In Addressing Hot-Selling Trends, Don’t Overlook Traditional Firearms.
Since late last year, a lot of consumer long-gun focus has been on modern sporting rifles (MSRs). Dealers report a nonstop run on ARs and similar long guns, making it challenging to do “business as usual.” During this selling flurry, it’s easy to overlook other firearms that remain the backbone of the long-gun market.
Traditional long guns — bolt- and lever-action rifles, shotguns and even muzzleloaders — are the tried-and-true firearms of our youth, the ones our fathers and grandfathers used to teach us how to target shoot and hunt.
These perennial best-selling long guns also provide a level of comfort for consumers who are undecided about purchasing an MSR, according to Ron Buschmann, owner of Shooters Supply and Law Enforcement Equipment in Louisville, Ky.
“When people get this feeling, this sense of being backed into a corner, and they’ve decided to buy a firearm, they may slide into an area of comfort. We try to really look at where the new customer — who isn’t comfortable with the notion of buying a semiautomatic — is going to go,” Buschmann said. “Is that person going to be more apt to buy a Mossberg pump-action, or maybe a Savage Model 10 bolt-action, or a Henry Big Boy?”
Savage’s Axis bolt-actions sell very well at Shooters Supply. New for 2013, this Axis XP Youth Camo (Realtree Xtra) model has a Bushnell 3-9×40 scope, mounted and bore sighted.
Maintain The Focus
Buschmann’s advice is to watch for trends and opportunities for traditional long-gun sales that might be easily overlooked. He says dealers need to be willing to “add something else to the conversation” with customers.
“We might overlook what’s in the minds of new customers who want to buy something else (besides an MSR), even if it’s on impulse,” Buschmann said. “Try to remember when you were focusing on those other long-gun categories. What were you doing then? At Shooters Supply, we’ve already started that evolution.”
For instance, Buschmann says the “neat little niche” of cowboy gun enthusiasts in his area affords him a good opportunity to offer nostalgic lever guns to his traditionalist long-gun customers.
“We used to do a lot of lever-gun business with Marlin, and then it became Henry. For its size, I have yet to see a rifle company promote itself nationally like Henry does,” Buschmann said.
Savage bolt-action rifles, particularly the Axis, are selling very well at Shooters Supply, followed by Ruger’s American and M77 models. Buschmann says he also does well with Remington rifles. While remaining traditional, most long-gun enthusiasts are moving away from wood to synthetic stocks, Buschmann says, and Shooters Supply offers value-package deals for their customers.
Shotguns do double duty as recreational/hunting guns and increasingly sought-after home-defense guns.
“The pump shotgun has been around forever. There is something psychologically comforting about the sound of racking that slide. Mossberg and Remington are well-branded and don’t have import restrictions in terms of their capacity, like other branded guns made overseas. When you’ve got a Mossberg or Remington with 6- to 7-round capacity sitting next to a Tri-Star or other brand with 4-round capacity, or even a Benelli, in many cases, customers are going to want more than four rounds,” Buschmann said.
The Mossberg 500 pump-action is available in a number of models
and is a perennial best seller at Shooters Supply.
The Family Factor
Buschmann knows some of the consumers who have recently crowded his sales counters may be too impatient to allow him and his staff to build the kind of relationship that turns them into loyal long-gun customers. Imparting the right kind of knowledge and creating a high dealer/consumer comfort level is Buschmann’s stock-in-trade.
However, during recent months, he’s noticed a trend that makes him more optimistic in the face of what he calls a period of “raw hypersensitivity.”
“What has been really unique is families are in our store. A wife may bring in her children on a regular basis and get to know us. These are people who, in most cases, are not going to go online and do research. They want a person in front of them. They can’t get past that initial wariness of what exactly this (firearm) does, how it operates, how it feels,” Buschmann said.
These new customers who are concerned about personal safety or home defense may go home with a Mossberg or a Remington pump-action shotgun. The availability of both brands, Buschmann says, has been “solid.”
“Vortex is without question the hungriest, easiest-to-work-with, broad-spectrum optics manufacturer out there,” Buschmann says. New for 2013 is the Vortex Viper PST 2.5-10×32.
Building The Ticket
A key to long-gun profitability, according to Buschmann, is “building the ticket” by including accessories when firearms are sold.
Among the top-selling optics brands for Shooters Supply are Aimpoint, BSA, EOTech, Nightforce, Tasco, Trijicon and TRUGLO.
