Answer The Call Of This Niche Market
By Ashley McGee
Given the length of turkey season compared to other game species like whitetail deer, you may not see the value in serving this niche market. However, considering the sheer range of products needed for turkey hunting, there is a significant opportunity to increase your overall profitability by supplementing your existing product offerings.
According to preliminary findings of the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, there are 11.5 million hunters in the United States equating to 5 percent of the national population. This segment spent a total of $25.6 billion to support their hunting activities, of which $12.2 billion was on firearms, ammunition and other equipment. Although some measures maintain overall hunting participation has decreased over the past few years, your business stands to benefit if you can support the needs of this consumer segment.
Despite being located in the small town of Atwood, Tenn., with an estimated population of 1,000 residents, firearms dealer Mack’s Camo Connection has found success competing against major big-box retailers by focusing on the needs of waterfowl and turkey hunters — a niche that has been their bread and butter since the store opened in 1945.
Mack’s offers products from popular, well-known brands. “Even those who may just be getting into turkey hunting will have heard of many of the brands we carry,” said owner Dale Nelson, Jr. “They are credible household names with a reputation for being high quality allowing our customers to have confidence in their purchase.”
Federal Premium Grand Slam 12-Ga.
First and foremost, a turkey hunter will need a firearm. Mack’s carries the Benelli product line, which Nelson said is popular with avid hunters who enjoy customization. For more traditional hunters seeking a modest price point without sacrificing quality, reliability and accuracy, the store also stocks shotguns by Remington and Mossberg.
For ammunition, Nelson recommends the HEVI-Shot Magnum Blend or HEVI-13, both of which are available in 10-, 12- and 20-gauge. “HEVI-Shot is a pioneer for density and producing a consistent shot pattern,” he shared. For high-price performance without being a high-price load, Nelson suggests the Winchester Long Beard XR.
When it comes to camouflage, Mack’s most popular variety is Mossy Oak Obsession — an ideal pattern for the green-up season in the spring. For hunters seeking a blind for concealment, the store offers a range of options from Ameristep.
“Not only are they lightweight, portable, quiet and roomy, they’re high quality at an affordable price point,” Nelson informed. Though some models cost upwards of $300, retailers should stress a quality blind will last multiple seasons and should be considered an investment.
At Mack’s Camo Connection, hunters will also find decoys from Flextone and Avian-X, as well as a variety of box, slate and mouth calls by Zink — all of which are brands falling under the Plano Synergy umbrella.
“As a small business, it’s easier and more economical for us to work with a handful of trusted manufacturers and suppliers who are able to supply us with multiple product segments,” said Nelson. “However, we also want to do our part to support other small businesses.” One of the ways Mack’s does this is by also carrying handmade slate and box calls crafted by local artisans.
Mossberg 835 ULTI-MAG
Winchester SX4 NWTF Cantilever Turkey
Manufacturers introduced a slew of turkey hunting products for 2018. From Primos, the Tall Timber Gabriel Box Call features double thumbholes on the box to allow easy clucks and cuts. Federal Premium’s Grand Slam (above) is available in 10-, 12- and 20-gauge and houses the FLITECONTROL FLEX wad to ensure dense patterns through both standard and ported turkey chokes. In shotguns, the Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag is dipped in Mossy Oak Bottomland Camo and handles 2.75-, 3- and 3.5-inch shotshells, including magnum loads; the Winchester SX4 NWTF Cantilever Turkey model has full coverage in the non-glare Mossy Oak Obsession, a TRUGLO fiber-optic front sight and a Weaver-style cantilever rail design.
Benefit Of Specialization
Anthony Jones, a Tennessee resident and avid turkey hunter says his go-to setup includes the Remington 11-87 Sportsman Field shotgun with a Primos Jelly Head choke and Winchester Long Beard shells. He also carries three different calls — a slate call made by Appalachian Custom Calls out of East Tennessee, the MAD Aluminator pot call and a Jackpot slate call by Primos.
“If a bird won’t gobble to one of those, they aren’t going to gobble period, but I do wish the outdoor retailers would offer more locally-made turkey calls,” he said.
Jones is also a regional director for the Washington-based non-profit organization The Fallen Outdoors. The group facilitates hunting, fishing and outdoor trips throughout the United States for veterans and active-duty military service members from all branches of the armed services.
“While I would prefer to support a local business, in my experience, an advantage big-box stores have is they tend to have a wider range of ammo, chokes and decoys,” Jones said. “It’s convenient to get everything I need in the moment, rather than waiting on special orders.”
One way independent storefront dealers can secure business is by specializing in certain niches (like turkey hunting) — something big-box stores can’t match. Part of this specialization would mean maintaining adequate and varied stock of practical turkey hunting items.
Primos Tall Timber Gabriel Box Call
A Piece To The Puzzle
Carrying a substantial selection of turkey hunting equipment is just one puzzle piece to the success of Mack’s Camo Connection. For them, it’s about maintaining the right inventory as much as it is the amount of inventory stocked. Other pieces to the puzzle include Mack’s commitment to customer service and embracing non-traditional marketing tactics — including social media marketing and event marketing. This has allowed them to tap into the next generation of outdoorsmen with the goal of them becoming lifelong customers.
Studies show that 74 percent of people look to their networks on social media for advice on buying decisions. Rather than spreading themselves too thinly across too many different platforms, Mack’s focuses their efforts on Facebook — the most popular social media network with more than 2 billion monthly active users as of the third quarter of 2017. Their business page has more than 3,500 likes — an audience more than three times the number of residents in the town where they are located.
“We’ve found Facebook is a way to connect not only with the consumers in our own backyard but also with those who may be traveling to hunt in our area of Tennessee,” said Nelson. Although the platform offers businesses an opportunity to target their desired audience, it also has restrictions in place to prohibit paid advertising for firearms, forcing businesses like Mack’s to flex their creativity to grow their audience.
Dale Nelson, Jr., of Mack’s Camo Connection, has grown his business by consciously making the
effort to engage both in-person and online customers.
One of the ways they do this is rewarding followers who comment, like and share the content from their page through contests. People share content based on their interests and what they want the world to know about them, but retailers should incentivize them in some way to keep doing it. When we spoke to Nelson, Mack’s was running a “Like” campaign by giving away a commemorative U.S. Veterans Trapper knife by W.R. Case.
Mack’s doesn’t currently sell products through e-commerce. They utilize their Facebook page to inform customers about new products and notify them of flash sales or promotions including special in-store events, key to more visits.
To attract turkey hunters specifically, last year they ran a first-time campaign they called the Grand Gobbler. For any previous customer who brought an in-store receipt along with the turkey they harvested, the bird was scored and the customer was entered to win a prize pack. In total, 42 birds were checked in — including the new Tennessee state record.
“In everything we do, whether it’s an event at the store or a contest on Facebook, the bottom line is that it’s about much more than just a sale,” said Nelson. “When it comes to attracting turkey hunters or any customer for that matter, it’s about customer interaction and engagement.”