By Jade Molde
Each issue of Shooting Industry is unique in that it highlights storefront dealers from across the country. Whether the dealer is part of a multi-generational establishment or a fledgling operation, located in open spaces out West or an urban center, a social media powerhouse or novice, his or her perspective provides valuable insight to SI readers, every month. Here’s a collection of some prominent themes that appeared in the pages of Shooting Industry throughout 2018.
Merits Of An Online Store
Standing out today from a crowded field of big-box and online-only retailers presents a significant challenge for independent storefront dealers. One approach dealers have implemented successfully is enhancing their online presence to complement in-store offerings — a concept confirmed by Jacquelyn Clark, owner of Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center in Lakewood, Colo.
“Having an online store presence brings our brand into the present and keeps us relevant! People will always want to have the brick-and-mortar because buying firearms is a tactile experience for many, but creating more opportunities for sales is always a good thing,” she stated. “Our online store is a whole new revenue stream that didn’t exist before.”
“Meeting buyers where they’re at” is another benefit of a steady online presence.
Joshua Claflin, Garrison Everest firearms and outdoor marketing strategist, informs, “According to several consumer studies, prospective buyers will complete over 70 percent of the sales process online before making the decision to buy (i.e., visit a dealer). By taking a more strategic approach to your website, and meeting those buyers where they are in the buyer’s journey, you can speed up the sales cycle — hence, profits.”
Dealers report a capable online store facilitates certain processes, with special orders just one example.
“It’s really helpful for hard-to-get firearms, especially if you can only get one at a time,” lends Tony Naatjes, general manager of Gary’s Gun Shop — which operates two storefronts in South Dakota. “For something like a Kel-Tec PMR-30, there will be a customer ready to buy it almost immediately. The system we have in place allows us to remove the listing from the website in real time.”
“Our online store doubles as a secondary inventory/special order platform for our in-store associates,” Clark added.
In addition to the point above, dealers have recognized the broader trends of consumers shopping online and are reacting accordingly.
“We’re new in it, but it’s doing pretty well. This is new ground for us, but that’s where the trend is going, so we need to do it,” affirmed Louis Janski, general manager of Fort Thompson Sporting Goods in Sherwood, Ark.
“This is where this generation is going — they want to shop on their phones while waiting in the doctor’s office, at home or on a break at work. You can buy groceries today online; it’s just where things are headed,” added Izzy Musquiz, GM of Sharp Shooters Safe & Gun in Lubbock, Texas.
“We’re doing it more to provide a convenience for our local customers. They can surf our inventory online,” said John Ritz, owner of East Orange Shooting Sports in Oviedo, Fla.
While some business owners have placed an emphasis on growing the online segment of their business, it doesn’t fit in the business model of every dealer.
“We don’t do a lot of online business; we just have supplemental income from it,” shared Evan Reynolds owner of LeadFeather Guns & Archery in Winter Haven, Fla. “Online sales are very impersonal, which is not my customer. My sales are based on how we treat people.”
The days of fear-induced buying have subsided, which has changed the landscape of the industry significantly. With the exception of overwhelmingly popular products, if a dealer wants to carry a new product in inventory chances are good he or she can get it in immediately.
“We’re encountering the ‘normal’ for gun sales with an emphasis on concealed-carry handguns. With availability of product not being an issue, we’ll keep a more streamlined, comprehensive inventory — allowing us to provide our customers with a great product selection before buying,” said John Paulk Jr., president of Shot Spot in Carrollton, Ga.
Ben Romanoff, general manager of Ace Sporting Goods in Washington, Pa., shared his store’s experience.
“Product is more readily available than before. We’re focusing on inventory levels by lessening quantities of individual SKUs we stock,” he stated.
A return of product availability has had a striking impact on the sales of ammunition, according to Jim Payne, manager of Larry’s Sporting Goods (Nampa, Idaho). With the ammunition shortages of several years ago now a distant memory, dealers can capitalize on immediately filling a customer’s need.
“Now, when someone comes in looking for something, you can point to where it is on the shelf. So, we aren’t missing out on those sales,” Payne shared.
