Five weeks into the Trump Administration, it’s clear the shooting sports industry is fully immersed in a changing political dynamic. Retailers that experienced panic buying in the past are hitting the reset button to compete in an altered selling environment, one that demands more planning and forward thinking to maintain a consistent bottom line.
This is the second of the four-part series “From the Counter,” providing a perspective from four firearm retailers in four diverse regions of the country. Our goal is to highlight market strategies and adjustments to compete successfully in the new political environment.
Scott’s Outdoors Sports—Jay, Florida
This small-town North Florida Panhandle retailer is one of the largest independents in the Deep South. The 10,000-square-foot facility stocks a substantial inventory of more than 5,000 firearms, with eight full time employees. Across the street, the store has an additional 10,000 square feet of retail space selling furniture.
Scott’s is open six days a week, Monday though Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 12 noon. Located less than five miles from the Alabama state line, this retailer services a large rural retail area that includes northern Florida, Alabama, and southern Mississippi.
Value-Priced Semiauto Rifles
Maybe a bit suprisingly, this retailer is still moving MSRs at a consistent rate. And even though the inventory of semiauto rifles is high, this store is finding creative ways to turn numbers.
“Our MSR inventories for the November election were stocked for higher demand, but certainly not over the top. Here in the South, we really thought Trump would win,” said Jim Brown, Store Manager.
“While we keep a strong inventory of MSRs that will easily clear above $1,000, the value-priced rifle category has been the surplus inventory. That price point in October was around $600, and recently fell as low as $400, so this category almost always lends itself to a first-time buyer,” he said.
By February, Scott’s was holding around 200 entry-level MSRs. As Brown pointed out, “I know shops that have triple those numbers.”
While inventories were notable, Brown said the key is always to create demand.
“If a customer even looks at an MSR, we’re responsive to them quickly. We share information like, ‘We have a lot of guys deer hunting with these rifles and they are a ton fun and really cheap to shoot.’ That’s where getting the gun in the hand of the customer is so important. Show them how easy the bolt is to pull back, how comfortable and light the gun is, talk about the low recoil,” said Brown.
Then Brown hits them with the best price the store can offer, while still making a small profit. Just when the customer is feeling a little more interested, the salesman reminds them about the store’s “ammo deal.” In this store, MSR ammo is selling for $4.99 to $6.99 for a 20-round box—and most customers have been buying 500 to 1,000 rounds at that price.
With new gun in hand and plenty of ammo, this store is optimistic that the customer will shoot every round.
“We encourage our customers to get out and trial everything we sell. It’s critical for the customer to experience the firearm. We don’t want the gun to just sit in a safe. With great frequency they come back in a month or so and say, ‘We had a fun time, but I think a gun that’s little more accurate would be awesome.’”
Brown sees this as the “a-ha” moment that will pull the customer into the $1,000-plus MSR category. With accessories, a total sale ranging between $2,000 and $3,000 is becoming common.
Bolt Rifles and Distance are Moving
In Florida, the 2016-‘17 deer season wrapped up the second week of February. This season has seen the highest turns of bolt rifles in a decade at this store.
“I think that the pressure coming off the political landscape made people think, ‘Now I don’t have to buy an MSR or two or three, so I would love to try a new caliber like 7mm-08 or 6.5 Creedmoor,’” said Brown. He also attributes the popularity of distance shooting as the next trend that will move product at his location.
“We think 2017 will be the year of the long-range shooter. Modular rifles, new fast, distance calibers, and high-grade optics are all going to be what’s crossing the counter in ‘17,” he said.
Brown projects this will again translate well to higher-grade MSR sales.
“The greatest part of distance shooting is that the shooter has to practice to be successful. All this practicing translates to trying new gear and refining what the customer shoots. Every round a customer shoots is a benefit to the store and our industry,” said Brown.
Help From the NSSF
When this retailer started to consider Class Three sales, the paperwork and compliance seemed overwhelming. As the store manager, he didn’t want the complexity to overwhelm his sales staff.
“It just seemed daunting, and we were so afraid of making a mistake,” said Brown. Through a combination of discussions with reps and manufacturers, Brown learned about NSSF’s compliance services.
“We’re an NSSF Premium Retailer Member. Once we found out about the compliance program, we made a call to the NSSF and couldn’t believe the response. In no time, an NSSF representative was in our store giving an afternoon presentation on Class Three procedures. It was stunning how knowledgeable the consultant was. He flew in from Connecticut, had our meeting all in the same day, and didn’t charge us dime,” Brown said.
Compliance consultation is one of the many value-added benefits retailers can access through their NSSF membership, especially the Premium Retailer Membership. To learn out more about NSSF membership benefits, visit www.nssf.org and click on the Retailer and Membership headings at the top of the page.
In talking to Brown, it was clear he had three solid strategies in place to make sure his inventory wasn’t gathering dust and that his customers were in his store on a regular basis.
First, Brown has a plan in place to quickly turn inventory. He does that by first putting a value-priced gun into the customer’s hands. By encouraging buyers to be active shooting sports participants with those new firearms and offering an “ammo deal” as encouragement, they truly discover how much fun shooting is—and then they want more. From there these customers move up the MSR ladder, producing constant demand and activity in his store as a result.
Second, Brown’s kept an eye on shooting trends. By identifying and cultivating long-range shooters, he’s creating an influx of loyal customers and increased sales.
Finally, Brown utilized professional outside resources—in this case compliance training from NSSF—to help his store adapt to a new product category. Finding new opportunities for growth often requires delving into unchartered waters. But by consulting with someone in the know, Brown is better positioned to take those growth opportunities and turn them into successful endeavors.
This is just one store in one corner of the country, but these strategies are replicable across the spectrum. Find a way to ease new shooters into their first purchases and help them find a way to enjoy them. Maybe it’s MSRs for long-range, maybe it’s handguns for action pistol events or shotguns for clay shooting. Just keep in mind that it’s not so much the tool as it is the shooting of it that captures the imagination. That enjoyment naturally leads to demand for other products and exposure to new shooting sports and so on and son. Pair that with getting in front of a trend and utilizing industry resources to help you succeed and I’m betting there isn’t a firearms retailer out there who won’t be having a banner year.