Expand Your Customer Base

Follow these simple strategies to help your shooting sports business pick up new customers.

Expand Your Customer Base

The customer is king. We’ve all heard it. Customers are truly the lifeblood in any business, and there are ways to improve and expand your business’ customer base. 

Ask yourself some questions. Can you identify your typical customer? Do you know where those customers came from and where to go to attract similar customers? Who is your top customer? Finding customers can be a challenge, but it can be accomplished by any business that knows the top reasons customers come through your door.

Understanding Customers

Pause for a moment and think about your customers — the ones that come every week or month, those you see seasonally, and those you just see sometimes. What do they have in common? Besides an interest in the shooting sports, do other traits stand out? Are they predominately deer, elk or waterfowl hunters? Each have specific gear needs. When considering current customers, what stands out as things or events they have mentioned, what they ask you or your staff, how they are dressed, and comments about items or firearms they have bought and any mention of your competitors or their online shopping habits? Do you know if your typical customer travels to hunt? Do they go out of state? Do they hunt deer, elk, or upland birds or possibly waterfowl? How often do they hunt? Do they have kids who hunt with them? 

Listen carefully and your customers will tell you a lot about themselves. Take notes and start building a basic customer profile that includes a list of customer categories. It’s a challenge to connect the dots about customers and where they come from — and where they are headed. Time spent on customer research is an important first step in finding more customers. The majority of customers you serve fall into a specific shooting sports market segment. Look at patterns with regular shoppers and the new clients (friends) they bring with them. Learn these customers by name and pay attention to details such as the name of their hunting dog or their favorite hunting rifle brand. Customers will be impressed if you know them by more than just another face with a wallet. 

When you are outside your business and have the chance to attend events where shooting sports enthusiasts gather, such as fundraiser banquets by nonprofits, game department hearings and other events that attract your customer base, shake hands and make friends. You can make a professional impression by creating and handing out business cards to anyone you meet at those events and verbally inviting them to stop by your business. 

You should also learn about radio stations your customers listen to, publications they read and other information sources your customers visit on a regular basis. This could help you determine a place to drop an advertisement. At a minimum, invite current and potential customers to follow you on social media and visit your website.

Customer Outreach

Once you have built a customer profile, it’s time to start working in the arena where your current customers are active — and new customers could be. Use your online presence to send invitations for potential customers to come check out new hunting gear or firearms. Anytime new products arrive in your retail center, post the details online and mention if there are limited quantities. 

Reach out to potential e-customers through aggressive email campaigns, and when possible, run a contest and capture an email address so you can build your lists for future promotions. Also mention new arriving gear on your website and through multiple social media channels. Show detailed images of the new gear and products and work to pique customers’ interest with a simple question. Then answer the question a few days later.  Be creative in what you ask and what you post, and track the results through coupons or customer comments. Be certain to welcome new faces who arrive at the sales counter and mention something they saw online.  Keep detailed notes on what works and what doesn’t. 

You should also work to turn your retail center and its online space into a resource. Keep track of trends in hunting gear, hunting seasons that will open soon, top news stories related to hunting, firearms, archery, knives and optics and post many details online. The more interesting and current the information is on your Facebook page or website, the more customers will come back and start to build a connection. If you just post something and forget it, your customers will fade away. 

Be certain to build a bridge or marketing program to show you and your staff have the expertise or gear to help customers achieve their goals. A month before hunting season, put out the Welcome Hunter signs — don’t wait until the Friday night before a Saturday opener. Yes, there are last-minute shoppers, but if you mostly cater to them, you have potentially missed a month or more of other customers’ shopping and cash dropping.

Build Relationships

Word of mouth is a powerful motivator to get new customers through your front door or to bring back repeat customers. They heard you had product X in stock, or in a certain camouflage pattern, or that you were having a sale, etc. Others tell their friends about what they saw in your store. Customers who feel welcomed are more likely to return, bring friends, or tell others.

Be certain to work with your employees — and coach the staff at all positions — to always make customers feel welcome. These steps can include greeting customers as they come in the door with a simple “welcome to name of your retail center here” and sincerely thanking them when they make a purchase or a simple “thanks for stopping by” comment as they leave. Don’t pressure, but do offer to assist if a customer looks puzzled or seems to be searching for something. 

Another key in building customer relationships and bringing more customers in is by building a distinctive brand. Become known in the region as the best-stocked source of hunting firearms, reloading supplies, tactical gear or whatever it might be. Strive to be the best in several product lines and customers will notice — and tell others. You can also increase brand recognition by putting your business name and contact info on everything you hand out. Stock and sell branded ball caps, T-shirts, coolers, hoodies and other items. Friends see where their friends shop — and that is often where they go also. Calendars with shooting sports images each month are also great customer reminders. If you wonder what works with customers in your region, study how your competitors are conducting outreach. Do they hold classes, offer free seminars, host product test days, offer big buck contests and such? 

Another way to build customer connections is by making weekly or monthly contact with your top customers. Just a quick email to let them know that you have new rifle models for precision shooting, new dog gear for upland hunters or a new line of holsters can be motivators to visit and buy. Sending a customer a handwritten thank-you note if they spend several hundred dollars (for example, to anyone who buys a new rifle or shotgun or possibly a tower hunting blind) is golden customer outreach. If they purchased a firearm, you have their address on the FFL form. The standard numbers regarding customers and their spending is the 20/80 rule: most numbers indicate approximately 20% of your customer base provides 80% of your income. Make that 20% always feel welcome, work to move regular customers into the 20% category, and always thank these customers in extra ways. Build a potential customer list with the information you gather. Look at patterns with shoppers and the new clients (friends) they bring with them, and plan an outreach strategy. 

Connecting with customers, and finding new customers, should be time invested every week in your business. If you only sit at the counter reading a hunting magazine and drinking coffee while customers come and go, or as they drive by on the street out front, you are missing opportunities and also missing the dollars they are spending. 

If you need more details about your possible customers, take a quick look at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s “Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation” report (available free online) and you will see that hunters spend about $185 million per day — yes, day — in America, and there are around 11.5 million hunters in the U.S., with around 8 million of those hunters pursuing deer. These numbers are growing. The report also breaks down hunting activity by U.S. regions and species. Page 11 in this report breaks down spending habits by specific categories such as handguns, optics, clothing, ammunition and other topics. It’s very valuable information about customers. You can also discover similar information from your state or county’s harvest reports. 

Use these clues and strategies, and start building a bigger customer base.


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