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Accelerate long-gun sales.

Target The Market, Advertise And Don't "SKU" Yourself Out Of Business!

There were over 2,617,000 long guns manufactured in the U.S. in 1995. Many dealers Shooting Industry spoke with said while sales have lagged overall in the industry, long guns seem to be holding their own. Stainless models and specialty calibers are continuing to be attractive to shooters and the day of the "one-gun hunter" seems to be on the wane. Most customers want specific long guns for specific chores. Deer hunting, varmint shooting, target shooting and other even more specialized sports often require more specialized equipment. It makes sense to supply it.

After researching the market and interviewing manufacturers, distributors and dealers across the country, a clear picture of rifle and shotgun sales emerged. In a nutshell, as summed up by Mike Prosceno of Remington, "Dealers who are aggressively targeting the market niche in their area are keeping their long-gun sales in the black."

Dealer after dealer brought up two important points. First, being tuned-in to the specifics of your local market can mean the difference between a "going out of business" sale and a "store expansion" event. Stocking up on varmint and deer rifles - even if you can't resist the distributor's price - doesn't make sense in a shotgun-only deer hunting state.

The second, and perhaps most important point, is something many dealers and even distributors are very guilty of trying to stock too many models and calibers in their long-gun departments.

Smith and Wesson was chastised in the early 80s for introducing a "gun of the week" with scores of models available. S&W listened to the complaints, realized the problem and cut their product line drastically. This focused sales. It let dealers cut inventory and helped eliminate the fringe models that took up shelf space and ate up inventory dollars - dollars better spent on stronger sellers.

Casting around today's market shows the numerous SKU trend exists in the long-gun industry. Many manufacturers offer up to 10 or 12 calibers or variations of one basic model. Each one has a different SKU number and each one may be listed as a different model. Many manufacturers or distributors are asking dealers to buy a cross-section of the SKUs in order to get some of the more basic, standard models. This can make it tough on even the larger dealers and a near impossibility for the smaller shops.

Scott Brunner of Nationwide Sports Distributors, said he's seen dealers try to handle every imaginable model.

"My advice? Don't get caught up in the SKU war. Keep your inventory market-specific and cater to it. Too many SKUs means storage and display problems, not to mention how are you going to pay for them all? I've seen this situation destroy smaller dealers," Brunner said.

"If I were going to stock a new store in today's market I'd make sure I had some stainless steel models, lightweight rifles in .308, .25-06 and other calibers, slug guns, especially the new Mossberg slug bolt action, other shotguns appropriate for my area and a cross-section of .22s.

Today's Long-Gun Trends

One trend doesn't involve SKU numbers: the lack of young people entering the shooting sports. Many dealers cite the overwhelming media blitz depicting shooting or even owning a firearm as so politically incorrect that even pro-gun families simply don't want the hassle.

Some stores are fighting back by offering "youth days" with special sales on air rifles and single-shot .22s along with reactive targets, as well as youth-sized safety equipment like ear protection. This creates interest at the entry level and can turn airgun shooters into rifle owners a few years down the road.

Price shopping is a trend started by large discount stores. While many dealers complain about trying to compete with the local Wal-Mart, successful dealers are bucking this "price point" trend. By consistently delivering personal service and the kind of knowledge only available at a dedicated gun store, these dealers are proving that Service = Value. When your clerk knows the answer after a customer has already locked horns with "Brett the green-haired surfer" behind the counter at the Mart-Mart, your store has garnered a sale. More important, that customer will be back and will spread the word.

George Romanoff, owner of Ace Sporting Goods in Washington, Pa., represents what today's dealer needs to do to compete. His aggressive marketing and careful tracking of sales has put his store on top of meeting customer needs.

"Oddly enough, we've found that long guns chambered in unusual calibers, like .257 Roberts sell well - usually to customers who are already shooters and reloaders. These kinds of guns help to keep your long-gun department interesting to the browser," Romanoff said.

