Gun Dealers: Benefit From Aaron Barton’s Bowhunting Sales Skills.
Nocked & Loaded in Lampasas, Texas, offers a different perspective for firearms dealers who are considering carrying bowhunting equipment. Located in the national registered historic district of Lampasas, the shop originally only sold archery equipment. Later, its owners acquired an FFL license to sell firearms — an opposite approach of many gun dealers who venture into the bowhunting market.
Aaron Barton, Nocked & Loaded’s manager and lead archery tech, believes that no matter which comes first — archery or firearms — the rationale behind offering both options to customers remains the same.
“If somebody is a gun hunter and he switches to a bow, it becomes a transitional tool to get him to hunt a month earlier,” Barton said. “It gets him into the woods sooner than if he solely hunted with firearms, and that helps generate more sales.”
Thanks in part to the extended hunting season offered by traditional bows and crossbows in Texas, Barton sees a 70-30 ratio of archery sales over firearms. In addition to the extra month of hunting, Barton believes bowhunting is also rising in popularity due to increasing ammunition costs.
“The cost of ammo has become so high. You can’t even go out and shoot a box or two of ammo without spending a minimum of $20 to $40,” Barton said. “Most people with an AR just aren’t going to go out and shoot a box of 20 rounds and be satisfied. They want to pull the trigger quickly. With archery, they can retrieve their ‘ammo,’ so there’s a cost savings.”
Chad Gee (left), archery tech, and Aaron Barton, manager and lead archery
tech, prepare bows for customers at Nocked & Loaded’s Bow Center.
A Family Affair
Barton has also seen more youngsters — both boys and girls — venturing into bowhunting and archery, due in part to the popularity of recent movies like “The Hunger Games,” which features 16-year-old huntress Katniss Everdeen, and “The Avengers,” with superhero Hawkeye using his bow and arrow to save the world.
“It’s a flip of the switch. Normally husbands will get their kids into bowhunting, but now kids are bringing in their parents. The wives are getting into it a lot more, too,” Barton said. “Archery is generally considered to be a very individual sport, but you can do it as a family unit.”
Barton noted bow manufacturers have made extra efforts in the last five years to produce bows specifically designed for women and children, an advancement in the industry that has helped draw in even more bowhunters.
“Archery has been very male-driven, but with more women and children becoming interested in the sport, we’ve started to see bows that are designed to grow with children as they get older. Even 10 years ago, there were a very limited number of bows you could set up for women,” Barton said.
While bowhunting can be expensive for a family initially — with a high price tag on bows and other essential equipment — Barton said the sport is still attractive for families because the costs are front-loaded. Once families make the initial investment, there aren’t many other bow-related expenses involved to hunt.
A well-stocked Archery Center produces 70 percent of Nocked & Loaded’s sales.
Getting Past Reluctant
Barton’s message: Bowhunting is often an easy sell. It’s family-friendly, not cost-prohibitive and translates to more time to hunt. However, many dealers still remain reluctant to expand their businesses to include archery equipment. That’s a mistake Barton believes can be very costly.
“I don’t think firearms dealers are capitalizing on the opportunities archery and bowhunting offer,” Barton said, who points out that having bow equipment on display will result in sales.
“Guys who come in and look at guns will spot the bows across the store and look at them. With a lot of customers, all you need to do is have them shoot the bow once and they’re hooked. You’ve planted the seed,” Barton said.
Providing a range on site where customers can test-shoot bows is critical to making sales, Barton said. Nocked & Loaded has a 20-yard, eight-lane range that sees plenty of traffic when the sales team is working with customers.
“Without a doubt, it’s paramount to have a range. You need to have a place — whether it’s five yards or 50 yards — where customers can draw the bow back and shoot it into a target,” Barton said. “Everybody wants that experience, and it’s important to provide that to a customer who’s never shot a bow before.”
Top Bow Brands
In addition to providing range space for customers to experience shooting a bow firsthand, it’s equally important to stock the right inventory for a dealer’s locale.
Nocked & Loaded is a certified dealer for Mathews, Mission, Hoyt and BowTech. In addition to Mathews being one of the leading bow manufacturers in the industry, Barton also appreciates the company’s extensive humanitarian work. All proceeds from Mathews’ Lost Camo pattern go to supporting various charities.
“It’s just an advantage that Mathews has a great bow. What they do for the industry and archery is phenomenal,” Barton said. “That’s something I can really get behind.”
For customers who are looking for a lower price-point bow, Barton always recommends Mission. It’s a brand he believes is excellent for introducing new bowhunters to the sport, especially those who have a limited budget or are not quite ready to fully commit to bowhunting.
“Mission bows carry a lifetime warranty, just like a Mathews bow. It just might not have all the frills, bells and whistles,” Barton said. “It’s like a truck with standard seats and standard radio instead of a truck with leather seats and XM radio. It’s still going to get you from point A to point B.”
When it comes to Hoyt, Barton said he’s seen the company’s bows take incredible amounts of wear and tear and still perform perfectly. That level of durability has kept Hoyt extremely competitive with Mathews. Barton said the two bow manufacturers “trade punches every year” when it comes to leading sales at Nocked & Loaded.
“We need that type of competition within the industry to keep everything innovative. Both Mathews and Hoyt drive customers into your store,” Barton said. “Without those two companies, we couldn’t make it as a dealer.”
While BowTech is a newer bow manufacturer in comparison to the other brands Nocked & Loaded carries, Barton likes the company for its edgy designs. He also appreciates BowTech’s discount for active military personnel, which is great for business since Fort Hood is only about 25 miles from the store.
In crossbows, Nocked & Loaded believes so strongly in the quality of Excalibur bows that the shop doesn’t stock any other brand.
“Excalibur crossbows are incredibly reliable right out of the box. They also have excellent accuracy,” Barton said. “Out of the 50 or so we’ve sold in the past few years, I’ve never had any customers come back with a problem. They’re just bulletproof.”
Nocked & Loaded offers a wide range of firearms, ammunition and firearm-related accessories.
Creating Lifelong Customers
When a new customer walks into Nocked & Loaded — whether that customer is on active duty, a diehard firearms enthusiast or a youngster — Barton said the key to successful sales is in customer service, a topic he is very passionate about.
“If you spend quality time with a new archer and share with them what you know, walking through the steps, planting that seed and starting them with good habits, they are very appreciative of your time,” Barton said.
This process takes a commitment, but Barton says it has long-term benefits.
“I have very limited time, but I don’t rush through anything with a customer, period. I take my time with him, setting up his bow and helping him take that first shot. If you do all of that, I believe you’ll have a customer for life,” Barton said.
For firearm dealers who are reluctant to take the plunge into the bowhunting market, Barton has a single message: “It’s a part of shooting sports, whether you like it or not.”
When crossbows came onto the market, Barton admits he, too, was wary. But the market has since spawned a symbiotic relationship between firearms and archery.
“From an archery standpoint, that crossbow is a transitional tool to get the customer into a compound bow,” Barton said. “And it goes the other way, too. You can put a guy in a crossbow and he could just as easily go to the other side of the store and be looking at the .22s. Everything is encompassed in one; you can’t have one without the other.”
By J.K. Autry