For new customers, it’s “critical” their first experience in your store is a positive one, according to City Arsenal President Bill Robinson (left). Every month in Shooting Industry, storefront dealers lend their perspective on implementing successful policies.
Practical Stocking Tips
There are several approaches to stocking products, but dealers concur it boils down to one critical element: You have to know what your customers want and have the product on hand.
To ensure his store stocks the right inventory for customers, Richard Sprague, longtime owner of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Ariz., makes buying decisions based on three criteria: a product’s attributes/features, his personal conviction of its role in the store’s marketplace and customer demand.
“If we start getting multiple special orders for something we don’t carry, then pretty soon it will be a standard stocking item,” he informed.
Choosing what to stock based on novelty can pose a problem, according to Mike Rust, general manager of H&H Shooting Sports in Oklahoma City.
“It’s tough. If you buy things based on industry buzz, you’ll be stocking a bunch of stuff that’s just going to be sitting there looking at you,” Rust said. “You have to figure out what the customers want.”
In contrast, SoDak Sports Co-Owner A.J. Hoffman sees value in being an early adopter.
“If there’s something new, you’ve got to take it and run with it or you get left behind. Everything new is getting all the publicity,” he noted.
Battling Anti-Gun Policies
Following February’s tragic school shooting in Florida, the industry has faced a barrage of attacks from financial institutions, big-box retailers, students, ecommerce providers (e.g., Shopify) and social media platforms. While many of those entities have shunned millions of law-abiding citizens, storefront dealers have continued to welcome new customers in their stores.
“With the recent changes in political philosophies from some of the big-box stores, we hope to see some pickup for the fall season,” said Ace Sporting Goods’ Romanoff in June.
Shopify’s mid-August decision to ban the sale of firearms and accessories online had a ripple effect across the industry.
“Shopify is no friend and people should be aware of that before committing to them,” said Ed Dittus, CEO of the Ordnance Group.
Even in this month’s Letters To The Editor section, David Rich, owner/lead instructor of the Naples Gun Shop & School (Naples, Fla.), shared how Facebook and Google have restricted his ability to advertise classes online.
“The manner in which Facebook publicly implements their policy states something along the lines of ‘learning to safely use a gun is okay, but learning with an actual gun is bad,’” he said.
Jason Gentz, manager of Arnzen Arms, shared some telling insight on expanding handgun accessory profits earlier this year: “When you sell them a firearm, that’s great — 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.”
Working With Industry Partners
“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,” shared Dale Nelson, Jr., owner of Mack’s Camo Connection in Atwood, Tenn.
Jess Hancock, owner of The Wichita Gun Club in Wichita, Kan., relayed one of the keys to success is working with sales reps who understand the financial constraints of a smaller shop with limited resources.
“They know I don’t want five or six guns to come out at the same time,” he said. “You have to be strategic about when you take them.”
Will Ceron, co-owner of Check 6 Arms (Denver, Colo.), lends sales reps and distributors are valuable partners for storefront dealers — as they’re more likely to have sales and include free items with certain handguns, which in turn helps boost sales and woo the customer.
“Customers like a good deal, and if they can get more value for a handgun purchase, they’re more likely to buy from you,” he said.
Expanding Sales To Women
Encouragingly, the industry has prioritized the inclusion of women hunters and shooters. In 2018, dealers regularly shared their success stories in cultivating this important demographic.
“The largest untapped market is female shooters, who we are finding in every segment,” Paulk shared. “Once a woman is comfortable in her surroundings and she sees others who are shooting, taking classes or just having lunch in our café she’ll come more often. We become a destination, and with that, repeat business.”
This starts by carrying products women actually want, a point not lost by Seth Dortch of Final Flight Outfitters in Union City, Tenn.
“We’ve made it a priority to carry product and gear that aids the woman in comfort and reliability.”
Creating a welcoming environment also plays a key role.
“As a woman who hunts and has a sister in NPS law enforcement, I understand the importance of making an outdoor store — especially a hunting department — an approachable place for a female,” said Maggie Heumann, retail buyer for JD High Country Outfitters in Jackson, Wyo. “More women than ever are engaging in the outdoors. The number of sportswomen is growing rapidly.”
