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Attitude=success: the secret behind two successful gun shops.


Chuck Dixon's a happy man these days. When he turns the key in the lock of Dixon's Muzzleloading Shop every morning, he sees ahead of him a day ripe with opportunity. Fourteen years ago, when he first started playing the gun game professionally, the Kempton, Pennsylvania storekeeper had a strong hunch about what it took to be a success. And time has proven him right. While other shop owners complain bitterly of a flat market, Dixon's enjoying what he calls "a boom". And when your books show a 20 - 30 percent increase in sales over last year, as his do, that's no exaggeration.

"The interest has dropped way off," griped one dealer who preferred not to be named.

"The market's gone straight to hell," moaned another. "I'm holding my own, but that's about it.

"It's been GREAT! "Dixon enthused. "I'm in a boom time and have been for the past year. And you want to know why? I'll tell you why--service!"

When Chuck Dixon hung out his shingle in '75, muzzleloading was hotter than a smoking flintlock. The Bicentennial waited in the wings and droves of would-be Daniel Boones were whistling "Yankee Doodle" all the way to the nearest muzzleloading supply shop. As interest peaked more and more entrepreneurs jumped on the red, white and blue bandwagon until it got so crowded up there most of them were bound to either fall off or get shoved off. Even the big retailers like J. C. Penny and K mart climbed aboard. Naturally, the ability of these mass-merchandisers to buy quantity put the squeeze on the little guys like Dixon who couldn't afford to slash prices to keep up with the competition. But even way back then Dixon had a goal and a theory. All he had to do was keep working hard and bide his time.

"I worked in a country store way out in the boonies a while back," he recalled. "And I learned that when I butchered a piece of meat I had to do it so I'd be happy to pay for it if I was the person on the other side of the counter. I learned the importance of treating people right and being there when they have a problem. Today, I probably spend as much as two-thirds of my time with each customer answering questions and servicing their gun. Everybody else was too interested in the dollar. They didn't care after they got it and that's why a lot of them are gone or on their way out today."

Although he first termed the secret of his success "service", upon reflection Dixon had to admit there's more to it than that. It's an attitude, a way of looking at life and business with optimism and the belief that if you can't find a way to do something you'll make it. And he isn't the only guy who's figured out the secret. Rick Kindig, owner of the Log Cabin Shop in Lodi, Ohio, said much the same thing.

"To me success is more than just what shows up on the cash register," Kindig observed. "Of course, you've got to have a good profit picture, but you also have to be able to face the customers the next time they come in the door. Success is a smooth-running operation, a good reputation and the belief that you can master the possibilities."

Master the possibilities? Optimism? W-h-a-t? These guys are beginning to sound like they've been O.D.-ing on Dale Carnegie, Robert Schuller, Norman Vincent Peale and the rest of those positive thinker types. Can it be true? You bet it can.

Kindig admits he listens to motivational tapes on his car cassette player on the way to and from work to keep himself "psyched up". Dixon, too, says he used to be a student of Dale Carnegie, but now has moved beyond it to a more serious study of human potential. Both of them feel strongly that in order to succeed you have to believe in yourself and what you're doing and treat your customers as more than money machines. It may sound simplistic or even Sunday-schoolish, but don't scoff until you've seen the research. According to a study conducted by Harvard University, 85 percent of the reason behind success and accomplishments is attitude. Technical expertise comes in a poor second at a mere 15 percent.

Attitude, however, is more complex than it may first appear. It involves self-esteem, respect for the customer, goal setting, determination, risk-taking, the ability to learn from failure, time management, creative thinking and plain, old-fashioned hard work. In a world where most people are largely negative thinkers and Murphy's Law (if it can go wrong, it will...) seems to have the upper hand, it's extremely difficult to consistently maintain a positive attitude. But as Chuck Dixon put it, "This stuff really works."

As a store owner you hold a position of power. Even if your establishment is located in the garage and operates only on weekends, you have within your hands the power to make it grow or stagnate, to influence customers in a way that will either sustain their interest in shooting or stifle it and to make your employees work for you or against you. YOU set the tone. What YOU put forth is exactly what comes back to you. When you think about it that way it's a rather awesome responsibility, but also an exciting one. That's why it's so important to write your own personal definition of the word success.

