Dealers Discuss Trends, Success
Stories From Busy Business Year
By Jade Molde
Here at Shooting Industry, independent firearms retailers are highlighted each and every issue, where they provide firsthand accounts on market trends, the success of in-store promotions and insights on customer buying habits.
Brick-and-mortar dealers represent the face of the industry and have the unique ability to impact local communities unlike any other brand, company or politician. As the familiar voice behind the counter, dealers had a lot to say this year in Shooting Industry; let’s take a look at some notable business-building “sound bytes” from participating dealers in 2016.
Cedar Valley Rapids
Personal-Defense Sales Skyrocket
Fueled by anti-industry political threats and concern on public safety, sales of personal-defense related products experienced a substantial increase in 2016 — which brought in a new demographic of customers.
“We continue to see people come in who have previously been afraid of guns or maybe anti-gun and something has turned a switch in them to make them feel not only that they need a gun at this point in their lives, but also they need to know how to safely own and operate it,” reports David Freeman of Texas Gun Pros in North Richland Hills, Texas. “Some are concerned ‘it’s just getting crazy out there.’”
“There’s a lot of chatter on the internet, not all of it necessarily accurate, and we’ve had a lot of customers come in who are worried about losing their gun rights. They’re also concerned about their safety. I think this is why we’re seeing more women coming in; they’re single moms who have a home and family to take care of, and they’re arming themselves,” said Joseph Newton of Bill Jackson’s Gun Shop in Pinellas Park, Fla.
Correlating with the surge in personal-defense products, dealers report a burgeoning interest in training. Several dealers made compelling observations on how training classes have impacted their store’s bottom line, making up a third of profits in some cases.
“Training is profitable. It constitutes less than 5 percent of my sales, but more than 20 percent of my profit,” said Ernie Traugh, owner of Cedar Valley Rapids in Marion, Iowa.
“There are inquiries daily about concealed carry/personal defense. Overall, there’s been a huge increase in interest and the classes we’re offering are full,” said David Loeffler of Loeffler’s Guns in Grants, N.M.
“Most of our business is from the concealed-carry and/or home-defense market. Our revenues last year were 70 percent gun sales and 30 percent training,” Freeman added.
“In a given year, hosting classes brings in something between a quarter and a third of our gross income here at Sand Burr,” noted Denny Reichard of Sand Burr Gun Ranch in Rochester, Ind.
While training classes represent a proven moneymaker for dealers, there is, however, another positive effect once interested customers come in the door for class.
“We cover the use of lights in our CCW class, so it’s an easy tie-in for selling accessories,” said Bruce McGlothin of Just Target Guns in Libertyville, Ill.
Core class offerings are still important for retail shops.
“Conceal and carry was huge. Then we went tactical and advanced tactical. We trained with every kind of course you can imagine,” said John Monson, who owns of a chain of five stores in the tri-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. “We scaled it back down to our mainstay classes — the basic, intermediate concealed carry in a one-on-one training environment. We’ve always been about education.”
Tim Van Leiden, owner of The Gun Guys, says varmint hunting sales make up 15
percent of his profit — a considerable percentage to a store’s bottom line.
Maintain A Presence In Hunting
Today’s market may favor tactical and self-defense sales, but there are still plenty of opportunities for dealers to turn a profit through the sales of hunting-related products. This year, dealers provided insights on the overall market for hunting, as well as into popular subsets such as turkey and varmint hunting.
Jamie Woods of Sharp’s Shooting Supply in Healy, Kan., advised dealers to stick with the “tried and true” hunting products. “There have been some advances in technology, but the general concept hasn’t changed. The one thing I’m seeing is youngsters who are coming up and are very eager, versus the older guys who have been hunting for years and are slowing down,” he said.
A dealer should also keep in touch with seasonal offerings and make adjustments as needed. “As we get farther into the season, my product mix shifts away from archery and shot shells and becomes more rifle focused. Customers also look at a lot of optics, especially for setting up rifles for long-range shooting,” said Richard Sprague, president of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Ariz.
Bowhunting has received a growing level of interest among hunters.
“We’re seeing an uptick in the number of archery hunters. We’re also seeing more women and children getting involved, which is great,” noted Ken Peters of The Sure Shot in Alexander City, Ala.
