Tips for Selling More Tactical Apparel

Beefing up sales of tactical shirts, pants and boots requires a strong visual merchandising approach.

Tips for Selling More Tactical Apparel

The tactical apparel market is no longer just tactical — it’s also fashion. In addition, the tactical apparel market, especially pants, is growing inside and outside our industry. Competition is everywhere — not just online but also among retailers who have no connections to the real tactical marketplace. Don’t let them edge you out of your piece of the pie.

Bob Phibbs has catapulted many brick-and-mortar stores out of the retail-sales ashes since he launched Retail Doctor in 1994, and Mark Parker is the senior vice president of omnichannel retail for 5.11 Tactical. Both say identifying your customer segments and learning what customers are looking for in tactical apparel is paramount.

“Some key factors to increase tactical pant sales include: understanding your consumer’s needs in order to be able to meet them by recommending the correct product; ensuring you are offering quality and durable gear that lasts; being able to offer a warranty as, especially in today’s climate, consumers are looking for extra value for their dollar,” Parker says. 

There are many ways to define your customers and their needs, from focus groups held in your store, to surveys, sales receipts (what they’re buying), and educational opportunities you can provide. All provide critical feedback. 

You probably already know your customers well, but perhaps you haven’t identified your key segments and those offering possible growth. The task really can be as simple as writing down each group you service, their activities and needs, then visualizing what appeals to them. And don’t forget to consider the women, paintballers, fishermen or even golfers who might find a reason to come into your store. Crossover between sports gives you more ways to market and show product value. Certainly, the shooting sports, concealed carry, and law enforcement are your bread and butter, but a display showing the versatility of tactical apparel in a variety of settings helps customers visualize added value — more bang for their buck.

Customer needs are No. 1, period. Give patrons what they want and need and you’ll be quite a way down the retail trail to selling success.

Help Visualize

Displays that offer product visualizations are perhaps the easiest step to take to increase sales. In our industry, they also may be the most underutilized tools in our arsenals. Phibbs shares seven tips for visual merchandising in your brick-and-mortar store to increase awareness, knowledge, and desire for products.

  1. Invite shoppers to peruse your shop using engaging in-store merchandising. So, avoid putting a display table perpendicular just inside your entrance. It stops customer flow. 
  2. Move a product from its regular shelf location to a featured end cap, which has been proven to lead to an average sales increase of 25%. Regularly move your products around.
  3. Tell a fuller, specific product story with digital displays. Beware, however, that although they can sell product, they can also detract customers from the products the displays are near. Digital displays should support the product; they aren’t the main show. If conversion doesn’t improve with the digital display, change messaging or location. 
  4. Look through your entire sales floor for distractions. Are there too many messages to try this or do that or buy this or look here? Or is your store bare, with little or no signage or displays? Streamline a shopper’s experience so they linger, not bolt for the door.
  5. Select fixtures with wheels so you have unlimited opportunities to change your entire store around quickly and efficiently.
  6. Feature your best merchandise at the front of the store, as shopper interest wanes the further they go into the middle of a store.
  7. Put sale items in the back so thrifty consumers must move through your sales floor to get to the items.
  8. “Beware. Sloppy or poorly coordinated displays rob your store of its ability to make additional profit,” Phibbs says. “I saw an end cap at a grocery store that had Oreos, toilet paper, and bleach displayed. You never want a shopper to scratch their head, trying to figure out why your items are displayed the way they are. For that reason, you want to know your display choices.”

Five Display Types

The key is creating a story using different items that all work together. When you tell a compelling story, your customers will look, listen and desire to own the products they know fulfill their needs. Try these options for displays.