What exactly do you mean by success? There will probably be as many answers as there are store owners. Does it mean making a killing and retiring in five years or building a small, but steady business that will chug along nicely over the long haul? Maybe it means more than one store or maybe it's a store combined with another type of compatible business such as a small manufacturing plant. Assess your talents, interests and resources and daydream a little bit. Picture yourself running the operation of your dreams until you have it in such sharp focus you can actually feel it.

Ever since the '70s serious target shooters have been practicing such visualization techniques to help them improve their scores. Slowly and methodically, they'll "see" themselves pulling the trigger, picture the ball whizzing through the air and imagine its impact with the paper right smack in the center of the target. If you watched the Winter Olympics at Calgary last year, you might remember the Austrian women skiers doing the same thing before they grappled with the mountain. Visualization is a powerful tool--so powerful that it's even being heralded as a means of fighting cancer.

Experts in this relatively new field stress, however, that visualization can't be done once in awhile. You have to set aside time every day to immerse yourself in your favorite scenario. Consider it an alternative to T.V.--the plot's far more interesting, it has much more potential to help you and, best of all, you're in control of the script!

Once you see clearly what it is you want, the next step is to assess the stumbling blocks and see what it's going to take to get around them. That's where goal setting comes into play. Most people think of setting goals as a dreary task done at the beginning of each new year and then hastily shoved aside and forgotten. But as George Eliot once said: "What makes life dreary is want of motive." Having a clearly defined goal "revs" you up, makes you excited about your job and is more contagious than the flu. Being around someone who's excited about a project is inspiring. Your employees will sense it without even being told and so will your customers. Both Dixon and Kindig sound enthusiastic. (By the way, both Dixon and Kindig were contacted about this very article, during the height of the Christmas rush. Both had stores lined wall-to-wall with customers and both found the time to talk. Why? Because both care deeply about the business of serving people interested in the shooting sports. It was easy to tell that I'd quite simply hit on their favorite topic.)

Psychologists caution that in order for goals to be successfully reached it's necessary that they be set high enough to turn you on, but not so high that you're paralyzed by fear of failure. They should always rely on you to carry them out, not be wildly unrealistic and chosen only to please yourself, not to fulfill other people's expectations of you. It also helps to break down the big goal into smaller sub-goals, set a realistic time frame to accomplish them and then to do something, however small, every single day toward turning them into reality. It's good idea to commit them to paper and keep track of your progress.

As owner of a store that generates more than a million dollars a year in sales, Kindig has learned over the past 20 years the real importance of goal setting. So far, he's formulated the plans for, and succeeded in doing, the following: breaking the million dollar sales mark; expanding the store's square footage from 2,500 to 8,500 feet; bringing in 3,000 people in two days for the Log Cabin's annual muzzleloading clinic; expanding the shop's book line until it became practically a store within a store; putting a crew on the road all summer and fall, to ensure that Log Cabin is represented at all major rendezvous and shooting events; and producing a professional mail-order catalog almost in-house. He's brimming over with other ideas too, but firmly believes that to talk about his goals too much robs them of their immediacy and excitement. He also warns against associating with negative people.

"I've gotten to where I steer clear of the nay-sayers as much as possible," he said. "I don't even want to watch negative movies and shows anymore. Why fill up your mind with that stuff?"

It reminds me of a story I heard once about a man who sold sandwiches on the streets of New York City, during the heart of the Depression. His product was fantastic, he loved his work and every year business got better and better. The man was so immersed in what he was doing that he was oblivious to the reality that all around him people were jumping out of windows in despair. Finally, somebody pointed the fact out to him. Frozen with fear, the man immediately stopped making plans, quit expanding his product line and wound up losing everything he had.

This is not to say, of course, that you should behave like an ostrich and keep your head buried in the sand. Kindig and Dixon both keep a close ear to the ground--they just refuse to get caught up in negativism. Both of them well know what problems exist in the muzzleloading industry today--fewer new products, difficulty in obtaining products, a strong shift in interest toward rendezvousing rather than straight target shooting or hunting and a decline in the number of new participants. This is the very knowledge that helps them keep ahead of the competition. As Dixon put it: "It helps me give the customer what he needs and wants before he's even aware that he needs or wants it."

