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Return To Balance

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Today’s Long-Gun Trend: Consumers Crave Diverse Options.

The landscape of long guns has changed drastically in the past few years, and continues to do so. Dealers who watch the trends and respond to them have the potential to make good profits in this expanding category.

Bruce Kitzis is general manager of Shooters World in Tampa, Fla. Like other dealers, Shooters World has experienced the wild sales of guns built on the modern sporting rifle platforms. However, Kitzis says in the past couple of years, he’s seen an increase in the sale of long guns for hunting.

“We’re seeing a larger group of people who are not only hunting, but also are interested in the shooting sports and in long-range shooting,” he said. “Ruger came out with their Ruger American series, and we’ve done quite well with that.”

To accommodate the needs of different types of customers, Shooters World has three separate gun departments. General shooting and hunting is in one section, and incorporates family- and women-friendly displays. The tactical section has a more, well, “tactical” look and feel, with brighter lighting and no-nonsense displays. Shotguns are in a separate room with lots of wood displays and soft lighting to complement classic firearms.

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Bruce Kitzis (right), Shooters World general manager, has noticed a
renewed interest in traditional bolt-action rifles — with customers
looking to experience more variety in the shooting sports.

Return To Balance

Russell Gilbert, national sales manager for Sauer and Mauser, says while he doesn’t think consumers will abandon modern sporting rifles, he sees a strong trend of returning to more conventional hunting rifles.

“This is primarily an observation from consumer comments at various trade shows,” he said. “Everyone got really excited about the MSR rush, and now they’re coming back to more of a balance.”

Paul Thompson, media relations manager for Browning/Winchester Repeating Arms, said the modern sporting rifle craze didn’t seem to have much of an effect on shotgun sales.

“We’ve seen really good sales on pretty much all shotguns over the past few of years,” he said. “We do specialty shotguns such as the Winchester Marine Defender, and we’ve done some specialty guns with adjustable stocks. I think people are looking for not only hunting guns, but also tactical/defensive guns that have some tactical features like adjustable stocks and accessory rails so they can add things to their shotguns like they do their AR rifles. We’re seeing some of the aesthetics that were popular on ARs feed over into shotguns.”

Kitzis said that for a while, customers wanted every caliber and every firearm available on modern sporting rifle platforms.

“For the last six to nine months, though, I’ve seen an uptick in people wanting more expensive firearms,” he said. “Customers are buying guns from LWRC, Wilson Combat and LMT.”

Kitzis said one thing driving buying trends is education.

“I think a lot more people are being exposed to the shooting sports,” he said. “There’s been a lot of publicity over the last few years, and people are figuring out shooting is fun. Customers are starting to get into shooting leagues, bettering their marksmanship and just enjoying the fun of the shooting sports.”

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With an entire room devoted to shotguns, Shooters World does brisk business
with numerous models from Beretta, Caesar Guerini, Remington, Ruger and
other manufacturers.

“All of this demands retailers to expand their normal, everyday gun inventory,” Kitzis said. “They need to have a greater diversity of firearms in both caliber and price points. That gives the consumer more options.”

Gilbert noticed some retailers are already seeing a trend back to more conventional hunting rifles.

“Some retailers have told me their customers are asking for more of a hunting rifle,” he said. “I’m having retailers talk to me about expanding their hunting rifle inventory in order to get a little more balance in what offer in their product line.”

That also means an increase in sales of accessories.

“Our accessories are fairly basic,” Gilbert said. “We’re talking scope mounts, slings and cases. We see significant brand loyalty, so those accessories are always good add-ons for the dealer.”

To be competitive on price right now, Kitzis said, retailers are setting margins on firearms that sometimes are even slimmer than usual.

“I think profit points are coming down a little bit,” he said. “Retailers are having to sacrifice profit to be competitive and to get customers in.”

To help offset slimmer margins and increase the sale of accessories, Shooters World has started bundling products together to sell as “packages.”

“We do packages with target rifles, and we do hunting packages,” Kitzis said. “Each package has the gun, the appropriate optics and other accessories. We’ve had an increase in sales since we’ve been doing that.”

Mauser and Sauer have introduced some new products to reach into current trends.

“Last year, Mauser introduced the M 12 and Sauer introduced the Sauer 101,” Gilbert said. “Those products are specifically geared toward the American market. Before those guns came out, our portfolio started at about $3,000 per rifle. These rifles are still a premium product, but they’re in the $1,500 to $1,800 price range, so they’re significantly less expensive than what our portfolio previously had been.”

Sales of these rifles indicate the market for premium hunting rifles remains strong.

“Both those rifles are doing very well,” Gilbert said. “We’ve had a lot of great coverage on them, and a lot of dealer support.”

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Ruger 10/22 50th Anniversary Design Rifle

Promote Events, Multiple Mediums

When it comes to marketing, Shooters World devotes a lot of energy to social media.

“We also communicate with our range members through member newsletters,” Kitzis said. “We do billboards and a lot of radio, as well as a lot of in-store promotions.”

Kitzis said Shooters World does at least one in-store promotion each month.

“We recently had a weekend dedicated to an FN promotion,” he said. “I had the factory reps come, and they were behind the counters and did informational classes. One of the guys was out on the range with all the demo guns, which customers could shoot for free. Another weekend we had Smith & Wesson do the same thing, which resulted in a very successful weekend sale.”

Each month, Kitzis brings in at least one manufacturer and makes sure he advertises the event well to the general public.
“Then, if someone has been interested in a particular manufacturer, he has an opportunity to come meet the factory rep,” he said. “He has a chance to shoot the firearms and learn more about them. That has been really good for us.”
Kitzis noted the one thing in long guns customers desire the most is good value.

“They want a good price point,” Kitzis explained.

Gilbert said Mauser and Sauer have shifted to heavy use of banner ads on various websites.

“We’ve put a lot of ads on GunBroker.com and GunsAmerica to try to drive product awareness,” he said. “We’ve also received significant coverage in various publications that we’re now seeing a return on.”

Sauer and Mauser are also doing some packaging of products at the manufacturer level.

“On the Sauer and Mauser product lines we do a cooperative effort with Minox riflescopes,” Gilbert said. “We have a $600 scope a customer can get with his rifle for an additional $200. So we’re providing added value for our customers.”
By Carolee Anita-Boyles

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