Dealers Re-Brand To Create Entertainment Experience And Success.
Independent gun dealers are the innovators of the shooting industry, as well as its backbone. They have the ability to swiftly identify trends in their market, and move quickly to stock products and provide services their customers want.
Election years always create turmoil in the firearms industry, but savvy dealers are looking beyond 2012, and banking on quality products and excellent customer service to create success in 2013. Gun dealers are re-branding themselves and marketing their businesses as part of the entertainment industry. They’re capturing that elusive discretionary dollar by providing products and services that serve a practical purpose, but are also a heck of a lot of fun.
Success in the coming year also depends heavily on how dealers market their businesses. The Internet and social media cannot be ignored. People in their 20s and 30s exclusively use their smartphones and computers to gather and share information. In order to capture this group of influential customers, an attractive and informative website with a Facebook link is a must, along with connecting through blogs, Twitter, YouTube and other high-tech tools.
Here’s a look at the strategies successful dealers are putting in place to keep their businesses profitable in the coming year.
Flawless customer service, quality products and a strong Internet
presence have been a winning strategy for H&H Shooting Sports Complex.
“We Are In The Entertainment Business”
Flawless customer service, quality products and a strong Internet presence have been a winning strategy for Miles Hall, founder and president of H&H Shooting Sports Complex in Oklahoma City, Okla., an NSSF Five Star facility. Hall said he’s seen his full-service business grow substantially in the last few years, and says profits were up 48 percent in his store in 2012.
“In February of 2008, there was a swell of new faces,” Hall said.
He refers to those election year gun buyers as the “first wave.” He said the second wave started in 2010, and they were the friends of the first wave.
Now, noted Hall, there is a third wave of entirely new shooters who are a unique group. These shooters are younger, in their mid- to late 30s, and are split 50/50 between men and women. They are also an ethnically diverse group. According to Hall, the third wave came in because they were concerned about the instability of the world, but what makes this group remarkable and exciting is they stayed for the fun.
“They found out shooting was fun — and that quickly became a driving force,” Hall said. “They are the demographic we (the shooting industry) want. These new people are totally service-oriented. If they have faith in you and your staff, they are all about the experience of it and the education of it and the fun.”
This demographic is a “techie” group, and they are not put off by paying more than $600 for a gun. Hall said a customer told him that when you compared the cost of a $400 iPhone that will last maybe two years, to a $600 gun that will last a lifetime, the gun is good value.
The key to reaching these women and men is advertising your business where this tech-oriented community can see it.
“TV is the number one form of media, followed closely by social media and then the web,” Hall said. “These people are not watching the outdoor networks. They’re watching the (traditional) networks, sports channels, the History Channel, National Geographic and The Learning Channel.”
H&H runs specific commercials geared to these channels.
Hall said it is important for the shooting industry to ask the question, “Who is the audience today?” He said manufacturers are not aware of the type of customer who is buying guns today, and they need to try harder to give consumers what they want. Hall noted that Ruger gave customers what they wanted with the Ruger LCP. This gun came out at the right time and was in high demand because it was small, discreet and could be carried in a pocket.
The zombie craze, which Hall said is still going strong, is another example of giving these new gun buyers what they want.
“Guns have not been considered ‘cool,’ but now are starting to be,” he said.
Shooting zombie ammo and zombie targets puts a day at the range in the “entertainment” category.
“We are in the entertainment business, and we are competing for entertainment dollars,” Hall said. “We are at the most critical point in the history of the shooting sports in the last 50 years. If we can do this right, we can ensure the future of the industry for the next 50 years.”
The key to success in the future is taking care of customers respectfully, Hall said.
“We need to keep on promoting and trying to reach these people. Our goal is to grow the shooting sports. It’s been our mantra at H&H for over 30 years,” he said.
Hall’s shooting sports complex has been very effective in reaching women. He noted that the people who come into H&H are now split nearly evenly at 53 percent men to 47 percent women.
Openrange features a pistol and rifle range, paintball
arena and pro shop. View the operation at
“I Refuse To Play That Game”
Openrange in Crestwood, Ky., also an NSSF Five Star facility, offers a full complement of amenities, including a pistol and rifle range, paintball arena and pro shop. CEO Barry Laws said while January is one of his slower months, he has no plans for any deep discounts in the coming months.
“Openrange has separated itself from the pack by being all about customer service,” Laws said. “Price remains constant, just like other high-end stores, with sales limited to closeouts. We don’t offer coupons, mass sales or discounts. It seems every other gun shop trips over itself to have the lowest price, cheapening their operation as if they have nothing else to offer.”
Laws said many dealers need to change the way they approach the market.
“The margin on guns is disgustingly low, thanks to these discounters who slide by on the thinnest of margins and diminish the value of great products nationwide,” he said. “I refuse to play that game. I am proud of our offerings, proud of our facility and extra proud of our industry-leading customer service. I truly believe if gun shops would stop chasing the margin down, provide excellent customer service and reinvest into their infrastructure, they would win over more customers and add more to their bottom line than simply being the cheapest gun on the block.”
Laws’ formula for success is not complicated.
“Our strategy is simple: Provide the customer with the nicest-looking operation possible, the cleanest modern range, the coolest handpicked offerings and the hands-down best customer service in the industry,” Laws said. “In return, we are rewarded with loyal customers who, as you know, are worth tens of thousands each over a lifetime — and at higher margins than the competition.”
Listen To Customers
Mark’s Outdoor Sports in Birmingham, Ala., is under the direction of Shelly Smith, who took over after her father, Mark Whitlock, passed away in May. Smith shares a similar philosophy regarding sales.
“We really don’t do anything spectacular in the form of deals, discounts or blow outs,” Smith said. “We, last January, had a record-breaking month for gun sales, and we didn’t have a true sale or special going on. We simply stocked up on our inventory daily, listened to the customers wants, and offered them reasonably desirable prices on the guns they want.”
“People do not feel they get the customer service they deserve at
big-box stores,” says Linda Ewasiuk of The Bullet Hole.
“Excel In Customer Service”
Linda Ewasiuk of The Bullet Hole in Omaha, Neb., said customer service is the driving force behind their continued success in the coming year.
“We will continue to excel in customer service,” she said. “People do not feel they get the customer service they deserve at big-box stores.”
The Bullet Hole builds loyal customers by offering them a membership to their range and retail operation that provides customers with discounts in almost all areas. Members receive discounts on transfers, and Ewasiuk noted that most big-box stores won’t even handle transfers. The Bullet Hole will also happily special order items they do not carry.
“Our employees are trained to provide the best customer service, and give our customers a lot of individual attention,” she said.
Listening to what customers want is also an important part of running a successful business, Ewasiuk said. The Internet and social media give immediate feedback to customers and dealers alike, so The Bullet Hole is using these resources to keep customers informed.
“We have a new website design, and we’re planning to start a blog soon,” she said. “It will mostly be a conversation about new things happening in the industry.”
One area Ewasiuk said she is watching closely is the growth in the female shooting market.
“I don’t think it’s anywhere near leveling off or peaked out,” she said. “We’re pushing about 20-percent female customers.”
Women customers are coming to The Bullet Hole for introductory and self-defense shooting classes, and buying defensive handguns that fit smaller hands, Ewasiuk noted. The Bullet Hole also stocks pink holsters and cases, which sell well.
Firearm manufacturers can best assist storeowners in the coming months by making the supply of guns meet the demand, Ewasiuk said.
“When the manufacturer refuses to take orders, the customer blames the retailers,” she explained. “It’s so frustrating. I’d like to see less emphasis on designing new guns, and an increase in manufacturing existing guns.”
By Lisa Parsons-Wraith