  1. Complementary displays that say, “This product makes this activity better.”
  2. Coordinated displays that say, “These are all the items you need for this activity to work.”
  3. Creatively constructed displays of one product, like how the grocery store stacks six-packs of lemonade in the shape of a school bus in late August.
  4. In-use displays that show the product in its environment. Think about the tactical shooter enjoying a day at the range — the shirt, tactical pants, boots, firearm, extra mags, pouches, hat, and accessories on a faux “range” with display targets.
  5. Surprise prop displays are where you add a totally unrelated item to your product. Think of that shooter-at-the-range display. Add a pink, stuffed-toy pig sitting on a camp chair next to the shooter station. Why not? Have some fun. Welcome customers like they’re coming to your home.
  6. Finally, you’ll need an integrated marketing strategy, because displays alone — no one element — will get the job done. You can, however, use your in-store visual merchandising as a core to reach in-store customers first. Then, use those displays to further promote offerings on your blog, website, social media pages and more. Post images of the display. Identify features and benefits of the products. Invite folks to come into the shop and try on the apparel. You can educate, excite and entice with a cohesive plan.

Image is Everything

The “Empirical Study on Visual Merchandising and Its Impact on Consumer Buying Behavior” was conducted in 2016 to test how visual merchandising and outlook factors impact store image and customer buying behavior. 

The main objective of this research was to identify the visual merchandising factors that impact store image and further examine the relationship of the identified independent variables of store layout and design, lighting, colors, mannequin, window display, promotional signage, product presentation and in-store displays with the dependent variable that is store image and purchase intention. 

The results show that promotional signage plays an important role in establishing a store image. The in-store signage and product information displayed over the aisles and shelves help retailers attract customers and increase sales. 

Most consumers respond to in-store signage positively. They specifically mentioned that signage: helps them to select precise products; reduce the time spent searching for products; and feel comfortable during the shopping process. Best of all, signage is cost-effective for conveying a message or informing the customer about the merchandise available in the retail store.

Indications show most people are drawn into a store to buy a product after looking at the shop's visual displays. In the case of apparel, mannequins play a great role in giving customers an idea of the latest trends and the visual appearance of the merchandise. 

Store window displays are great ways to entice customers to come into the shop, as they give potential customers a look at products they can assume to be present inside the store. They are also a great way to highlight certain types of merchandise, based on customer profiles and desires. No windows? No worries. Street displays that can roll in and out of the store are also viable visual merchandising options.

But in-store displays are the major drivers to purchase, as they compel customers to view products creatively presented and displayed, to learn about new technologies or trends, and show customers how the products fulfill their needs.

Extra: Ladies in Leggings

One of the newest tactical apparel offerings are carry leggings for women. Riding the popularity of the mainstream women’s legging segment, several manufacturers, like Tactica Defense Fashion, offer the ultra-comfortable pants that allow for concealed carry.

However, the jury’s still out on the legging segment. Some manufacturers reported slower sales than anticipated. However, most women we talked to who have tried the leggings like them.

“I love my Tactica leggings,” says Anne Marlow Conrad, a shooter and outdoor industry journalist. “They wear great, wash great, and are super comfy. They’re not too thin and have a high enough waist to cinch what needs cinchin’. I carry both my Glock 42 and 19 comfortably.”

Despite the growing popularity, concealed carry leggings are still difficult to find in retail stores, and finding designs that provide a comfortable, sturdy fit, with maximum security, is an added obstacle.

Tactica leggings are focused on safe carry. So, the leggings offer two pocket holsters that boast a strong layer of TPE polymer sewn in to protect the firearm’s trigger guard. Users have peace of mind knowing the trigger is protected while wearing the leggings. These holster pockets allow women to carry in the 12:30 or 4:30 position. An additional pocket is perfect to hold a phone or credit cards.

5.11 also has plans to augment their ladies lineup to include leggings. “We entered the women’s outdoor apparel market several years ago,” explains says Matt Page, vice president of global product at 5.11. “We’ve seen considerable growth and potential in this segment of the business and expect to see continued growth in the years ahead.

“Speaking specifically to women’s leggings, 5.11 currently offers several styles intended for fitness and everyday use. We have plans to introduce a new legging with range-specific functionality in 2024.”


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