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Competition: don't let the big boys bully you.

COMPETITION Don't Let The Big Boys Bully You

Watching out for the other guy is the kind of good advice which rings true whether you're driving a car, or running a business. On the highway, it may save your life. In business, it may save your livelihood. Think of "watching out for the other guy" as a perfect definition of competition.

Healthy competition means paying attention to what the other guy is doing, while continuing or improving what you are doing. The one who beats the competition is the one who not only gets the customer, but who keeps that customer coming back. And why does that customer keep coming back? Because he prefers to come to your shop over all the others. A person prefers to shop where they are familiar; where they know the people, where they can get around easily, where they know where things are - in logical and related places. Size is not automatically proportionate to good. A small, well planned store can compete quite successfully with the biggest of them. (Notice I did not say BEST of them.)

The Mega Merchandisers

Are Coming

What has been happening to all the other categories of retailers, from home improvement to clothing to groceries, is now happening to the sporting goods and firearms industry. The mega-merchandisers are getting into the business with plans of opening behemoth-sized sporting goods super-stores in neighborhoods all across the country.

There's an irresistible temptation to think of these new, and slick super-stores as the old-style gunslinger trying to move into a western town. Maybe you'll think of yourself as the "dep-pah-dee" (deputy). It's the old story: "Is the town big enough for the both of us?" Are you going to let HIM - a stranger, a new-comer run you out of town (or in this case, out of business)?

Hell no! But how are you going to prevent it? You can't use all of the alternatives they had in the Old West. You can't just get rid of him ("him" being your competition). You have to figure out a way to survive in spite of him. You've got to prove to yourself, to him and to the customers (townspeople) that there's room enough for both of you in the same town, whatever its size.

It's Not Just A

Matter Of Bigness

Competition is not always complicated by unfair advantages. You hear "How can I compete?" and "But they've got the big money behind them. . ." These are legitimate, if over-used excuses, rather than honest explanations of why one retailer is losing business to another. Of course big money creates big opportunities and makes it easier to compete. But it's only [one] advantage. There are as many different types of advantages as there are numbers of retailers. If you know what your particular advantage is, you're a contender, and you should have just as much of a chance to succeed as all the others. The answer then, to the first question: "How can I compete?" is - use your own advantage.

What most people overlook most often as being a tremendous advantage is something they've already got. It's so obvious that few really consider how valuable it is, and how easy it will be to capitalize on it. The one thing you've got that the new kid in town won't have is your store itself. Even if you've been open only a short time ahead of the new guy, you've already got an advantage. But especially for those stores who have been in the same, reliable location for years, the obvious advantages are these:

You're Already Known; people are familiar with you, your location, your staff, your merchandise, your quality and your service. You're already a fixture, a respected (hopefully) member of the community. Remember, the new guy has to establish himself as all of those things, usually from scratch.

You've Already Got Customers; people have been coming to you for awhile. They have established a traffic pattern (which like any habit is very hard to break).

You've Established A Good Reputation; Even if you stock the same merchandise as the competition, your customer may prefer to buy it from you because you stand behind it, and because they know they can depend on you whenever they need to. Buying something a customer is not sure of, from someone they don't necessarily know or trust, is a growing dilemma for the modern shopper. Generally, as a result of that. . .

You've Got Customer Loyalty; if the shop has been doing well for any length of time, it's an indication that your customers are getting what they want, and like it. That's why they come back to you. And they'll keep coming back to you for the same reason.

Keep Your Advantage Up

When you think about it, there's a lot of factors in your favor that you've already got to compete with a new guy - no matter how big they are. But don't let your guard down too soon. From the above list of advantages, if may seem like you can ALWAYS count on your loyal customers to keep coming back. Don't kid yourself. It's not enough that people have gotten used to coming to your store. There is always the risk of losing them as soon as another store opens, if they feel more comfortable trading at that new store. In short, you have to make sure your store is the kind of place your customers (including future ones) would rather be in. How do you insure this? - with IMAGE.

The image, or atmosphere, of your (or anyone's shop) is the very first thing to hit every person who walks through the door. In fact, it is not even necessary to enter most stores to realize what it's like inside. The customers' first impression of your shop will determine if they will stay and buy, or leave immediately. It's probably the simplest advantage to develop; creating an exciting and inviting atmosphere in your store, and it's one of the best ways to compete with the trend toward the huge, impersonal super-stores.

Neatness Counts

What might be casually overlooked on some enormous warehouse-type sales floor would be a major focal point in a smaller shop. Things are so much more obvious in smaller spaces. Even minimally dusty or untidy shelves and merchandise; even a few shipping crates cluttering up the aisles; certainly dirty windows, carpets or counters are immediately noticeable in a small shop. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the place is a dump. It costs virtually nothing to keep a place clean and tidy.

But far more than just being clean, the competitive store has to have an over-all positive appearance. When a customer, any customer, no matter how loyal, enters a store - any store - he/she still makes a mental note of the look of that store. If they get too many negative impressions, they will begin to avoid it, and take their business elsewhere. The very first, and perhaps most important impression the overall look of a store should create is one of welcome. A dark, cluttered, dingy little room dominated by a surly, unfriendly sales staff will turn away more customers faster than anything else. Again, watch out for the other guy. If all he has to do to compete with you is make his store look inviting, than you're no longer a contender.

