“From the Counter” is NSSF’s newest monthly feature content providing timely industry perspectives from firearm retailers across the country. Our goal is to identify and highlight innovative market strategies to help retailers compete successfully. Lessons learned will be drawn from across an array of regions with diverse market economies in an era of political change. This month I spoke with the lead salesman at Nagel’s Gun Shop in San Antonio, Texas.
Family owned and operated, this retailer had its humble beginnings in Robert Nagel’s garage, in 1942. Twelve full-time and three part-time employees service the 10,000 square-foot retail and warehouse in metro San Antonio. Nagel’s keeps an average of 4,000 firearms in stock and specializes in defensive shooting, hunting, soft goods and optics. The store also features a well-staffed, full-service gunsmithing department, and with more than 70 years of marketing firearms, the company has emerged as one of the larger non-chain firearms retailers in the state. Hours of operation are from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Hitting the Reset Button
With panic buying at a lull in 2017, Nagel’s customers are evolving in ways the staff had not predicted. I spoke with the store’s 17-year veteran, Gilbert Trevino, Senior Counter Salesman, about what they’re doing to create new demand and keep foot traffic high.
“We have begun to see a real transition from the guy who must get the gun because he fears it won’t be available to the couple who want to purchase a gun for protection,” said Trevino.
The couple demographic is a remarkable reset in the store’s new customer profile. Often well under 40 years old, these evolving customers are the store’s first-time gun buyers. They have never had a history of gun ownership in their homes, and they do not lean to the Republican right.
“Not only are couples making [their firearm buying] decision together in the store, they are usually extraordinarily well informed on what they want to buy — and they expect knowledgeable service from the counter salesperson. It’s imperative to treat this customer with respect and appreciation — frankly, as you would and should with any customer that walks in your door,” Trevino said.
Adapting to Meet New Consumer Needs
In addition to first-time buyers as couples, the store also sees an abundance of women first-timers, from young and single to grandmothers who live alone. The common denominator is that none have owned a firearm before. Small concealed-carry guns continue to be the primary focus of the store’s inventory profile. Nagel’s sales staff has adapted and is sensitive to the needs of these buyers, recommending SKUs that physically fit the operator, are easy to use and are comfortable to carry.
Building Customer Traffic and Demand through the Internet
The web world has infiltrated every facet of our lives. This store believes is not only is the web the best communication tool, it’s the best tool for positioning the store as a go-to resource for shooters of all experience levels.
Nagel’s has a stalwart website, with a dedicated staff behind it to promote weekly sales and events targeting private groups that have proven essential to the store’s sales mix. However, it’s the website’s search ranking matrix that drives the cash register.
“The internet staff does a flat-out amazing job at keeping the store’s name in front of our customers. Every time someone searches for a gun store or anything gun-related, our name ranks at the top,” said Trevino.
Although he was not willing to share how the store optimizes and obtains priority positioning with search engines like Google, Trevino did explain that this vital online strategy differentiates Nagel’s from the area’s big box stores.
“It’s such an effective tool to get them in the door. When we get a first-time customer in the store, they come back because of price, selection and, possibly most important, service,” he explained.
Moving Used Guns
While shiny new firearms sales have reached a plateau at Nagel’s, the store is turning its focus to rifles with some hard-earned patina, which are attracting increased attention. Although some retailers struggle with used firearms, at Nagel’s they are part of the high-profit mix.
“To be successful, it’s imperative to know what you can sell in your market. In the end, the right counter knowledge is the key to making the transaction rewarding and profitable, and because we have that, selling used guns is a dependable way to bring in strong profits,” said Trevino.
Although staff knowledge always rules, in the used gun category, it’s critical. To close the sale, the counterperson must know how much the gun is worth, understand how to evaluate its condition and have the pulse of local demand to determine its optimal price point. Another motivation in developing client interest in older firearms is that it frequently leads to other purchases in similar calibers or brands. A customer who owns an older Browning over/under can be moved to purchase a newer one as brand affinity grows. But this retailer is seeing an increase in the nostalgia factor in firearms sales and taking note.
“We often hear comments like, “My grandfather loved that model rifle, and I would like to have one just like it,” he said.
Weaving Gunsmithing into the Sales Mix
Since a gunsmith founded Nagel’s Guns, it comes as no surprise that the company sees gunsmithing as a critical avenue to driving traffic, new sales and strong customer service.
In 2017, this focus has shouldered a weightier importance. The company staffs three full-time and one part-time gunsmith. Trevino commented, “Our gunsmithing staff is woven into this company. When it comes to servicing San Antonio, we are the ‘go-to’ shop.”
In addition to classic custom work, there is plenty of traditional project building at this shop. However, it’s the day-in-day-out general turn-around services that keep this department in the black. Recoil pads and bore sighting clench the top service positions, but Trevino pointed out that when it comes to services like these across the board, most customers just don’t have the skill or desire to do their own work.
“Recoil pads are a really big seller for our store. It’s not really practical for the average customer to expertly size it into place without doing damage to their rifle or shotgun. Likewise, modifications like triggers and rail changes on an MSR often require special tools and support to get the desired results,” Trevino said.
Nagel’s builds on that customer knowledge by offering a spectrum of gunsmithing services, from those that require expert finesses like trigger and action jobs for semi-auto handgun owners to those that are relatively simple like firearms cleaning, especially for all those new firearms owners. The store also times some of these services to the season at hand.
“We have a special before dove season to get an auto shotgun cleaned and oiled for $70.00. The number of customers that come through the door is amazing,” said Trevino.
There’s also a high demand from auto pistol owners, particularly from newer shooters. The average turnaround time at this retailer for most services is two weeks, with high seasonal traffic moving the needle to three weeks.
Lessons Learned from the Counter
Several bottom-line lessons about building and keeping customer loyalty were learned from crossing this counter. First, the counter sales staff at Nagel’s is committed to customer service. Whether it’s expertly fitting a recoil pad, adding a custom trigger to an MSR or working with a new shooter, they take the time to build a personal relationship with their clients.
Second, in addition to meeting its core clients’ needs, the company has carefully assessed the changing demands of its diverse client base. The staff is willing to pivot and change direction as new opportunities in the first-time firearms buyer sector emerge. They recognize and respond to new shooters making decisions together, monitor and respond to an increased interest in home defense and contract with vendors for personal training to offer continued support for their novice customers.
Third, while promoting weekly sales are certainly part of the mix for this retailer, the overarching goal is not to be low-price dependent. By offering a plethora of readily available services from gun cleaning to gunsmithing, Nagel’s has built a valuable reputation and holds a strong market position.
In the end, as Trevino revealed, “It’s all about listening and respecting your customer. It’s really that simple.”