Dixon took the information he'd gleaned by listening and stocked up on gun parts, a product most retailers don't want to invest in because of the slow rate of turn-over. Parts take up valuable space, tie up capital and can languish on the shelf for a long time until they're needed. But Dixon's decided that his goal is to sell service and he can't very well do that if he doesn't have the parts necessary to make repairs. Even the repair jobs themselves bring in relatively little money--five bucks here, ten there--but he's learned that while he's back in the repair shop doing service work, nine times out of ten, the customer's out front shopping. Also, service goes a long way toward making a customer remain a customer.

"Just today I had a guy in here who'd bought a gun from this bow and arrow place ten miles down the road," Dixon commented. "They discount lower than I can, but when it comes to service, forget it. People even send me guns to fix from as far away as California. And I never turn them away, even if it's a product I wouldn't sell."

Both Dixon and Kindig also seem to have mastered the ability to squeeze 25 hours out of every day, which is yet another crucial aspect of the success-oriented attitude. In addition to running his successful retail store and making all those repairs. Dixon is an outstanding gun builder, as well as the author and publisher of a fast-selling book on muzzleloading and an ardent student of homeopathic medicine. Kindig runs Long Cabin, produces its catalog, travels the rendezvous circuit, makes literally thousands of the wooden camp chairs favored by rendezvousers, manages rental property that he owns, studies for his real estate license and restores his own home in his spare time! Both men are proof that lack of time doesn't keep people from accomplishing their goals as often as lack of motivation and direction do. When you feel apathetic, you act apathetic.

Have you ever had the experience of getting through a normal work-week day by plodding through, feeling overwhelmed by pressure and then out of the blue got invited to something interesting like a hunting trip? You knew there was no way you could go until you'd cleared away several key items--normally about three day's work. But you didn't have three days. The trip was tomorrow. Suddenly you sprang into action, flying through the very stacks of paperwork that had bogged you down before as though they were mere child's play. That's the way positive, enthusiastic people act 90 percent of the time.

Studies have repeatedly shown that, despite differences in background and areas of endeavor, successful entrepreneurs share yet another common characteristic--their willingness to take risks. Most people play their cards close to the chest for two primary reasons--the fear of looking foolish and incompetent, and the fear that a bad risk may hurt someone besides themselves. Risk-taking is unquestionably scary business, but no venture will ever grow unless its owner is willing to take calculated chances when the need arises.

"I think you just about have to be a risk taker to succeed," Kindig said. "However, I don't think the muzzleloading marketplace is the best setting for a high-risk entrepreneur because you don't have the meteoric potential of say electronics or genetics. I'm sure I'd take more risks if I was in some other business."

"Yes, I'm a risk-taker," Dixon agreed, not missing the beat. "My wife and I are in business together. I'm the gambler and she's the controlling factor. But even though I do take risks, I take them one step at a time. There's a big difference between taking a risk intelligently and being a fool without any guidelines."

Psychologists recommend considering the following before taking a gamble:

1) Whether or not the risk is necessary?

2) What can be lost?

3) What can be done to prevent lost?

4) Whether or not you can afford to lose and how much?

5) What facts are needed before you can make a commitment?

6) When would be the best and worst times to act?

7) Who wants you to succeed?

8) Who stands to profit from your failure?

9) What people will think of what you're about to do and whether or not you care?

10) What fears you harbor?

11) What's holding you back?

12) Whether you're being pressured to do something you'd really rather not do? Once you've thought a risk through and decided to act on it, it's vital to move forward with confidence. That's because the most frightening and dangerous moment, the time when most people get "cold feet", is what's been called the "point of no return". Some people liken it to the decision to pass another car on the freeway. If you hesitate at the crucial second you can wind up getting killed.

Of course as you work your way through your goals and take intelligent risks based on research, experience and instinct, eventually you're bound to come out on the losing end. Maybe the cause will be something external over which you have no control, such as a huge shipment of rifles not arriving in time for hunting season. Or maybe it will be internal--the product you chose to promote heavily turns out to be a dud.

