By Ashley McGee
Like many retail businesses, the holiday season is one of the busiest for gun retailers in part because it also coincides with big-game hunting season, and in many areas, migratory bird seasons. So how can you keep the momentum going well into the new year?
Considering an estimated 17% of all U.S. hunters (about 2 million people) pursue wild turkeys,1 spring turkey season is a great opportunity to grow or diversify your current product offerings. After all, it’s the second most sought after game following deer.
For Patricia Pucik, owner of Rods, Barrels & Strings in Marble Falls, Texas, turkey hunting accounts for roughly 50% of total business in the spring — a number she said has increased in the past eight years.
I start with items that have become
hot in interest because they will be harder to obtain as
the season approaches. Then, when it gets closer to
the season I will order the typical staples.
Patricia Pucik • owner Rods, Barrels & Strings Marble Falls, Texas
“I think a lot of this is due to the fact turkey populations have increased in the area and people are realizing what a challenge it is to spring hunt,” Pucik observed.
In anticipation of the 2020 season, she expects turkey hunters to continue getting more involved in the art of hunting spring turkey.
“They want more technology in both bows and long guns and it can be from calls, scent killer and sights like the Beard Buster made by Dead Ringer,” she said.
Pucik will start a gradual inventory increase a couple of months ahead of turkey season, beginning the first Saturday in April this year.
“I start with items that have become hot in interest because they will be harder to obtain as the season approaches,” she relayed. “Then, when it gets closer to the season I will order the typical staples.”
To stay informed about the latest products and trends, Pucik is a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation and makes it a priority to attend trade shows. She said there’s usually a standout ammunition manufacturer that has done research to improve shotgun shells specifically for turkey hunters so she will add it to her inventory for the coming season.
“Here in Texas, RIO is a very popular brand and my customers will request it,” she asserted.
In terms of turkey calls, she said experienced hunters often continue using the same tried and tested call even though new and improved options are available. Younger hunters and those newer to the sport are more likely to try out the latest technology. Regardless, Pucik suggests retailers carry what the customers have heard about.
At Rods, Barrels & Strings, Primos is a bestselling brand. Pucik attributes this to the amount the manufacturer invests in sponsorships, advertising and hunter endorsements. Although they’re most known for their game calls, Primos recently released the Double Bull SurroundView 360 Ground Blind. Made with exclusive one-way see-through walls so you can see all of your surroundings with maximum concealment, Pucik expects it to be well-received by turkey hunters.
Other popular products in their market include camouflage from GameGuard Outdoors and the all-terrain swivel chair from CHAMA — both are Texas-based companies.
Although spring turkey season accounts for a significant portion of Rods, Barrels and Strings’ business, growing this segment isn’t without challenges.
“Our biggest challenge is price shoppers. It’s hard to compete price-wise with the box stores,” Pucik disclosed. “And when people decide they want something, they forget we smaller retailers often have what they want, usually within a few cents of what the box stores offer and without the hassle of going to the city.”
To overcome these challenges, Pucik uses a mix of advertising including television, newspaper and radio, although this can be a challenge in itself because what didn’t work last year may work this year. She acknowledges social media and word of mouth seem to be taking over particularly with millennials and Generation Z.
They also host in-store events and are fortunate Robert Linder, a nationally recognized expert on turkey hunting and turkey calling, lives in the area.
“Linder gives talks on how to hunt turkey and then a second session on turkey calling,” shared Pucik. “This always draws people in and leaves them enthused to get out and try what they have learned.”
Utility Of Multi-Purpose Products
Located just a few hours away in Houston, Baron Boyette of Gordy & Sons offers a different perspective. Citing lack of public land, he said spring turkey season is not a big revenue driver in their market. Instead, many of their customers are gearing up for hunting trips to Africa.
If you’re also in a market with low spring turkey hunting participation, there are still ways to serve these customers without investing time and resources that may be better spent growing other areas of your business.
Rather than stocking a wide selection of turkey-specific hunting gear and apparel, Gordy & Sons opts for a curated selection of dual- or multi-purpose products.
“Many of our duck-hunting customers use the same shotgun for turkey season,” Boyette confirmed. “Our two best selling semi-automatic models are the Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 and the Beretta A400, along with Fiocchi Golden Turkey 6-Shot shells.”
They also carry the XLR and XLR5 semi-automatic 12-gauges from Syren, a highly acclaimed Italian brand designed exclusively for female shooters. They’re well suited for waterfowl, dove and turkey hunting.
Boyette added one of their best selling soft goods is SITKA camouflage, particularly the Subalpine pattern designed for close engagement.
According to the SITKA website, GORE OPTIFADE Subalpine is “designed specifically for stalking and ambushing ungulates from ground level in vegetated terrain and is optimized for engagement ranges of 50 yards and less.”
The pattern was created with big game like elk and mule deer in mind, but the brand’s lightest weight series is also great for spring turkey season.
“We’ve found customers are more likely to invest in gear and apparel that will serve them through multiple game seasons,” he informed.
The most effective approach for
your business will be one tailored
specifically to the interests and needs
of the turkey hunters in your area.
For this reason, they have chosen not to carry niche products like mouth reeds, box calls or even turkey vests.
“We’re in an area with a lot of big-box competition that have more room for a wider variety of inventory whereas we have a single 11,000-square-foot location,” said Boyd. “We have to be realistic in terms of what makes sense. There’s so much variety when it comes to calls, decoys and other accessories, it’s not feasible for us to carry it all.”
However, Gordy & Sons will special order items for customers provided they are from a brand they already carry. They also price match in order to remain competitive with other area retailers.
In addition to their retail space, Gordy & Sons provides on-site gunsmithing, servicing and repair and also offers bespoke hunting and fishing trips to the most sought-after destinations in the U.S. and around the globe.
As with most independent firearms retailers, word of mouth remains their most effective advertising. They’ve also generated results through print advertising campaigns.
In terms of marketing to turkey hunters specifically, Boyette revealed they rely on digital channels such as social media and content marketing through their blog, the Vault Journal (gordyandsons.com/blog) which requires a significantly lower investment than traditional advertising.
As you can see, there’s no one right way to prepare for spring turkey season. Two retailers in the same state located only a few hours apart have significantly different experiences and approaches when it comes to attracting turkey hunters.
The most effective approach for your business will be one tailored specifically to the interests and needs of the turkey hunters in your area. Make sure to engage with the local hunting community, ask questions, actively listen to the answers and implement them as you plan and prepare for the season ahead.