Hiring women is an excellent place to start, according to Heumann.
“The benefit of having a well-informed woman working the floor in an outdoor store is necessary to anyone trying to grow their female customer base.”
Green Top Sporting Goods (Ashland, Va.) and John’s Sport Center (Pittsburg, Kan.), each make a concerted effort to hire female sales associates.
“Some women, certainly not all, may find the gun-buying process less intimidating when the person behind the counter shares the same perspective and can relate to their needs,” said Blaine Altaffer, Green Top CEO.
“With female staff on hand, women come in and feel safe. It’s an overall welcoming environment, which gives guests the comfortable edge we’re striving to achieve. And it’s what sets us apart from the big brand names,” said John’s Manager Adam Gariglietti.
“The benefit of having a well-informed woman working the floor in an outdoor store is necessary to anyone trying to grow their female customer base,” said Maggie Heumann, retail buyer for JD High Country Outfitters. With more women joining the shooting sports than ever before, your store stands to benefit from a new perspective.
Bringing Back The “Fun”
Ceron, of Check 6 Arms, has adjusted how his store communicates to customers in marketing the “fun” aspects of the shooting sports.
“We’ll still focus on the self-defense aspect of firearms, but will push some more of the sporting and fun-time aspects of it to reach a different type of gun owner,” Ceron said.
According to Ceron, his store is posting more range pictures and videos on social media.
“It doesn’t always have to be so serious, with the exception of safety,” he continued. “Shooting can be very cathartic and enjoyable. We want to be able to convey this to customers.”
The “customer experience” is a concept growing in the minds of dealers.
“In order to continue to grow our industry and the shooting sports, we need to focus on that first experience for new shooters,” said Bill Robinson, president of City Arsenal in Greenville, S.C. “It’s critical to whether they continue to pursue the sport or walk away with a bad taste.”
“Fear is fleeting, but fun is forever,” stated Bren Brown, co-owner and president of Frontier Justice, which operates two locations in Missouri and Kansas. “Our stance is the ‘experience’ we have to offer in-store for the entire public and the fun of recreational shooting as a sport, not just self-defense.”
Marketing Your Business
“It’s important to advertise regularly,” said Richard Sprague of Sprague’s Sports. “For our market, we find a combination of print, radio, and social media work well. We also do some television advertisements during the holidays if we have extra manufacturer co-op funds available.”
Gina Wolfe, retail store manager at Michigan Shooting Centers (Lake Orion, Mich.), shared her store gets its best results connecting with customers using Facebook and Instagram to send out reminders about gun-and-gear specials and events.
“The only thing that doesn’t work is not advertising or using these channels at all,” she advised.
Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C., experimented this year with direct-mail flyers.
“We need to do more,” said Larry Hyatt, the store’s owner. “People get so many emails. And there’s just so much on the internet. Things just get lost.”
Jason Gentz, manager of Arnzen Arms in Prairie, Minn., is cautious when the store decides to launch an email marketing campaign.
“When we do send an email, it usually contains information that’s exciting for everybody,” he informed.
Regular readers of Shooting Industry will be well aware of the importance of providing quality customer service to guests. (Done “right,” it will set your store apart from the competition — and lead to more sales opportunities.)
“If you’re a retail store, it’s going to be customer service, customer service and … customer service. If you’re a range/retail store it’s also — customer service. It all contributes to the ‘customer experience’ assisting them to have an experience each time they come in that’s unique,” Adam Burt of Calibers Shooting Sports affirmed. Burt oversees two locations in the Albuquerque area.
“We always want the customer to feel like she’s the most important person in the room, because she is. I don’t pay my employees; the customer pays my employees. Without customers, I don’t have a shop,” Reynolds, of LeadFeather, concluded.
Fort Thompson Sporting Goods GM Louis Janski has taken notice of the growing need for an expanded online presence — which in turn elevated the stature of his store.
With the 2019 New Business Year just days away, Shooting Industry is committed to its approach of keeping you, the dealer, up to date and profitable — by continuing to engage with other dealers and feature their valuable perspectives in our pages. Let us know if your store has something to say in relation to any facet of the shooting sports — contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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