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Gun shop cashes in on "desktop publishing."


Promoting your gun business in a firstclass, professional manner now costs less than ever before, thanks to the computer technology of "desktop publishing."

Don Manning of Yakima, Washington, began cashing in on this burgeoning trend in late 1987. His eleven-year-old shop, Shooters Supply, was already thriving on established customers, but he felt the need to expand his list of clientele in the agricultural community of 50,000. Some friends who operated a retail camera store in downtown Yakima had raved to him about the results they reaped from a direct-mail campaign. Manning, however, had reservations about how he could get such a project off the ground for his own business.

"Personally I don't have the expertise or the time to design a professional-looking flier promoting my business," he said, "and based on past experience with commercial printers, I wasn't sure I could justify the cost of professional typesetting and graphic design. Besides, I didn't even have a mailing list of my customers." Generalized lists were available -- at a price -- from commercial mail distributors in town, but he says, "I couldn't see mailing a flier to every home in Yakima. That would have been a waste, since my merchandise is so specialized."

The solution came when Yakima's computer stores started selling Apple Macintoshes like crazy. Why the Macintosh? It's the small, affordable computer that virtually pioneered the field of "desk-top publishing." Run with the proper software programs and teamed with a "laser printer," it gives the operator virtually the same in-house typesetting capabilities once reserved for professional, large-scale publishing houses or commercial printers.

Suddenly desktop publishing businesses were springing up all over town and distributing their promotional fliers to other businesses, like Shooters Supply, that might employ their typesetting services at a fraction of the price of a conventional printer. Among the new publishing entrepreneurs was Manning's wife, who bought a Macintosh system, a sophisticated page layout program, and a used laser printer for a total cost of around $6,000. The home-based publishing business quickly targeted a willing customer: Shooters Supply.

The first things Manning ordered were professional-looking, small signs to replace the tattered, hand-lettered ones posted around his store, announcing things like his bank card policy, store hours, gunsmithing prices, and bargain bins.

He also generated a sign-up list at the checkout stand, for patrons who wished to receive his new promotional flier which had now become a feasible, workable idea. The new, rapidly growing mailing list was entered into the Macintosh, using a data base software program. He augmented the list with names and addresses from gunsmithing repair tags he'd accumulated over the past year. By the time he was ready to design his first direct-mail flier, Manning had a mailing list of more than 700 names.

"We studied popular mail-order catalogs to get a feel for a format that would appeal to an upscale, informed sector of our customer base," he says. "We also wanted to incorporate a friendly, helpful, non-threatening image. I think it's extremely important these days for any gun business to establish and guard a reputation of responsibility and intelligence within the community it serves."

The result was a two-page (one sheet, printed front and back) flier he named "The Bullet-In." Since the premier issue last summer, Manning has produced one each season, in which he promotes seasonal merchandise and offers concise information about new products, gun maintenance, local gun clubs, and even occasional gun-related legislative news from the state's lawmakers. He also includes a coupon special to draw people into the store.

Manning provides the basic information for each flier to his wife, who formats it with the Macintosh and produces a camera-ready master copy. Once Manning approves it, the master is delivered to a quick-print establishment. The final step is mailing/affixing address labels to the letter-folded flier and delivering it to the post office. Since his mailing list is now in excess of 1,000. Manning easily meets the criteria for a-third-class bulk mailing permit, allowing him to mail each piece for 16.7 cents each.

Each mailing costs him approximately $300--roughly $170 for postage, $50 for printing, and the rest for his wife's business. "She gives me a break in price, but not much," he smiles. Desktop publishers in the area may charge from $30 to $50 a page, or an average of $35 per hour. Compare this with the cost of employing a graphic designer ($50+ an hour) and a full-scale typesetting/printing firm ($40+ an hour), and the savings through "desktop publishing" is glaringly evident.

Manning also uses the desktop method for preparing his newspaper ads. "In the past I've supplied the newspaper sales person with the information I want in the ad, and then hoped for the best. More often than not, I wouldn't get a 'proof' back from them until the day before the ad was scheduled to run--too late to ask for any changes in the layout." The ads, ground out in the newspaper's composition room, generally lacked eye-catching sparkle or graphic appeal. Such ads, Manning felt, could easily become "lost" in the clutter of a full page of similar ads. "I might as well have been throwing my money away," he says.

His new strategy is to pay a few extra dollars to his wife's firm and have a custom-designed ad prepared, camera-ready, for the newspaper. "It eliminates a middle step -- keeps more of the control with us -- and lessens the chance of error by an apathetic typesetter in the paper's ad department," he explains. "We can prepare our ads far in advance and avoid the last-minute hassles. The bottom line is that our ads look great now; they really stand out on the page."

Since the advent of his direct-mail fliers, however, Manning spends little money on any other promotional media. Nearly 100 percent of his small newspaper budget is spent on co-op ads. He's bought no radio or television advertising for more than a year. He hasn't needed it. Each issue of "The Bullet-In" has quickly paid for itself many times over; traffic in his store has never been heavier.

Desktop publishing services are readily available in virtually any city these days. Since Apple first introduced its Macintosh, other computer systems, including IBM, have begun offering similar features. for a list of desktop publishers in your area, check the Yellow Pages under headings of "Typesetting" and "Printers." Their services will vary in price; generally, the larger the market, the more you will pay. Compared to conventional printers, however, they're a bargain. Some might even be willing to offer their services in exchange for a good used shotgun or a new mountain rifle.

And you need not have a spouse in the desktop publishing business to get the most out of it. Most of these young entrepreneurs are eager for your business and thus eager to accomodate you with such extras as free pick-up and delivery, oneday turn-around time on many projects, and the caring attitude that bonds small business owners together.

PHOTO : Manning's gunsmithing price list, direct mail sign-up sheet, and custom "No Bank Cards" sign have all been professionally, yet economically, produced with "desktop publishing."

PHOTO : Manning attributes some of his steady growth of customer traffic to the success of his direct-mail flier.
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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Author:Manning, Jan
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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