By Jade Moldae
Entering a new decade, the onus is on the dealer to be proactive in generating new revenue streams. A panel of successful retail and range facilities shared their strategies to stand out from the competition and win business in the new year.
1. IDENTIFY GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES
Building a blueprint for success in 2020 involves careful evaluation of trends impacting sales. For example, years of expansive firearm production means there are millions of recently acquired guns for customers to personalize.
“Customization is a trend that has the most growth potential in the next year,” said Laurie Fettig, co-owner of T&L Tactical in Manitowoc, Wis. “It could be new sights, a new trigger, a slide cut for an optic or a custom paint job, but customers typically are not leaving their firearm stock. We try to keep as much of this business in-house as possible, but it’s important to have some contacts set up to refer customers for the items your store doesn’t handle.”
Other factors, like an aging consumer demographic, will impact contending products.
“One of the biggest trends we’re seeing right now is optics-ready pistols,” said Jeremy Ball, general manager of Sharp Shooting Indoor Range & Gun Shop in Spokane, Wash. “Many shooters are aging and the degradation of vision is something we all face. The red dots on handguns are increasing the accuracy of every shooter and getting people really excited about their capabilities. The positive to dealers is the add-on sales.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to target a consistently strong segment: concealed carry.
“The concealed-carry market will continue to diversify. Higher capacity, reasonably priced small guns will continue to do well,” said Jacquelyn Clark, owner of Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center in Lakewood, Colo. “Competition-ready guns, synthetic ammo and gear will also be strong.”
2. SERVICE: CRUCIAL TO RETENTION
With a storefront, dealers have an inherent advantage over online-only competitors: personal interactions. Dealers who are able to harness this asset and provide standout service will reap the benefits in 2020.
“We have the ability to offer something online dealers and even some big boxes can’t offer — a unique and personal buying experience,” Clark shared. “A human touch, customer service and the ability for customers to interact while going through the purchase process work to our advantage. Online retailers can never do any of that. And with a tactile purchase like a firearm, we have a leg up.”
Service is what separates the brick-and-mortar from the online outlets, added Clay Ausley, owner of Fuquay Gun in Fuquay-Varina, N.C.
“WE HAVE THE ABILITY TO OFFER SOMETHING
ONLINE DEALERS AND EVEN SOME BIG BOXES CAN’T
OFFER — A UNIQUE AND PERSONAL BUYING
EXPERIENCE, A HUMAN TOUCH.”
Jacquelyn Clark, Owner Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center Lakewood, Colo.
“If you’re not providing quality service at a competitive price, your business will lose market share to shopping quickly. Why would anyone want to go to a store to pay more, and get less service than they can get while shopping online from their couch?” he asked.
“The big thing we have over online is the personal service: the time, attention and interaction,” Adam Wagner agreed, owner of A&P Armory (Magnolia, Texas). “But, time is money. The customer should pay for time. We used to build it into the price, but now the customer wants online prices with personal service. One solution: Find some services you can offer that can’t be outsourced.”
Pricing, paired with outstanding service, also plays a role in the customer attraction/retention equation.
“For a brick-and-mortar store to be successful in 2020, we need to be price competitive on the hottest-selling items and offer stellar customer service,” Fettig advised. “This means taking advantage of manufacturer packages to bring down the overall cost so we can compete with online merchants as much as possible. It’s not enough, though, we must ‘wow’ them with our service.”
3. ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE
Melding customer service with a straightforward buying process forms the basis of a buzzword phrase today, the “customer experience” at retail. Dealers have identified this as a primary area of focus for their stores.
Freedom Shooting Center in Virginia Beach, Va., integrated a new point-of-sale, inventory management and operating system at the end of 2018. Refining this system to engage with customers via e-commerce is a top objective in 2020, according to General Manager Skyler Thomas.
“We exist to serve our members and guests, and grow participation in the shooting sports,” he stated. “An essential priority is offering an easily accessible, robust e-commerce platform that enhances the customer experience and aligns more with today’s consumer behavior.”
In addition to facilitating a customer’s shopping process, it’s important to create new experiences.
“Another key item for the success of a storefront is customer experience that can’t be achieved online — such as a customer interaction, maintaining a clean and safe range and integrating new technologies (i.e., live-fire simulators, axe ranges, etc.),” Thomas continued.
Shooters World in Orlando, Fla., has implemented a special program for guests — called the VIP Experience — where an instructor escorts new shooters on the shooting range, explaining gun safety and operation.
“Orlando is a hot spot for tourists, many of whom have never held a firearm before,” said Carmen Lout, assistant manager of the range. “The program has been incredibly successful with many guests referring friends and family members from their home countries. Our hope is to educate and spread the word firearms and American gun culture are family-oriented, fun and safe.”
For dealers who don’t know where to start, encourage customer feedback. Maxon Shooter’s Supplies & Indoor Range in Des Plaines, Ill., recently renovated its range in response to criticism from customers.
“Listening to our customers has been key,” informed Sarah Natalie, Maxon general manager. “They told us, ‘your lanes are too narrow and the noise level in the range is unacceptably loud.’ We recently completed a full renovation with new, wider stalls, feature-rich Action Target Pilot Target Retrievers and extensive PEPP sound attenuation. The change is dramatic, business is up and our customers appreciate the upgrades.”
GET YOUR STAFF ON BOARD
These three concepts are practical for securing sales in 2020, but it’s up to you to inspire your team to implement them. Ball recommends engaging with employees and giving them opportunities to be active participants in the industry.
“Winning in 2020 is about the people you surround yourself with: your staff!” he proclaimed. “Get them out using the products you want them to sell. If you want them to sell an expensive product they can’t afford, they better have some real-time experience with it.”
This can be achieved with onsite events or with the help of industry partners.
“Do range days with your staff. Ask for manufacturers to support training of your employees,” Ball continued. “It’s a small investment on your part to have your staff enjoy some time together doing what all of you have in common.”
Ball shared a twofold benefit of promoting employee trainings on social media.
“Customers love seeing your staff out using products you sell,” he said. “Make sure you take photos and videos to use on social media showing customers the investment in your staff and why they’re better educated than the competition.
“Then, consider doing the exact same thing with invite-only customers. It’s an advertising experience that will pay for itself faster than you can imagine. Nothing beats word-of-mouth and story-based advertising.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Successful dealers are willing to adapt to the conditions of the market and provide standout customer service to customers. It’s an intimidating prospect, but self-evaluations are necessary to continue competing against online-only and big-box retailers.
“If you’re not adjusting your business models now, the results could be catastrophic for your business,” Ausley advised.
In addition, if your store is able to offer services beyond retail, it gives customers more incentives to stop in for a visit.
“Offering introductory training classes to prospective buyers in the market is a way to encourage client loyalty for future purchasing needs,” Lout shared.
“You have to be more than just a gun store. For our facility, having a range, being a training destination with a gunsmith department and more to offer the customer than just guns for sale has helped with the ups and downs,” Clark concluded.
Readers, have your say: What are your expectations as we move into 2020? What will it take to be successful? Contact the SIteam directly: email@example.com.