A simple trip to my FFL dealer to pick up a suppressor and drool over $4,000 custom precision rifles finds me standing in front of a large Warfighter Cigar Company humidor and a rack filled with Black Rifle Coffee. This is not your typical firearms retail store. Scott Jansen runs one of the most unique firearms retail shops in the country with about 20 percent of his floor space dedicated to cigars and coffee. As I sputter out, “What the … ?,” Jansen retorts without hesitation, “Yeah, I sell more coffee than all ammo combined and in store sales of cigars are not far behind those numbers.”
The concept of selling products loosely related to firearms is nothing new for most retailers. A trip in any larger shooting sport retailer will find 5.11 and Blackhawk tactical gear and clothes, Life is Good t-shirts and four-wheelers being sold right alongside camo jackets, pocket knives, multi-tools, flashlights, hunting boots and $20,000 custom clays guns. Shooting sports retailers are making far more margin from accessories. Jansen is just going about it a bit differently considering his retail shop has now grown to become one of the largest Class 3 firearms dealers in the US. Amazingly he has accomplished this feat in a central Nebraska town with a population of only 800.
Scott Jansen is an Army and National Guard veteran and entrepreneur with a lot of experience under his belt. He founded American Reaper Arms and its online counterpart SilencerHQ.com, was one of the co-owners of the resurrected Bighorn Arms LLC — arguably one of the finest Remington pattern bolt action precision rifle receivers — and implemented one of the first digital passport photo and fingerprint systems to meet new 2016 ATF Class 3 purchase requirements. And he recently founded Warfighter Cigar company and also the helped fund and stared as an extra in the movie movie Range 15. American Reaper Arms is a small firearms dealer who is using creative ideas to make his business thrive and was more than happy to share a little about his ventures.
SSR: Your retail shop has now grown to become one of the largest Class 3 firearms dealers in the U.S. and you did that in a town with a population of only 800.
Jansen: We started just like any other firearms retailer, but with a focus on the really highest tier of firearms and firearms accessories. We are one of the few shops that you can walk in and see and handle a 100 suppressors and we also have the really exclusive products like Tangent Theta optics, custom Cerakoted firearms, hand-built custom-precision rifles and limited run items like Vickers Glocks … all products big box stores do not stock.
SSR: Has the business changed over the years?
Jansen: For Class 3 items like short-barreled rifles (SBRs) and suppressors, it has. Back even 10 years ago there just were not that many suppressor companies on the market, now it seems everyone is making them. Remington purchased AAC and Ruger now has their own line of suppressors they are coming out with. The retail side of the suppressor business has also changed as well. Now we see the large percentage of class 3 dealers doing business on a pure special order basis and really do not stock anything. This can be frustrating for customers because manufacturers are already backordered, so now a customer needs to wait until the backorder clears for their order to process, then a month or so of transfer paperwork for the manufacturer to ship to the Class 3 dealer, and then finally they get to start on the tax stamp paperwork.
SSR: Why Bennett, Nebraska, with towns like Omaha and Lincoln which have populations nearing 1 million each?
Jansen: It worked out that we have ended up here. The business started as a hobby back in early 2007 and we eventually grew into a full retail storefront in Columbus, Nebraska. In 2013 we moved to our current 1,800 sq./ft. store in Bennett. Bennett is conveniently located between Nebraska’s two meccas, Omaha and Lincoln, but is out of the big city. The store has become a destination shop in Nebraska but has drawn people from around the county due to our selection.
SSR: How has your Class 3 license impacted your sales?
Jansen: The growth in Class 3 sales has been insane. Suppressor growth has been so high that most manufacturers simply cannot keep up with demand. If you are not committed as a retailer to stock products, you will always be behind and have frustrated customers. We are an independent dealer who has committed to stocking a lot of suppressors and SBRs so our customers do not have to wait for months just to begin the paperwork process.
SSR: Your precision rifle shooting team is pretty active. How has that impacted business?
Jansen: It is my perspective that it is critical as a retailer to get out in the community and become actively involved in the shooting sports. People buy from people they know and a lot of the people we met while shooting became customers. Part of that was that we were stocking some very high-tier firearms and accessories such as optics which paired nicely with the needs of the competitive-precision rifle shooter, which customers could handle and see in our stores.
