is to draw people from across the store’s local area needing work done on their guns. To get to the gunsmiths, customers walk past the various retail displays.
“It’s like a drugstore with a pharmacy in the back,” Hyatt explained. “While we’re working on their guns, the customers have time to shop. It’s retail 101.”
The store has also focused on the rebounding suppressor market, with sales picking up now customers have accepted the idea a lessening of federal restrictions may not happen. With those hopes diminished, interest in suppressors has recovered a bit. They’re selling around 10 a week, compared with only two a week a few months earlier. Their top-selling brand is Dead Air.
This increase, however, isn’t totally by accident. The store transformed itself in late 2017 into a sort of one-stop shop for suppressors. Hyatt staffers handle the fingerprinting and passport photos, while also walking customers through the paperwork.
“When they come in to buy a suppressor, we can do everything right here,” he said.
But how do you get the word out to potential customers?
NIKON P-TACTICAL SPUR
Safariland 571 GLS SLIM Pro-Fit
In recent years, Hyatt has done most of its marketing through the store’s website and through email marketing. But this year Hyatt decided to dabble in direct-mail flyers. The first one was sent out in March and, depending on the response, he may try again later in the year.
“We need to do more. People get so many emails. And there’s so much out there on the internet. Things just get lost,” he added.
At Arnzen Arms, the top sales generator is a series of in-store events. Around 15 a year are planned with topics including GLOCK Day, SIG Day, competition shooting and hunting. Like most shops these days, the store has a presence on Instagram and Facebook. And they’ve done some local radio spots — but the last campaign ended during the 2017 holidays, and there are currently no plans to renew.
“It’s one of those things where we gained brand recognition. But we didn’t gain any traction,” Gentz informed.
The store also sends out a few marketing emails each month, careful not to send too many, fearing customers will stop reading them.
“When we do send one, it usually contains information that’s exciting for everybody,” Gentz said.