Engage With Younger Customers To Grow The Shooting Sports
Bringing up young people in a constructive, informative and recreational shooting environment is the most productive way we can guarantee the future of the shooting sports for generations to come. Thanks to organizations like the NRA and NSSF, there are national programs for young shooters to partake in. As a firearms retailer, you have a unique opportunity to not only participate in the youth movement but also to build a profitable customer base.
This new customer trend has also received a boost by the rise of the bushcraft movement — which involves perfecting one’s survival skills — as well as the slew of survival reality shows on television. Add in a host of high school and college shooting clubs and programs, and the landscape is ripe for expanding your profits in the youth market.
In most states, a customer has to be 18 years of age to purchase a firearm, but many young people receive training well in advance. Hoover Tactical Firearms in Hoover, Ala., is a firearms retailer and provides training programs at its indoor range. Some of the programs focus on youth, according to Kerry Bradley, Hoover Tactical general manager.
“We get involved with young people early through a national organization called Fresh Air Family. They have a program they started called ‘Prepared Not Scared,’ which is a camp for kids, 8–11, to teach them survival skills,” Bradley informs. “The kids learn skills like finding water in the forest, building debris shelters, gun safety skills and calm thinking. It’s a great way to reach young folks well before they are able to purchase a firearm.”
At Hoover Tactical, many of the store’s young first-time customers become established customers.
“We often get young shooters who come in and buy their first gun when they are of legal age, and about half of these become regular customers at our store,” Bradley said. “The indoor range works to keep their attention and draws them in to hone their skills. I would say our young base is 70 percent male, 30 percent female under the age of 26. As these shooters get older, this balances out dramatically, closer to 55 percent male and 45 percent female.”
Hoover Tactical has hired younger employees, such as Range Instructor Justin Wilder,
to better interact with younger customers at the point of purchase.
What Youth Want
After a young person purchases their first firearm, it opens the door to a plethora of accessory sales for you — ranging from holsters and magazines, to optics and range bags. As a brick-and-mortar retailer, you have the distinct advantage of offering your young customer hands-on, tactile experience while viewing and handling your merchandise. You also have the benefit of lending your ability as a real, live sales representative who can explain various products to help ascertain their needs. In other words, you’re at a huge advantage to cash in on secondary sales beyond the customer’s initial firearm purchase.
With an indoor range adjoining a retail sales floor, Hoover Tactical is more oriented to tactical and target shooting. A handgun is more apt to be the first purchase their young customer makes.
“Most young shooters tend to buy a 9mm handgun first. It’s a common caliber, accurate round and easy to handle,” said Justin Wilder, a 21-year-old range instructor at Hoover Tactical. “The most frequent second purchase (other than ammo) is a holster, then an extra magazine or two, and perhaps a mounted flashlight. They’ll also buy a range bag if they’re going to use it for target shooting.”
Wilder also notes younger shooters tend to buy brighter clothing and accessories at his store.
Of course, young hunters and sport shooters (such as clay target shooting) are very different from tactical customers. Long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, are the initial purchase for these firearm users with extra magazines, carrying and storage bags/being top sellers. The mark-ups on these are substantial, and if your store has a combination of both tactical and outdoors products you’ll be ready for either customer.
By far, your best opportunity for secondary sales — for any gun user — is at the point of purchase when the customer is buying their firearm. Your sales staff should be trained to ask the customer if they need a holster or case, extra magazines and other accessories every time they sell a firearm in order to maximize sales.
Keep In Touch
Young shooters are more active, so “on-the-go” mediums such as radio advertising and social media posts are more apt to catch their attention.
“We advertise with local radio stations and attend local gun shows whenever possible,” Bradley lends. “Hoover Tactical just sponsored an outdoor expo, which was very successful in getting the word out on our store as well. We also have weekly IDPA-style shoots which bring out young people and we put on several fun shoots throughout the year to bring the young folks in.”
However, Bradley recalled his store hasn’t always found success in reaching younger customers.
“We once advertised in the student calendars for a local university. I don’t recommend it — we got nothing out of it. College kids tend to find other areas of fun to spend money,” he said.
To reach young shooters, Hoover Tactical maintains an informative website which includes information on training classes and interacts with customers on a variety of social media fronts — like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Tech-savvy customers are younger and more likely to use social media than their older counterparts. Don’t be afraid to meet them there with a helpful, informative website and active social media presence. Explore other options as well, such as visual-centric mediums like Instagram and YouTube. By engaging with your younger customers on their preferred channels, you’ll be able to keep them up-to-date on new products and in-store promotions. To usher in this next wave of customers, you’ll need to give them the inventory they need and provide a welcoming environment when they visit your store.
By Pat Covert
Year-Round Youth Focus
Shooting Industry provides insights on the youth market throughout the year. The “youth movement” has grown into a focal point of the industry, as the shooting sports have seen substantial growth at the high school and collegiate levels around the U.S. — maybe even in your store’s backyard.
In October, Youth Shooting Sports Alliance (YSSA) former Executive Director Steve Miller provided his analysis on endorsing youth shooting sports programs. Miller’s article “The Next Generation” discussed how the YSSA pinpoints youth programs like the 4-H Shooting Sports Program and Boy Scouts that contribute to the future market goals of the industry and how industry manufacturers have partnered with these programs. Perhaps partnering with one of these organizations would yield benefits for your store?
Our lead Industry News story in September looked at the explosive growth of the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League (MSHSCTL). The league grew by 41 percent from 2014 to 2015, and it’s been the fastest-growing high school sport in Minnesota since 2008. Trap shooting is now a varsity sport in the state and this success has been replicated in others, such as North Dakota. As this trend continues to grow, there are opportunities for perceptive dealers to welcome student-athletes into their stores.
If you’ve had success in reaching younger customers — or if you have an experience to share — we want to know about it. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can spread the message to our readers.
By Jade Molde