People naturally return to places in which they feel comfortable. Here is the chance for you to develop one of your best advantages. No matter how hard they try, the "biggies" just can't create the "welcome-to-our-cozy-home" atmosphere. That may not be very important to the RV customer or the grocery shopper, but it's a top priority to the customer buying supplies and equipment for his own personal interest; his hobby, his sport - his first love. Walking into a store that seems as big as an airplane hanger isn't very likely to make the customer "feel 10 feet tall." But in a smaller, well kept, friendly store, he can feel, as the saying goes, "like a king." And that's just got to be the best way to keep the customer coming back. It's also probably the best advantage the smaller or individual sporting goods/gun shop retailer has over the big guys.

So what helps a smaller shop seem more inviting, more welcoming to the customer? Short of having a pot-bellied stove or a cracker barrel, a store can create a welcoming atmosphere by simply being friendly. Naturally, the more intimate feeling of a smaller shop, as opposed to wide-open, high ceiling, florescent-blinding, big, self-serving super-stores is a very big advantage to making friends. Very likely your staff seems to stay pretty much the same group over the long run, rather than a constantly changing cast of part-time students or job-jumpers. They're more likely to remember a name, and give a smile and say hello. This creates familiarity, and that establishes loyalty and that brings people back.

Eventually this familiarity starts to reenforce itself. The customer keeps returning to your shop because he knows the people, and if they have done their job right, he probably likes the people. He also has come to know your merchandise, where it is, and how to get to it.

Another big advantage the single owner shop (or buyer-on-premises shop) has which the big chains can never duplicate is instant feedback. The customer can talk to the top "dog", usually right then and there. If they need or want something special, they know who to ask, and find out how to get it. If they have a complaint, they can get to the source quickly. In some cases, and from the owner/manager/buyer's viewpoint, the last may not sound like such a great advantage, but it is. (Easier to put out a campfire than replant the forest.) Dealing with the customers' needs or problems at ground level, and in the shortest space of time can really avert major problems later. By the time it takes many problems to go through channels in the big outfits, an enormous amount of unnecessary damage has been done, and a lot of time and money has been wasted. That money should have otherwise been profit. Here we see how having a lot of money means having to waste a lot of money. Not only that, they lose money, be losing sales. Ever try to get a special order through a super-store? Now doesn't it look like an advantage to have the chief as close to customer level as possible?

Of course only a small percentage of your sales are special orders. You make your money by what you have in stock. Familiarity is knowing what you have and where you have it. This is as important for your staff as it is for your customers. There's nothing more frustrating than not being able to find an item you want, or finding a sales clerk who usually can't find it either. Customers won't put up with that for long. They may tolerate it once or twice, especially if it's a means to an end (bargain price or special item), but eventually they'll end up returning to the place where they know where things are. This can also be one of your advantages, easily and inexpensively. If you're not organized (and the big guy is), you're no longer a contender.

The organized store is logically planned and well maintained. Not only are all related items together, and easy to get to, there's a deliberate pattern to where each type of merchandise is placed. Increase sales by building sales. Every long gun, say, that's sold provides an opportunity to sell a rifle case . . . and a trigger guard . . . and ear plugs . . . and a field cleaning kit . . . and a rifle sling . . . and on and on up to and including hunting jackets, tents . . . all the way to acreage in the mountains, depending on your product mix and salesmanship. Placing your merchandise in logical order is just like building sales, and for the self-serving customer, it can do what your sales staff would do. Again, knowing what you have, where you have it and how to get it will breed familiarity and develop strong loyalty.

Service With That Smile

Just like the poor guy who is sent from pillar to post in the super-store, trying to find the right aisle to get what he wants, it's the same goose chase to find the service department in most cases. When the opportunity comes in the form of the question: "Where do I get this fixed?", your advantage is in the answer: "Step this way and your troubles will be over." Service and a good service department is an advantage almost no one can beat. Most chains don't even want to get near this end of the business. If you have a great, or even a good gunsmith and/or repair workshop, capitalize on it. You want image, you want a unique "look," stress the skilled craftsman, the dying art motif. Think of how pizza parlors, the bakers, the tortilla makers, and the shoe makers put an oven and preparation table or workbench in the window so people can watch the "artist at work." Show off your biggest advantage, if not through the window, at least somewhere visible. That somewhere may be simply through your image as the smaller store bent on service to the customer, who you want to see back again. Do it right, and you will!

So, Who's Afraid Of The Big,

Bad Chain-Store?

Okay, so I left out the one major advantage the big, cash-rich, volume-buying, discounting mega-merchandisers have over the small guy: lower prices. I think, by now, you can decide for yourself if that's all there is to it. Like I said in the beginning, bigness - which is the only reason they can offer lower prices - is just one, single advantage. Maybe they have one or two others, but so do you. That's competition. As long as you are taking full advantage of your advantage, you're a contender, and there's no reason to think of the big guy as the bully. You both have something to offer, and the town is big enough for the both of you.

PHOTO : Sports Giant, a sporting goods warehouse super store, has opened two stores in Michigan in May of this year. The stores are being developed by Builders Square, K mart Corporation's San Antonio, Texas-based warehouse home improvement subsidiary. The new stores will offer 12 fully assorted departments, ranging from athletic and sport footwear all the way through hunting, fishing and camping gear, plus more.

PHOTO : A well-kept, and well-planned retail gun shop, like Pachmayr's new retail outlet in Pasadena, California, can keep customers coming back again and again.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:small business gun dealerships
Author:Rasmussen, Tom
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Words:2468
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