“The average ticket per bow sale is higher than what it’s been for the past several years. People don’t mind spending extra money to get the best. They’re buying Mathews and Obsession bows for deer hunting,” said Chuck Lock of Mack’s Prairie Wings in Stuttgart, Ark. Lock noted he’s seen increased sales in crossbows too.
There’s an opportunity for the retailer who maintains inventory of both archery and firearms equipment, as well.
“Your shooting customers are often crossover customers between the firearms and archery — crossbows included,” advises Blue Line Sports’ Matt Rothamel in Saranac Lake, N.Y.
“When you get customers looking at guns and they see bows, they want to go over and look at them. Having both increases the money you have coming into the store,” added David Owens of Monroe, Ga.-based Balmar Outdoors.
Varmint hunting represents a year-round opportunity for sales. Tim Van Leiden of The Gun Guys in Ottawa, Kan., estimates varmint hunting makes up 15 percent of his store’s sales. “It’s a really good way to introduce kids to hunting,” he added.
However, it hasn’t all been good news for retailers.
“The hunting industry has kind of taken a downturn for us. This includes new rifle sales and the amount customers are willing to spend on a rifle. Our customers are going more toward package guns, which come with the scope and the gun together and are in the $400 to $500 range,” said Phillip Gazaleh of Greenacres Sporting Goods in Jacksonville, Fla.
Todd Vance, Vance Outdoors
Marketing Your Business
While increasing sales in particular categories are important, it’s critical to spread the word about your business. Retailers can take a number of approaches in today’s modern market — many combine online and social media efforts with more traditional forms of marketing.
In a nod to technology, some have achieved success with email blasts.
“We look at the e-blasts a lot because they get directly to our consumers, and we can refine and target it as we need to. We keep things fresh and offer different items which may not be in our print ads,” noted Todd Vance of Vance Outdoors in Columbus, Ohio.
“Our store uses Facebook quite a bit, and we have our own website. We also do an email blast and a text message blast. People have to come into the shop to sign up to be on those lists, and once a month we send out an email or a text message and share what we have on sale at the time,” Woods said.
“We do a mail-order catalog. We also convey this message through our website and social media,” Lock added.
Retailers report modest success with traditional forms of communication, such as radio, newspapers and mailers.
“We send out email flyers weekly, and on special occasions we’ll let people know when we have desirable or hard-to-get firearms,” Freeman noted.
“What works best for us is actually the radio. Even the newspaper works well; not many people read the newspaper any more but for some reason if we put an ad in the sports section we always do very well with it,” Gazaleh said.
“We don’t do a lot of radio or TV. Not that we won’t in the future, but a lot of our time is tied up with print and social media,” Vance added.
Dealers can never underestimate word-of-mouth advertising.
“We do a few ads on the radio, but it comes down to friends who know if they have a question, they can come here. If I have something new, I’ll tell them about it and encourage them to come over and check it out,” said Chris Barolet, general manager of Big Daddy Guns in Gainesville, Fla.
Todd Lockburner (center) and the Magnum Shooting Center team have made inroads
in their local community by hosting week-long youth camps each summer. Also pictured,
Kim Shugart (far right), co-owner, and employee David Copeland (left).
In today’s hotly politicized environment, brick-and-mortar dealers have a prime opportunity to be the “friendly face” of the industry. Numerous dealers earmarked the importance of a good standing with the local community; and it can be accomplished in a variety of ways.
John and Terri Strayer, who own Pro Arms Gun Shop in Live Oak, Fla., donate firearms to matches in north and central Florida, while handling firearms transfers for Friends of NRA and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).
“With Friends of NRA and NWTF, what we’ve found is lots of potential customers who had never been in the shop — but came there to pick up their prize or gun they won in an auction — become regular customers. It puts you on their map. Many of them have become repeat customers after dealing with our staff and finding our shop a welcoming place to do business,” John said.
In Micanopy, Fla., Jack Pickett of Harry Beckwith’s Gun Shop donates guns to OSA (the Ocala Sportsmen’s Association), other local events and the Friends of NRA.
“We don’t get a lot of ‘I’m here because you donate to the NRA,’ but I see a lot people come in who I met at events — and I suspect this is one reason why. How many would shop with me even if I didn’t donate? I don’t know for sure. To me, I’m not donating to get return from customers; I’m donating to further the sport, and to support a right we and all our customers cherish.”
Another important part of building community relationships is through safety education.