Definite inventory musts, according to Romanoff, are: a cross section of bolt guns - don't be afraid to stock a few exotic calibers like .375 and the Weatherby calibers. Marlin .45-70s and .444s are strong in his area as well as Winchester Model 94s, Remington 870s, semi-auto shotguns and lower-end over and unders. Calibers: .25-06, 7mms, .280 and .308s are strong sellers.

Cowboy action shooting means long-gun sales. The newer models of inexpensive hammerless side-by-sides, imported lever guns and Marlin's new lever in .45 Colt geared specifically for the cowboy shooter are all strong movers across the board. After a hard look at the market, most dealers have noticed an interesting trend regarding the cowboy shooters.

Most dealers place the number of actual participants in the sport at about 10 to 20 percent of the customers who actually buy the guns. This means just because there is no active cowboy action fraternity in your area doesn't mean there isn't a market for the guns. With the coverage given to the sport in the popular firearm press, many shooters are experiencing a "gotta have" attack when it comes to lever guns. Remember, John Wayne movies are more popular than ever!

Advertise To Sell

When the market stalls, many stores pull their advertising. That can drive the final nail into the coffin for a business.

According to successful dealers, "You've got to have customers in the store in order to sell them something." Many top dealers spend even more heavily on advertising when the sales slump hits hardest.

Romanoff, of Ace Sporting Goods, goes all out when it comes to sales. This year is his store's 50th anniversary and he's pulling out all the stops. With sponsorship from seven major manufacturers - Ruger, Smith and Wesson, Mossberg, Treadlok, Leupold, Uncle Mike's and Blount Ace is having the mother of all sales.

Using advertising dollars from manufacturers in creative ways, Romanoff is offering a new Jeep Wrangler as a giveaway! Combine this with gun give-aways, manufacturer's booths, Winchester's Virtual Reality System, a live radio talk show on site, $50 gift certificates and vendor-donated door prizes, Ace's annual sale brings 3,000 to 4,000 customers through the doors during one weekend!

It's a lot of work, but pays off in hard cash. The tip here: Use co-op advertising dollars offered by manufacturers and coordinate your long-gun sales with national sales programs of manufacturers. Get manufacturers and distributors involved in your business.

By catering to your specific market, stocking stainless models, a smattering of cowboy action shooting firearms, staying out of the SKU war and aggressively marketing and keeping your rifle racks interesting, your long-gun sales will remain a solid part of your business.

What's Important:

* Stainless long guns are best sellers.

* Don't over-stock and clutter your store with too many models. Adhere to the motto: "One To Show - One To Go."

* Advertise - Advertise - Advertise!

* Experienced shooters want a long gun for each sport.

* Bolt-action, rifled shotguns are popular, especially in shotgun-only states.

* It's a buyers' market for dealers. Distributors and manufacturers are discounting at an all-time high. Don't over-buy though, and stick to products that are proven sellers in your area.

* Pistol-caliber carbines, like Ruger's Police Carbine are popular with civilians and police officers.

* Exotic calibers often spice up a long-gun rack and stand out, generating unexpected sales.


* Fewer entry-level shooters in the market.

* Price shopping at an all-time high.

* Stainless steel sells.

* Exotic or unusual calibers are popular.

* Non-traditional black powder long guns sell well, especially as "package deals" with loading accessories, etc.

* Bolt-action slug guns with rifled barrels sell well in shotgun-only states.

* Pistol-caliber carbines, like the Ruger Police Carbine are popular, especially with agencies allowing officers to purchase their own firearms.


* Advertise when business is slow.

* Work with manufacturers to put co-op advertising dollars to work.

* Participate in a co-op organization to combine your buying power with other stores. Give Sports Inc. or the National Buying Syndicate a hard look.

* Host a yearly blow-out sale, complete with manufacturer booths, give-aways, on-site radio show, airgun shooting contests, clowns for the kids and even hot dog sales.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:gun marketing
Author:Huntington, Roy
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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