SIG SAUER Academy instructor David Hinkell talks with dealers during their morning session at the precison rifle block. Along with putting time in at the range, dealers from across the country were able to meet, talk and establish relationships at the event.

It’s interesting hanging around retailers and shooting sports store dealers to listen, ask questions and tune into the pulse of the industry without getting hype, gloss and fluff.

In short, being around the folks doing the face-to-face interactions with customers and hearing their thoughts is incredibly insightful. I was fortunate enough to be able to do this with more than two dozen retailers during an event at the SIG SAUER Shooting Academy in New Hampshire.

SIG SAUER CEO Ron Cohen met with dealers on the plant tour to lend some insight on his thoughts about the industry and SIG’s committment to it. (Photo: Alan Clemons)

SIG SAUER is hosting dealers this summer at its shooting academy to get familiar with its products and also enjoy the incredible instruction from their experts. If you’re a dealer and get the chance to attend, I highly recommend doing so. You won’t regret it, not just from the aspect of shooting and the SIG factory tour but also because of the chance to make new friends.

When I was there, attendees came from all parts of the United States: Jacksonville, Florida; cities large and small in Colorado, Georgia, Texas and Missouri; from really big cities such as Milwaukee, Nashville, Atlanta and Fort Worth; from southern California — yes, they hunt and shoot in SoCal, and it sounds fantastic — and Scottsdale, Arizona; and from other areas. It was a combination of lots of experiences, age ranges, insights from stores large and small with some having gun ranges, and great camaraderie.

I watched the dynamic evolve in just days on the shuttle rides, at meals and on the range. Day One involved everyone, including me, keeping their personal bubble intact. Day Two saw more interaction on our SIG factory tour and afternoon shooting. By Day Three, we’d split off into groups for precision rifle, pistol or carbine instruction and all bets were off. Damned if it didn’t look like an ol’ boys club that night at dinner with a ton of laughs, stories, swapping numbers in phones and such. It only took a few days, too. Getaway day shuttle rides and the wait in the terminal for flights were filled with more stories and laughs.

Some of the insights I picked up during the week in informal chats with the guys:

The “Trump Slump” is real, a downturn in sales following President Trump’s election in late 2016. Nothing new, to be honest, with GOP winners following Democratic presidents or changes in who holds the House or Senate in Congress. Given the continuous drumbeating in the previous president’s administration about gun control, it was a given that sales would decline. Some retailers have survived and some have not. That’s the nature of the free market and just part of it.

Dealers attending the SIG SAUER Academy event got a tour of the company’s manufacturing facility to see how the products are made from start to finish. (Photo: Alan Clemons)

Sales haven’t ended completely, however. Consumers are more choosy, it seems, opting to spend more for a better quality gun, optic or other gear than for several cheaper items. This seemed to be a recurring deal with several of the retailers in attendance; they were seeing fewer sales but consumers were buying, in many cases, higher priced items. Things balance out, of course.

Long range precision shooting was gaining steam pretty heavily for a while and still is popular. Hunters are starting to trickle over, too, after finding the 500- to 1,000-yard events addictive, challenging and fun. One problem for some folks, of course, is finding a range to handle such distances. One retailer said his closest was a couple of hours away. Another is actively seeking land to open a long-distance range out to 1,000 yards. A third said his closest long range is within an easy drive for his customers but goes to 815 yards.

On the shooting range, one of the favorites with dealers was the CQB area that featured old cars, structures and different presentations. (Photo: Alan Clemons)

One thing retailers can do for their customers no matter what is to be dialed in on local firearm and archery ranges. Whether indoor or out, membership or public, be knowledgeable enough about them to offer recommendations or information. A guy buys a shotgun and ammo for sporting clays and skeet? He’s probably going to ask about a range even if he knows of one. Why? Because you may know of another. A guy buys a gun or bow? He might be new to the area and need a place to shoot, or have a wife, son or daughter to take. It’s the little things like that customers will notice and remember.

Tactical sales are doing OK. Staying abreast of news on optics and accessories to be able to offer ideas is a good way to add an extra sale or two on the register receipt. Several retailers at the SIG event mentioned the importance of asking customers about their budget and ideas on purchases, and helping with a range of products and prices. Offering options and being knowledgeable about accessories or anything new coming out soon might help you establish a better relationship.

Featured image: Alan Clemons