Solutions For The Dealer
By Jade Moldae
Rather than resisting the tidal wave of technology, software providers have developed programs specifically for brick-and-mortar firearms dealers — capable of streamlining business operations, connecting stores with mobile users and enhancing e-commerce opportunities. In kind, dealers both large and small are seeking out trusted service and software solutions for point-of-sale (POS) systems, website integration and more.
Last year, Big Rock Sports publicized the results of a nationwide survey of firearms dealers that revealed the majority of dealers have adopted and embraced technology in their stores. According to the survey, more retailers (71%) had a store website than a POS system (67%), while 4 percent of respondents had a customer management system (CRM). In analyzing the data, Big Rock officials predicted the CRM number would increase as the industry continues to adopt technology. Additionally, 70 percent of participants said retail technology is “critical” to the success of their store. Likely, this number too will only continue to grow.
Celerant Technology Corp. has been providing software for firearms dealers for over 10 years. The success of Celerant’s Stratus Retail has led to the development of Cumulus Retail, an affordable SaaS retail system managing in-store, online and mobile operations. Michele Salerno, director of marketing and assistant VP at Celerant, described some of the major benefits of implementing a POS system.
“POS software can do a lot for merchants, whether they’re doing it manually now or working on a lower-level system. If they have a tent sale, want to bring a system to a gun show or if they’re expanding to multiple locations, they’ll need real-time integration — enabling them to see inventory levels at an exact moment, no matter where they are,” she said.
Retailers have several options today at a range of price points, shared Steve Harris, CEO of Three Circle Software. His company is the developer of Gun StoreMaster, a program that manages a gun store’s regulatory transaction requirements while providing other performance-enhancing and timesaving features.
“The good news for FFL retailers is they have a wide variety of solutions available, from simple, inexpensive software applications to complex and expensive ‘turnkey’ solutions,” Harris noted.
Christina Fisher, SVP at RSR Group Inc., outlined some of the immediate benefits dealers can enjoy with an up-to-date, integrated POS system.
“Having a complete retail platform in one system integrating all business functions will save the retailer time. More efficient processes, reduced errors, inventory control, increased security, reporting and automated ordering to reduce lost sales are some of the primary benefits of these systems,” Fisher noted. “Connected Data Solutions, Cervelle and Celerant are three companies that offer POS systems, each with their own unique features to cater to businesses in the firearms industry.”
Working In Tandem
One current trend in this segment involves vendor integration, where system providers and distributors have teamed up to develop software capable of displaying inventory in real-time on your website.
“System providers have integrated with distributors such as RSR Group to make their systems more efficient and offer immediate access to product and inventory data, which improves service levels through electronic communication and more efficient processes,” Fisher said.
RSR works with several web solution and e-commerce integrators: AmmoReady, Celerant, Connected Data Solutions, Gearfire, Hublogix, Outdoor Business Network, SITEBIZ and Vortx.
“Partnering with various e-commerce integrators and POS providers has been a company initiative to help our dealers grow their businesses and work more efficiently,” said Christa Bass, RSR Group CIO.
Salerno shared Celerant has developed partnerships with NSSF, NRA, Sports Inc., Nation’s Best Sports and several distributors on various projects.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on vendor integration. We’ve partnered with several distributors (including Sports South, Big Rock Sports, RSR and AcuSport). Our goal is to save retailers time — to sell more and do less. Whether it’s a catalog import, where we give our merchants the tools to import Sport South’s catalog, select the items they want to sell and then import product descriptions and 360-degree images,” she said.
With proper vendor integration, your customers have access to an entire warehouse “a click away.”
“This broadens your base of customers past the local area,” Salerno opined. “Today, no one wants to wait. With vendor integration, you can sell any product your distributor carries without having to fulfill it and you’re not spending money on ordering product or keeping it in inventory. It’s huge for customer service.”
A major advantage of working with a software provider is it will enable your store’s footprint to reach beyond your brick-and-mortar location.