“Each fits into certain niche categories for us, from high-end tactical to economy/entry-level hunting,” Buschmann said.
Over the past three years, Busuhmann says, a relative newcomer has established itself as Shooters Supply’s top-selling optic brand, offering top-notch quality, value, availability and support.
“Vortex is without question the hungriest, easiest-to-work-with, broad-spectrum optics manufacturer out there. Their product line covers the needs of the budget-conscious new shooters up to the demands of the high-level competitor or hunter. From optics for muzzleloaders to the spring turkey shotgun or benchrest rifles to a 3-gun competition MSR, Vortex has nearly all the bases covered,” Buschmann said.
In long-gun accessories and supplies, Shooters Supply carries a wide range of brands with “individual stars” in all categories. Some of the standouts are:
Bipods: Harris Bipods;
Targets: Birchwood Casey, Do All Outdoors, Taylor Targets;
Slings: Blue Force Gear, The Outdoor Connection;
Stocks: Hogue, Speedfeed;
Reloading: Hornady, Nosler;
Muzzleloading: CVA, Powerbelt Bullets;
Cases/Bags: U.S. Peacekeeper, Bulldog Cases, Pelican, Galati International;
Eyewear: Pyramex, Radians, Walkers;
Cleaning Supplies: Birchwood Casey, Break-Free, Kleen-Bore, Pro Shot.
Buschmann says the brands in the ATK family — Champion, Alliant, RCBS, CCI/Speer, BLACKHAWK! and Gunslick —also help boost his accessories sales.
Ron Buschmann, owner of Shooters Supply and Law Enforcement Equipment, says it’s important for dealers to consider all long-gun categories, including bolt- and lever-actions, pump shotguns and muzzleloaders.
Obstacles Into Opportunities
Dealers have experienced major challenges in maintaining inventory during recent months. At the same time, consumers have spent a lot of money in gun shops. However, Buschmann observes, tax refund season is here and consumers are looking to make additional purchases.
“There are opportunities for them to get that rifle they’ve always wanted. And that rifle is not necessarily going to be an MSR. It may well be the first rifle they shot with their granddad, or a throwback to cowboys, the old Westerns. We should be willing to go back in time and remember the benefits of shotguns or lever guns, things that people really take pride in,” Buschmann said.
How do you navigate the current market to take advantage of all types of long-gun sales? Foremost, Buschmann says, build your inventory so you have plenty of firearms to offer — beyond the hot-selling MSRs.
“Put your mindset into that customer,” Buschmann said. “What would you do if you were on their side of the counter and you saw an empty wall? Many are caught up in the craze, but their sense of urgency does not necessarily mean they’re there for what you think they are.
“I recommend that dealers connect with their distributors and know how to get on their websites. You need to be trolling those websites. I’ve done it many times late at night in the past several months. Don’t wait for the distributor to call you up.”
Keys To More Profitable Accessory Sales
Many retailers avoid stocking a large enough inventory of accessories because of “competition from online retailers,” Buschmann observes.
“I haven’t come across many of these competitors who can mount a scope and check eye relief, or attach a bipod so the buyer can head straight to the range, or switch out a factory 10/22 stock for a tactical version,” Buschmann said.
At Shooters Supply and Law Enforcement, Buschmann has four basic rules that drive accessory sales:
1. Meet impulse satisfaction. “If you don’t have items to dress up sales, you have lost the ability to strike while the iron is hot.”
2. Avoid letting the customer go surfing for what you didn’t offer. “If you don’t have or don’t mention all the cleaning supplies, optics choices and ‘gee-whiz’ add-ons, customers will take their new prize home and start looking online and discover what you missed.”
3. Carry a lot of accessories, to sell a lot of accessories. “This seems obvious to most, but there are still a large number of dealers who live in the ‘I’ll order whatever you need’ world. Sorry, but so can the customer from home, and they will likely be impressed by the vast array of choices ready to be shipped to their door.”
4. Recognize consumers’ desires to be loyal to their locally owned businesses. “However, the more often they can’t find what they are looking for, the less often they will visit.”
When considering which accessory product lines to carry, Buschmann says he focuses on those that “bring consumer brand recognition and strong dealer support. The broader a company’s product offerings, the greater opportunities we have for larger co-op advertising balances, rebate checks and consumer promotion support.”
Visit Shooters Supply and Law Enforcement Equipment at www.shooterssupply.org.
By Greg Staunton
>> Click Here << To Read The Shooting Industry March 2013 Issue