Be a Better Firearms Retailer

Big-box stores have more buying power, but price isn’t the measure of value.

Be a Better Firearms Retailer

Competing with mega-retailers is difficult on the best day, but you do have some advantages that can keep customers coming in your door.

When Amazon began their retail operation, after expanding from being an online bookseller, it sent a rather large ripple through the marketplace. Prices and margins went down. People grew accustomed to a new way of shopping. Having someone come into your store and immediately be able to check your price against those of every competitor, including the giants in the market space, was a new phenomenon. Those who did not adapt to the new market very quickly faded away. 

As a retailer, you know that the more of any given item you can buy, the better price you get. You will likely never be able to compete with an Amazon, Walmart, Dick’s, Bass Pro Shop, etc. on price alone. In the “race to the bottom,” you can eventually win — but that means the result is more likely that you lose everything. 

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There are other ways you can compete with low-margin pricing.

Add Value

Do you have a range at your store? One of the easiest ways to add value is to give away a “bonus” to every customer who makes a purchase at a certain level. The range is already there, and the actual cost to you is a fraction of what you can make on that and future sales. 

Perhaps you have a gunsmith on staff. A free annual checkup on a gun that is purchased from your store carries tremendous value and gives you the opportunity for an upsell every time that customer comes in for their checkup. 

Partner with other local businesses in ways that can help you make a sale and help them also gain a good customer prospect. Go down to the local diner and ask them for coupons to include with purchases in your store. Gift certificates are even better. Remember, though, that it has to be something of actual value. A coupon from another business for “10% off full-price items” will not work anywhere remotely as well as “25% off any item over $100” or “buy one meal, get the second half off.” 

Inventory and Variety

The Amazon effect can benefit you and your business, in that it has trained your potential customers to expect waiting for something they buy. You can offer shipping to their door and/or shipping into the store (which, again, gives you another chance for an upsell) on tens of thousands of products that your target customer buys elsewhere. If you sell apparel, carry a couple of each size for people to try on, then sell them as marked-down demos at the end of the year. Guns are something you likely already have this process in place for. Why not expand it? 

Speaking of Guns …

You can’t buy guns on Amazon. These days, you can’t buy guns at most Walmarts. As the former largest retailer of firearms in the world, Walmart reducing the number of stores that compete in this niche is a huge benefit to you. Every Walmart worldwide has stopped carrying “non-hunting” calibers and types of ammunition. Again, a big opportunity. 

Sure, a customer can order guns from places like Gunbroker and GunsAmerica, but those guns have to be shipped to a federally licensed firearms dealer. That’s you! Make the smart move here and perform these background checks and transfers at a competitive to lower rate than the marketplace. Remember: Every time someone walks into your place of business, you have a chance to sell them something. The hardest part is usually bringing them in the door. Your competition is literally giving you the opportunity to steal their customer. Don’t make it hard.

Train Employees Well

Schedule regular training of all employees in your business on service-based selling methods that are customer-focused. There are numerous companies that can offer you the service, including the National Shooting Sports Foundation and its affiliates. A well-trained employee recognizes that every person they come into contact with is a potential sale. Again, if you are a smart business owner, you will put your employees on some sort of incentive-based program where their compensation can benefit from them selling more. 

If you want them to sell more, though, they will need training. Selling is a skill that needs to be learned like any other. You may be able to sell everything in your place of business to any type of customer that walks in the door. Your employees are likely not at that same skill level. Help them get there. 

Start with the basics — every customer is asked if they would like to “add a…” Fill in the blank with a relevant and usually lower-cost product. If they buy a gun, sell them a new case or some ammunition. If they buy boots, sell them socks. A huge upsell would be someone coming in to buy a hunting coat and they walk out with a new gun, a new type of ammunition, or some other essential accessories, like binoculars or a handheld GPS unit. 

Start a Club

Amazon has Amazon Prime. Walmart has Walmart Plus. Perhaps one of the best examples of this in the outdoor industry is the Sportsman’s Guide. When you join the Sportsman’s Guide Buyers Club, you get perks with every order. You get a better price on merchandise. You get better rates on shipping or even free shipping — a customer gets this all in exchange for an upfront fee and, the even more valuable portion of the agreement, all of their contact information, including their cell phone number, email address, mailing address, and types of activities they are passionate about and products they are interested in.

You can offer even more to your customers. Host an annual party for club members. Provide good but inexpensive food. Have drawings for gift certificates to be redeemed at your business. Partner with other businesses for products and coupons or gift certificates to theirs. Bring in celebrities and pro staff members to answer every question that anyone could have about anything in your store. 

Before long, everyone will want to be a member of “the club,” and especially so after you start having special sales and your store is filled with items that have a two-tier pricing system. 

Before you think that “your business is different,” realize that the two largest and most successful companies in the world use this exact method to make billions of dollars every year. 

Why wouldn’t you? 

Sell the Local Angle

There is a reason that this advice comes toward the bottom of the list. Yes, it’s easy to get products from online retailers, and it’s easy to compare prices to online retailers. When that product breaks, however, it’s not as easy to get a high level of service, nor a short timeframe to receive that service when compared to a business down the street. If nothing else, the customer will have to find a box, ship the product back, wait until it is approved, then wait several days to receive the replacement item. 

The conversation you have with them might go something like this: “Yes, I understand that there is a difference in price between us and MegaBox Retailer, but, for only X dollars more, you have someone conveniently located right here in your backyard who will be able to provide ongoing service with your product and has a huge incentive to take good care of you, as they depend on you, not only coming in and buying things, but also telling all of your friends, family and connections about what a great experience you have when you deal with our establishment. And speaking of lower prices, would you like to join our loyal customers club?

Some creative thinking backed by smart and targeted marketing can help alleviate the anxiety of competing with the big-boxes of the world. As one of my favorite motivational speakers, Jim Rome, is fond of saying, “Now, you have an idea — but remember, ideas can make you feel good, but only action will make you money!” 

The rest is up to you. 


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