As packaged ammunition continues to elude gun owners, reloading is gaining appeal among many shooters. While reloading components can also be scarce, reloading offers shooters the opportunity to build their own ammo supply. And with published loading data offering many combinations of powder, primer and projectile per cartridge caliber, reloaders have the opportunity to mix and match based on what components are available — at least to a certain degree.
For retailers, serving the reloading market quickly becomes a challenge of boiling the ocean to the point of profitability. With seemingly endless varieties of reloading consumables and equipment, how does one decide what to stock? Stock too much variety and inventory dollars collect dust on the shelves. Not stocking the right product mix quickly turns prospective customers to other reloading supply providers.
Fortunately, like many other retail challenges, capitalizing on the reloading market is really a marketing problem. The good news is that marketing is a lot more than snazzy brochures and local TV ads. The bad news is that marketing is not as simple as snazzy brochures and local TV ads.
Having spent more than 30 years as a marketing strategy professional, the best advice I can offer is to focus on the basics. Not only does mastery of the basics win football games and result in more “x-ring” scores at shooting competitions, but it’s also the best way to solve marketing problems.
So how does one apply sound marketing science to the reloading opportunity? The first thing is to recognize that marketing boils down to asking, and finding answers to, important questions like who, what, where, why and how?
That’s right. Effective marketing is more about asking questions than persuading people to buy something using clever words, phrases and pictures. If you’re successful in exploring these questions, you’ll arrive at the value proposition for your business. In other words, you’ll figure out what’s unique about your products and services for a defined group of target customers. The rest is easy.
Let’s explore the big questions and consider some ideas to help get you going.
Before you even think about placing your first distributor order for reloading components or gear, you need a crystal-clear picture of exactly who is going to buy that product from you. Unfortunately, “everybody” and/or “anybody” are not acceptable answers to the question.
I find it helpful to give target customers names and personalities. Visualize the person and what they do. That will help crystallize their anticipated buying behavior in your mind, allowing you to make appropriate purchasing and marketing decisions. Are your target customers hunters or competitive shooters, or are they more interested in tactical topics like personal and home-defense? Think about what type of guns they have or want and how they spend their time. The more you can get inside their mindset, the more relevant product selections you can present to them.
I do this for a living because I’m passionate about teaching new shooters. What are your favorite types of customers? Experienced shooters? Hunters? Those interested in concealed carry or self-defense? Competitive shooters?
Half the battle of finding your ideal target customer segments is matching them with your greatest interests and passions. When you’re passionate about a segment, it shows. Customers see it and like spending time where they feel comfortable. If your favorite weekend activity is shooting Steel Challenge matches, consider offering a specific set of reloading components and products for high-volume competitive shooters.
Are you in a rural area where hunting season is eagerly anticipated? What types of hunters are most prevalent? Waterfowl? Varmint? Big game? Great! That narrows down your reloading component choices considerably. If your town is infested with duck and goose blinds, then an assortment of shotshell reloading equipment and supplies might make the most sense.
Is there an active shooting club in your area? Do they host regular competitions? Perhaps carrying a limited set of products for high-volume pistol reloading makes sense.
Answering the “whys” might be toughest of all. Why exactly are you investing in reloading supplies and gear inventory? Why would someone buy reloading gear from you instead of the store down the road or online? Why will customers come to your business for advice? Why are you paying your staff to spend hours having conversations with customers about obscure topics like case concentricity?
Embrace your inner Walter Mitty and go on a multiple-personality-disorder shopping spree. You don’t even have to buy anything. Assume the role of a hunter, competitive shooter, new shooter and hobbyist, and then tour your local gun shops looking for reloading supplies to fit those needs.
For example, if hog hunting is big in your area, visit some stores to see who can or can’t meet your needs to start reloading .308, .30-06, .270 or maybe 300 AAC Blackout piggy projectiles.
Pretend you want to get started in reloading, just to make your own practice ammunition for your new 9mm pistol. Do any of your competitors have everything you need? Do they offer good advice?