Either way, the temptation is to throw in the towel and play it safe in the future. Some people do it philosophically. "I guess I wasn't cut out for this after all," they'll say. Still others use failure as a club to beat themselves on the head. "I'm such a loser," they'll moan. "Why do I even try? Everything I do turns out wrong." Then they'll launch into a litany of past failures that would make even the king of the positive thinkers run for cover. But people with a success-oriented attitude realize that recounting past failures take an enormous amount of energy. If they're going to expend it, they figure they might as well do it by recounting past successes.

Naturally, this doesn't mean you should completely ignore failure. The next time you get knocked down take a hard look at it and determine exactly what caused it so you can keep it from happening again. Give yourself a short recovery period and then start brainstorming new ideas. Psychologists say that an occasional failure can actually be good for you anyway because it keeps you from becoming too complacent and forces you to think more creatively. Once you know what it feels like to fall flat on your face and survive the experience you gain strength. You also stretch your mind and endurance beyond the mediocre level at which most people operate. Almost anyone who's "made it" in business can relate their own personal saga of being down and out. The award-winning, critically-acclaimed producer, director, actor and writer, Woody Allen, flunked both English and motion picture production at New York University! Kindig, too, spoke freely of past failures.

"It happens," he admitted. "I remember once I sunk more money than I'd care to admit in enough close-out moccasins to outfit every man, woman and child rendezvouser in the country. I thought for sure they couldn't miss. They missed." He laughs at the memory, illustrating the point that often the difference between tragedy and comedy is a little time and perspective.

Besides learning from their own failures, successful store owners are often quick to figure out how to profit from other people's errors. Kindig once bought seven tons of scrap gun barrels from a major manufacturer who had experienced a number of costly manufacturing problems. He had a hunch that his customers might enjoy re-fifling them or lopping them off to make pistol barrels and he was absolutely right. Not only did he recover his original purchase price, plus a healthy profit, but pulled it off in only a few short weeks. His all-time favorite story, however, is the time he bought the hemorrhoid pads.

"We got this fantastic opportunity to buy several million cloth patches that had been in route to a pharmaceutical company where they were to have been treated with hemorrhoid relief medicine. But on the way about five boxes broke open and the drug company refused delivery on the entire shipment on the grounds that they were no longer sanitary. We picked 'em up for pennies to use as cleaning patches and sold them at $8.50 a thousand. The going market rate at the time was $20. You better believe we came out way ahead on that one!"

Yet another component of the successful attitude is the remarkable ability to act "as if". Repeatedly, people who become successful relate how they pretended that the desired result had already manifested itself. Many also report the use of affirmations to trick the subconscious mind into accepting the new status long before it actually happens. "I am a successful store owner. My business is in a state of continuous growth," they tell themselves over and over. Eventually the mind accepts it to be true and enables them to act with supreme confidence to bring about the desired effect. While all this may sound like the latest far out philosophy from that golden land by the ocean's edge, it's actually a time-tested idea. The famous classical composer, Joseph Haydn, was once asked how he managed to keep producing such a steady stream of successful music. His answer? "When I decide to compose I thank God it's been accomplished and then I do it!"

Success has long been symbolized by a gleaming brass ring on a carousel. Whirling by in a blaze of color and light, it entices, beckons, but all too often spins away again. To catch it requires a giant leap, and leaping, as anyone who's tried it well knows, is a risky undertaking. The pace is fast, you could trip and make a fool of yourself or, worse yet, fall and break your neck. But if you want that ring badly enough--for yourself--then you have no choice but to go for it.

Chuck Dixon didn't see his December sales figures double this year by moaning and groaning over flat markets and loss of opportunity. Sure there's been fall-out in his sector of the industry, but he made up his mind to be one of the survivors. By focusing sharply on a specific goal, uncluttering your mind of negative thinking, using time creatively, taking educated risks, learning from your mistakes and making lemonade out of other people's lemons, you can be one too. Success begins with attitude.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Muzzle Shop, Log Cabin Shop
Author:Silva, Eileen
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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