“We’re very safety conscious. People say ‘I’m coming back because I like the way you guys keep the range safe,” said Sandy Barnett, owner of Ballistic Therapy Indoor Shooting Range & Gun Shop in Boerne, Texas.
In Colorado Springs, Colo., Magnum Shooting Center hosts outdoor events during its Summer of Safe Shooting and gives away classes to benefit the community.
“We give away a lot of classes, a lot of time and spend a lot of money advertising to strictly give back to the shooting sports and our community with no intention of profit. It’s important more businesses to do this, whether it’s a retail-only or retail/range establishment,” said Todd Lockburner, co-owner and general manager.
There are other creative ways to attract interest from customers, such as hosting charity events.
“We try to run something every month where we donate to a charity,” added Kathleen James, director of operations at The Arms Room in Dickinson, Texas.
“We participate in a variety of community awareness programs to promote gun safety, such as Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Free Gun Storage Giveaway events. Here, the public can come and learn about safe gun storage and get a free lock box or trigger lock,” said Brian Bourgoin of Seattle’s Outdoor Emporium.
There’s another aspect to building community relationships: partnering with other stores or ranges in your area. Dealers have noted the impact this has on growing a network of customers.
“We try to work with other small shops. At one other shop, the owner is an AK manufacturer, but not into training. I send people over to his shop for custom AKs and AK work and he sends people to me for training,” Traugh noted.
“When I refer a customer to another store, they appreciate it and come back to me because I helped them get what they needed. Customers are very appreciative of us,” said Belinda Gallegos of ABQ GUNS in Albuquerque, N.M.
After walking a customer through a SIG 938 purchase, East Orange Shooting Sports
Associate Michael Bonnick presents some additional concealed-carry holster options.
Are you taking advantage of add-on accessory sales like this?
Michigan Shooting Center’s Brian Tatti, as he’s about to hand off a new GLOCK 30
Gen4 to a customer. The point-of-sale interaction, says Tatti, brings a host of
opportunities for sales of accessories — especially holsters and cleaning kits.
Nothing Like Face-To-Face
One thing online-only retailers — and even big-box stores — cannot match dealers on is quality face-to-face interaction. When a customer enters your store, you have the unique opportunity to positively impact that customer and potentially create a lifetime enthusiast. Progressive dealers have benefited from a welcoming approach. John Ritz, owner of East Orange Shooting Sports in Winter Park, Fla., sums it up succinctly: “The goal is to make the industry seem less threatening, more inviting to people.”
Often, the point-of-sale is the best place to curate an add-on sale. Additionally, dealers say customers help keep them up-to-date on what’s new.
“Since we keep ammunition and cleaning supplies in stock, I can make an additional sale of those items during face-to-face interaction. But I also have a lot of phone conversations with my clients and a lot of emailing goes on. If you listen to your clients, they’ll usually tell you what to stock,” said Brian Tatti of Michigan Shooting Centers Inc. in Lake Orion, Mich.
“What we hear from customers drives what we carry in our inventory,” Newton of Bill Jackson’s added.
Second Amendment Sports: Matt Janes (center) stands with General Manager
Paul Rodriguez (right) and Assistant Manager Ruarke Brandeburg behind the
counter of Second Amendment Sports’ Tuscon store.
Opportunities For Growth
When asked how they plan to increase their profits through reaching new markets, dealers have targeted two important groups: women and youth.
Marc Steinke co-owns the Salida Gunshop in Salida, Colo., and he’s hosted local Boy Scout troops to grow the sport. “My main focus is youth and ladies because they’re the future of the shooting sports,” he said. “If we don’t teach and train them [about firearms] now, we’ll lose them later. You have to create ways to be accepted in the public eye and show shooting is a safe sport.”
“The growth in this business is going to be in female customers and customers from the Millennial generation. We make a point to teach all employees about treating every customer with patience and respect,” said Matt Janes, of Second Amendment Sports.
Dealers have made training women associates a priority as well.
“We’re in the process of training a couple of female instructors and sales associates to target the female demographic,” added Stephen Stewart of C.I. Shooting Sports in Normal, Ill. “Don’t overlook an opportunity to cater to the needs of women purchasing accessories.”
Tell Your Story
As we move into 2017, SI will continue to provide a platform that showcases brick-and-mortar dealers, their achievements and tips for business. If you have a success story to tell or would like to take part in a 2017 feature or column, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.