Don’t forget to visit the big-box retailers in your area. They might carry a broad selection of reloading supplies, but that’s not enough to attract a loyal following of ammo assemblers. According to Carolina Rod & Gun’s Neil Schachte: “When Dick’s Sporting Goods opened up a few miles up the road, our business went up 20 percent the first year and 25 percent the second year. I wish they had opened their store even closer to us.”
The key to Schachte’s success has been figuring out what the big-box competitors couldn’t offer — credible knowledge and advice.
While answering the “what” question might seem really easy (reloading supplies), it’s not at all that simple. Fortunately, if you did your homework on the “who” stage, you know the types of customers you want to target, so selecting an appropriate product offering for them will be relatively straightforward. The key is to resist the temptation to expand your line without good reason. If you identify new customer sets with enough volume potential to justify your investment, fine. If not, resist the temptation to increase your shelf space allocation.
Embrace the pain
Good marketing is all about asking questions until you find a sore spot among your prospective community. Once you figure out what’s causing them pain, it’s relatively easy for you to work up a cure.
One of the best sources of market intelligence is a customer who doesn’t buy. You know, that person that comes in looking for .257 Weatherby Magnum dies that you don’t stock? Rather than send them on their way, engage in conversation. Why did they choose that caliber? What other guns do they shoot? Why? What other calibers do they reload?
If you figured out in the “who” phase that your area is a hot spot for competitive pistol shooting, you might only carry 4- and 8-pound tubs of the most common pistol powders, pistol primers and bulk projectiles. That’s OK if it serves your market.
Lose on purpose
It’s OK to miss out on some sales, provided you do it on purpose.
Like most other things in life, reloading stocking decisions follow 80/20 type rules, meaning 20 percent of your reloading items will drive 80 percent of your sales. The trick in this case is to know or learn enough about reloading to understand the types of products that make up that 20 percent.
When you evaluate your desired target audiences, exercise the hardest willpower of all — turning down the occasional sale. Make no mistake, if you get a lot of requests, add the product. If it’s only requested on rare occasion, point that customer to a different source. I love shooting the .257 Weatherby Magnum, but it probably wouldn’t make much sense for my local retailer to stock the gear just for me.
Sell the books
The first thing ATP Gunshop’s reloading department manager Tony Adams does is sell knowledge.
“I don’t care how many years you’ve been reloading, this manual will teach you something. A lot of people don’t realize how particular reloading is,” Adams says. “When they get the book, they’ll learn. After I finish talking with a new reloader, I’ll sell them the Hornady manual and ask them to read the beginning sections, then come back and we’ll work through what they need to get started.”
Know your substitutions
One of the benefits of selling reloading gear and supplies is that there are a lot of ways to skin a cat. When it comes to guns, if a customer wants a Smith & Wesson M&P and you don’t have one, you might be out of luck. When it comes to reloading supplies, if a customer needs gear and consumables to reload for .308, you have lots of choices. Not just in brands for the hardware, but also in powders for the supplies. If you have Ramshot TAC, IMR 4064, BL-C(2) or H380 in stock, you can fill the order. The same goes for brass, projectiles and, to a lesser degree, primers.
When a prospective customer comes in looking for Ramshot TAC and all you have is Hodgdon H380, that’s a great opportunity to talk alternate options. Of course, the key here is knowledge. Rather than stocking whatever powders you can get your hands on, develop a list of the powders that can be used for the most popular calibers sold in your store. Rather than stocking four different powders for 6.8 Remington SPC and none for .40 S&W, make sure you have one appropriate for each.
Part of the “where” question is already answered. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you already have a storefront. The other half of the “where” question to consider is where your customers will be. Certainly, your customer base is local. But perhaps it makes sense, at least for some products, to expand your reach.
One of the biggest challenges in selling reloading supplies is the incredible variety available. As a local retailer, you just can’t afford to stock it all, nor would that make sense. After all, you’re trying to identify sweet spots in your local customer base, right?
If you’re not getting enough inventory turns from your local base, consider expanding your sales to online. Just as you would for your in-store business, specialize online too. Google is not yet flooded with millions of search results for specific reloading product searches, so there is no reason you can’t get found online.
