Selling Through an Industry Slump

Prepare your shooting sports business to succeed through the next slow cycle.

Selling Through an Industry Slump

Times are changing. The price of everything is up and you have probably seen your cost of goods increase exponentially, especially on things like firearms and ammunition.  

Do you remember five or six years ago when there was a big slowdown in gun sales after the election? I recall you were able to buy a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield at full retail for $189.99 after rebate. I bought five. I also remember the screams from the firearms industry for the industry organizations to “do something” to help with the slow sales. 

The funny thing is, at least according to the NICS background check data, there wasn’t as big of a slowdown as we all thought. It was much more an oversupply problem.  

This time will be much different, and the responsibility to make it through lies not on your industry representatives, but solely on you. The question now is not if there will be a downturn, but how significant it will be. 

Regardless of when the downturn’s timing and severity, you need to be prepared to not just weather the storm, but to hopefully thrive while others flounder. The following tips will help you do just that. 

Review Your Marketing

This includes everything from your sponsorship of the local softball team to the ad you put on the local diner placemats to radio and television commercials and, of course, your social media ad campaigns. Determine which methods and means are giving you the greatest return on your investment. Anything that is not making money should be reduced or canceled. Anything that is making money should be increased, and, if possible, substantially so. Think like the ants in the grasshopper and the ants story. They know that winter is coming, so they stock up on all the food they can before it comes.  

And winter is coming. Don’t be like the grasshopper and think you can wait until it’s here. Too many people wait until a softening of the economy occurs, and then cut their costs by cutting their marketing. This is a huge, huge mistake. As a matter of fact, there is no better time to make money and steal business from your competition then during a downturn in the marketplace. Why? Because most of your competitors are thinking just like I mentioned above — that their marketing is a “cost” that needs to be reduced to save money during the downturn.  

One of the most important lessons you can learn in business is that your marketing should never be a cost. Rather, it should be an investment that pays you returns and dividends. You should be ecstatic to dump as much money as possible into your marketing program(s) because, if done correctly, they should crank out multiples of that money spent. If they are not, you probably need a serious review and overhaul of your programs.  

Ramp Up Content

What’s that? You don’t have a content program? Then start one. Now. Add a blog to your website, or, if you don’t have a website, start one with a blog. In the online world, content is king. The only way to compete is to have content. Good content will always outperform average content or bad content, but any content is better than none.  

If you want to see some great examples of content done right, check out the blogs by Cheaper Than Dirt,,, and to start. Don’t be overwhelmed and think you have to do what they are doing, but you should be putting up a good piece of content at a minimum of once or twice a week. Again, more is better. Starting now will put you well ahead for when difficult times come. The challenge to accomplishing this is that it is one of the easiest things to put off because it really isn’t that difficult. Everyone thinks, “Oh, I’ll just do my (insert any other necessary business need here) right now and do my content later.”  

Wrong. You might be able to do that a couple of times and get away with it, but sooner or later, there will be more urgent needs that come up and you’ll be so backed up it will become overwhelming. This is as important as any other part of your business. You put a sign on your door so that people know who and what you are. Today, your website and content strategy are just as important as the sign on your building. If you want to make it easy to remember and actually get your content up and out, put it on your calendar just like any other appointment, and make that time sacrosanct. 

Make an Offer

The irresistible offer has saved many a business from failing. The key to an irresistible offer is that it should make you more than a little uncomfortable to offer it. Conversely, if you find it easy to make the offer, it is likely what is referred to as a “highly resistible” offer. These are offers like “10% off” or, worse, “25% off of MSRP” (Hint: Everyone knows that this is not really a deal.)  

Remember what your goal is. Breaking even or even losing a small amount on the offer is fine as long as you are getting something of value from it — like a new customer. I have seen excellent irresistible offers that made very little money per sale but gained the business a great deal from people taking advantage of it. Sometimes that was adding to a contact or customer list, sometimes it was leading to additional sales of accessories or ancillary goods, and, other times, it was gaining customers that make regular purchases — the best kind you can hope for in your business.  

Manage Your Inventory 

It’s time to push out anything that has been sitting or lagging for very long. One of the worst times to be sitting on a pile of goods is when nobody wants to buy them. That time might be coming, and soon. Plan your future purchases for the next 12 to 18 months strategically. Focus on items that are popular and that sell during good and bad times. Now might not be the right time to add on that fancy new widget with no history as a “trial run.” It might be exactly the right time to stock up on ammo or other accessories and consumables that are more modest in cost.  

Come up with a list of everything you sell that people buy regardless of their economic status. Ask for help from your customers here. Supermarkets run specials on liquor during lean times. People tend to not give up their alcohol, plus it brings them into the store. Everyone buys milk and eggs and butter, no matter how lean times are. Find YOUR milk, eggs and butter. 

Grow Your Lists

If you don’t have a customer relationship management software program and don’t have a list of current and past customers, start one now. This is so important that you should drop what you are doing and find one immediately. There are plenty of free or very low-cost options out there like HubSpot, Zoho, Insightly, and others. Take some time, look through them, and pick one that you can start and grow with.  

Next, do absolutely everything in your power to gain methods to contact your current, past and prospective customers in the most cost-effective way by contacting them directly through their email, a sales flyer delivered to their address, through their social media account, and, now more than ever, through their cell phone. Setting up your CRM and customer list the right way will pay huge dividends down the line in both good and bad markets. In a down market, it could be the difference between making it or breaking it. 

Finally, you will likely do and feel better if you look at the coming downturn as an opportunity rather than a challenge. It’s an opportunity to build your business, to win market share and customers, and to ultimately build a stronger and better business.  

Remember, winter is coming. 


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