“Today’s consumer is highly educated regarding their shopping options, and looking up a website for a store they might visit is often a first step,” Fisher stated. “Having a web presence is important, assists with marketing efforts and can also improve store traffic. A solid e-commerce platform is like having a billboard for your store that can actively sell for you 24 hours a day.”
With an integrated e-commerce site, dealers can bolster their business and effectively reach more consumers.
“Growing the e-commerce side of a dealer’s business is valued-added business, and the sales of accessories typically carry larger margins. Many distributors offer fulfillment services, which also allow consumers to order accessories online from the retailer and have them shipped directly to the customer,” Fisher added.
While e-commerce will continue to impact a store’s bottom line, Harris pointed out how the process of purchasing a firearm in the U.S. ensures consumers will still have to go through a brick-and-mortar dealer.
“A benefit FFL retailers enjoy, and will likely continue to enjoy, is most firearm purchases must go through an FFL retailer. An e-commerce site can be the machine that draws customers in who otherwise might not visit your store,” he said.
Enhanced Customer Experience
It’s no secret an up-to-date system will make the buying experience more comfortable for the customer.
“A good system will also help you monitor pricing and track sales. A fast electronic 4473 system improves customer satisfaction,” Harris said. “It will also let you interact with your customers directly. Listen to their interests, discuss their options and let them handle the products they’re interested in. In short, it makes buying more enjoyable for your customers.”
Real-time integration removes the possibility of a customer accidentally purchasing an out-of-stock item — a frustrating experience. As a business owner, you already know customer retention is incredibly important; this adds another layer of service.
“Many dealers have an e-commerce site, but in a lot of cases they’re not integrated. This requires a lot of manual entry, and creates the potential for overselling orders and then having to cancel them — which means then dealing with aggravated customers. So it’s all about efficiency and real-time visibility, whether it’s inventory or sales data,” Salerno added.
Something else to think about: With an integrated, easy-to-use POS system, you’ll have more time to develop programs to boost a customer’s in-store experience.
“Most buyers would agree: A strong, local FFL retailer is a benefit to them and the community. Use technology to sharpen this message and it will allow you to spend more time creating an inviting experience for your customers,” Harris concluded.
Things To Consider
While there are a number of variables to consider before updating or altering your POS software, Fisher, Harris and Salerno provided some suggestions on what dealers should look for.
“Dealers need to determine the features most important to them. They need to determine compatibility and if the information they currently have can be imported into a new POS system. Cost will be an important consideration as well,” Fisher said. “As systems evolve, more features are being added — so it’s important to have the most updated systems.”
“Spend time with a supplier’s demo system before making any decisions. Make sure the system can manage the types of transactions you use, or may want to use in the future. For example, transactions like store credit, trade-ins and layaways involving serialized firearm inventory,” Harris shared. “Look for a good support network too. ATF rules change often, so you’ll want software to take this into account.”
If your store has a range, there will be different criteria you’ll need a provider to meet before incorporating it into your business.
“Retailers who operate ranges may want to choose a system with range management features allowing scheduling and online reservations,” Fisher advised.
Salerno suggested retailers should seek out providers who facilitate responsive websites, giving customers access to your page on their smartphone, tablet or computer. This will make it easier for them to make a purchase or schedule a visit to your range.
“With responsive websites, it’s easy, quick and accessible — no matter what device your customer is on. Your customers don’t want to waste time, so they’ll want to know whether or not if a lane is available at the range when they want to shoot. This is more and more where everything is moving,” Salerno observed.
Love it or hate it, technology is here to stay. If you can successfully embrace it and partner with an innovative, reliable software provider, you’ll be more efficient in managing the day-to-day aspects of your business — giving you more time to enjoy the fun aspects of this industry: like outfitting a new customer to fulfill her self-defense needs, introducing a local youth group to the shooting sports or mentoring a promising sales associate.
How have you used technology to enhance your customers’ in-store experience? Has building an e-commerce site been rewarding for you? Let us know via email firstname.lastname@example.org post a comment on SI’s website.