Consider integrating your inventory with reloading component search engines like GunBot.net. It could be a great way for you to add some extra turns to your reloading inventory, up your volume and move closer to the front of the line when supplies are scarce. If you decide to carry broad-use powders like Unique and TAC, why not become a reliable Internet provider of just those products?
Here’s the hardest question of all. Now that you’ve figured out who you’re going to sell to and what you’re going to sell them, you need to think through the details of making that plan work.
Identify your reloading geek
The very first step is to make sure you’ve got deep subject-matter expertise in the store. Ideally, someone on your sales staff is a hobby reloader. You know, one of those people who can tell you the copper units of pressure of a .257 Weatherby Magnum cartridge with a 100-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet, 71 grains of Reloader 25 powder, Remington 9.5M primer and overall cartridge length of 3.240 inches.
At ATP Gunshop and Range in Summerville, South Carolina, that guy is Tony Adams. An avid trophy hunter and reloader, Tony is the guy who educates customers and helps them get started. Tony was lured back into retail by ATP’s owner, who recognized the value of sharing knowledge and experience with customers.
You want that employee who can say “Sorry, we don’t have any Power Pistol powder at this time. But I have good success with Unique for 9mm competition loads, do you want to try that instead?”
Steal volume reloaders from the online retailers
As an avid reloader myself, I would love to see more local retailers get aggressive in this area. If you identify volume reloaders who walk into your store and shake their heads about having to pay $1.04 extra per pound of powder, split the difference with them. Sacrifice a little margin for those folks in return for volume and more turns on your reloading consumables.
Sure, some folks will go to the ends of the earth to save a nickel, but most others might appreciate a special discount card. Make up a “Valued Reloader” card and let your staff hand them out for those folks who buy powder by the tub and primers by the case. It’s a lot more convenient for them to pick up supplies from you rather than wait for online orders and pay hazmat fees. Speaking of hazmat fees…
If you’re going to get into the reloading market, one of the first challenges you’ll run into is how to compete with the big online stores that carry everything ever made. Yes, they’ll get first dibs on scarce items like primers and powder due to their national customer base and annual sales volume.
On the other hand, consumers have to pay for the privilege of having “hazardous” supplies shipped to their homes. Most online retailers charge a hazardous materials charge of $20 to $25 per order, even for a single pound of reloading powder.
That’s an opportunity for your brick-and-mortar operation. In addition to immediate availability, you can split the difference from the hazmat fees. Even if your price per pound is a bit higher than the volume online companies, the customer can still come out ahead buying locally.
Have some class
If you want to test the potential of the reloading market in your area, bring in a guru (hopefully one of your employees) to teach a free beginning reloading class. Market the heck out of it for at least a month. Oh, since the first one will most likely have light attendance, do it two more times. Momentum counts, after all, and you just might find a new market.
Give permission to chitchat
Even more than gun sales, reloaders — and especially beginning reloaders — require time and investment. Be prepared to chitchat and to provide your reloading staff the freedom to talk shop with prospective reloading customers. Sharing of ideas and knowledge is what will keep them coming back.
While you’re chitchatting, keep a tick mark count of requested products. Over time, you might be surprised about which items have the most documented requests as compared to which ones seem like they did.
Watch it like a hawk
Even more than accessories like gun holsters, reloading products run the risk of shelf creep. It’s far too easy to add another brand of reloading dies, new calibers or a third brand of primer products. ATP’s Tony Adams inspects the shelves and sales reports daily, so he knows exactly what moved and, more importantly, what didn’t, the day before.
“I check every item almost every day,” he says. “I take a computer and go down that aisle and I look at every item that we’ve got.”
As a long-term check, he also adds colored dots to any product on the shelves when inventory is taken. If any products with dots are left at the next inventory, that product is dropped.
While the most important thing you can do when contemplating adding or expanding reloading product lines is ask questions, that’s just the beginning. Once you know to whom you want to sell and what they will likely buy, stick to the plan.
Too many retailers have seven-year-old die sets collecting dust on the shelves because they started with no clear target other than “reloading.” Decide on your customers and your product offerings, and become great at that. Like most other endeavors, focus makes all the difference.