SSR: You have mentioned this and it was something I noticed in the stores. SilencerHQ actually has product that customers can touch.
Jansen: One of the benefits of our more remote location is that we do not have anyone and everyone walking through our store — we just do not have to deal with the theft issues like the bigger city stores. I have seen some retailers with glass cases with fencing inside … ridiculous. To me this screams to customers, “We don’t trust you.” Firearms are an emotional sell. Buyers want to touch and feel what they are buying, especially when it comes to suppressors which all look about the same. Of course we are staffed to give each customer individual attention and assure safety, but customers are welcome to walk in and start looking and fondling products. From a merchandising strategy, it’s important to get products out from behind glass and into buyers’ hands.
SSR: How’d you go from precision rifles and suppressors to having coffee and cigars?
Jansen: Through the years we have just made a lot of friends. Part of those connections were through the Veteran Business Alliance. The VBA is a self-regulated group of veteran-owned businesses that want to assure some legitimacy for the general public. There are a lot of veteran owned and fraudulent businesses that are B.S., just riding on the coat heals of being a veteran, or posing as a veteran, or some with a really crappy business models that end up harming the veteran name for everyone. We want to call out these business to assure the word “veteran” does not become a bad word when it comes to business. Those contacts led us to connecting with Matt Best (Range 15 Creator/Director) and his affiliation with Black Rifle Coffee company.
SSR: How did Black Rifle Coffee end up on the shelves?
Jansen: It’s through our Coalition of Veteran Owned Businesses that we connected with Best and Black Rifle Coffee. We tasted it and it was arguably the best coffee we had ever had. Most people are initially hooked by the novelty of the brand, but beyond the hype and witty marketing videos, the coffee was stunning. People found out we could get the Black Rifle coffee and all of a sudden we were ordering cases of coffee and could not keep it on the shelf. It is actually amazing how much coffee we sell and because people are coming into the store to get their coffee fix they are buying other things as well. Obviously it works the other way around, you bought the coffee after coming in for a pile of firearms products.
SSR: Yes, that is my rule, firearms first then coffee. And the Warfighter Cigar Company?
Jansen: At one point or another every veteran has enjoyed a cigar, however when asked what is his/her favorite brand, no one could ever really say. We just had cigars and no one paid attention to the brand. I wanted to change that by offering a brand any veteran could call their own. “What cigar do you like? … ‘Warfighter Cigar,’ of course.” The idea for Warfighter Cigar Company was created.
SSR: As a long-time cigar aficionado and after smoking a Warfighter Maduro, Sumatra and Connecticut Shade, I can say you are not just slapping a label on cheap cigars.
Jansen: Warfighter is more than a cigar with a logoed band. The goal was not to have a line of cigars, but instead a really outstanding line of hand crafted cigars much the same way Black Rifle Coffee has done with its coffee. We did not want just another “me too” cigar, we wanted people to take notice of a brand any aficionado would love. The Warfighter Cigar Company is still new, but we have added a lot of products well beyond our 5.56, 7.62 and .50-cal cigar line to the Warfighter Tobacco site. The packaging will follow the Warfighter theme with cigar packs that look like Claymore Mines, AR magazines, and other recognizable military objects.
SSR: Do you see firearms dealers around the country starting to sell Warfighter Cigars in their shops in
Jansen: That would be great, however the commitment for a humidor and tobacco sales licensing might be a hurdle for many shops. Our focus right now are military commissaries, select cigar stores around military bases, in store and of course online sales. As people are becoming aware of the brand so much that we continue to be sold out a lot.
SSR: What advice would you give shooting sports retailers?
Jansen: Being a successful retailer is not just about selling coffee or cigars, it is about continuously innovating in new and interesting ways of engaging customers in and outside of the store. We survived and thrived in small town Bennet, Nebraska, because we are not like every other retailer. Jumping into manufacturing may not be for everyone, but it could just mean sponsoring a shooting league, sight in day, or just something unique that your competitor is not doing. The new Class 3 fingerprint and passport photo requirement for every member of a Trust is a pain for everyone, but we worked with the ATF to develop a digital service that allows us to just reprint all those documents without all the trustees needed to keep doing the same process over and over again. Now our customers do not want to go anywhere else because we have made it easy for them. Get creative and be innovative.