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High-tech sales: use low-tech strategies for high-tech sales.

High-tech hunting equipment has expanded more in the last decade than throughout the history of hunting. If your retail store isn't embracing the change, you're missing increased profits from GPS units, radios, trail surveillance cameras, laser rangefinders, night vision devices, hearing enhancement and other high-tech gadgets.

Anglers have embraced high-tech fish-finding technology and made it an integral part of their experience, but most hunters haven't added new technology to their traditional hunting techniques. You can increase usage of these products--and boost your sales--by offering them in your store through a qualified and experienced sales staff.

What type of high-tech products should you offer? The sky is the limit and your inventory budget will definitely drive your decision. However, as most gun dealers and sporting goods managers will tell you, the more variety you offer, the more customers you can service.

That's the way Mark Whitlock runs his Birmingham, Ala., store. Mark's Outdoor Sports is located off exit 252 on Interstate 65. Whitlock has been in business for 26 years, and says much of his success is partially based on stocking new products when they are introduced, and he has a staff that can explain and operate the products.

"Anything that comes along, especially in the high-tech area, we try and start in it young," Whitlock explains. "Take deer cameras, we started in them 10 years ago when the average camera was $500. Now you can get the same features in cameras costing $100 or less. We continue to evaluate all new high-tech products and introduce them if we feel they are something our customers need."

Whitlock advises retailers not to be scared of the variety and prices of high-tech products. If the cost of high-tech products doesn't fit your inventory budget, go into it light. Once you stock high-tech products, you'll likely discover what Whitlock learned long ago. By offering a variety of high-tech products, he separated himself from many of the small and mid-range sporting goods outlets and attracted more customers.

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Start With Quality Products

Whitlock has benefited from a number of high-tech product categories. For example, in GPS sales, Whitlock conservatively estimates his sales have more than doubled since adding it to his shelves. He stocks approximately 30 GPS models, including Lowrance and Garmin models.

Today, Garmin leads Whitlock's GPS sales and out distances the other competitors because of the company's proactive approach to helping the retailer. According to Whitlock, Garmin provides customers continuous updates and new models to choose from, plus the company offers customer service that's praised through customer testimonials.

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"I know Garmin is listening because I've seen it firsthand," Whitlock said, "We've field-tested their GPS units and seen things on them that we felt needed to be altered or changed, Later, when a new model comes out, they've incorporated the changes, so we know they take our comments to heart."

In night vision, Whitlock stocks Bushnell and ITT models.

In rangefinders, Whitlock carries Bushnell, Leupold, Leica and Swarovski models, offering his customers variety in both price and product options. Even though Leica is on the upper-price range, Whitlock sells more of the company's three models than any other brand. When his sales staff puts several models in front of a customer, the clarity and accuracy of the Leica brand sells itself, Whitlock said.

Such evaluation is important, Whitlock says. He carefully evaluates the quality of each product and quickly discontinues any line that doesn't work as advertised.

"If my sales staff or I won't use them, we won't recommend them. I think the consumer appreciates that. We don't want to waste their time or money, or ours," Whitlock said.

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Enhancing Firearms With High-Tech

High-tech products for firearms are one of the fastest growing areas in the industry. During the past few years, there has been a significant surge in products designed to enhance the usability of handguns and long guns.

These include lasers and flashlights or a combo of the two, that can be attached a pistol's rail system. Laser and light systems for rifles and shotguns are being introduced at an unprecedented rate.

Crimson Trace, Insight Technology, Laser Devices, LaserMax, LaserLyte, Pelican, Streamlight and SureFire are the major players in this product category.

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This year, Crimson Trace received the High-Tech Product of the Year for the LLG-525 AR-15 Lasergrip from the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence.

High-tech products also are natural sellers for law enforcement and private security. Many dealers are increasing their sales by establishing relationships with their local police departments and security companies. Such relationships can provide extensive, long-term business.

Making High-Tech Sales

Pure and simple, if you want to make high-tech sales, you need good old-fashioned, low-tech service, Whitlock said. That means having a knowledgeable sales staff that keeps current on new technology and can relate a product's advantages to a customer in a simple and easy-to-understand manner.

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"Technology changes so quickly. You can hire somebody who has the knowledge one day, but it may change drastically overnight," Whitlock said.

To stay up to date, Whitlock relies on two methods of training.

"For detailed training and knowledge of a particular item, we take advantage of a manufacturer's training and sales reps. They can show you a lot of shortcuts to share with customers," Whitlock said. "We also stress hands-on training. Sometimes the sales staff takes the product to the parking lot and other times they take it on a trip. Either way, they get to know it and how to use it."

Whitlock's goal is to send customers home with a product they know how to use.

"With a trained sales staff, our customers know how to use a high-tech product when they leave my store, instead of being bothered with an instruction manual," Whitlock said. "They are part of the plug-and-play crowd, They want to plug it in and get maximum play without effort."

Whitlock knows this training philosophy separates his sales force from competitors, especially the mart stores and mail-order crowd.

Sell Top End

When a sale presents itself, Whitlock trains his sales staff to start at the top when selling a high-tech product.

"My philosophy is to show the customer the most expensive item first. What's the worst that can happen, they buy it?"

If the customer isn't interested in the highest-quality model, Whitlock has his staff work their way down to the less-expensive models.

"If you start showing them a $99 product, it's pretty hard to land them at a $2,000 item. Show them the real benefits and the first-hand worth of the product. You shouldn't be ashamed of selling quality," Whitlock said.

Suicidal Customer Service

Grabbing the immediate attention of cutomers is important in high-tech sales. Whitlock does this through numerous in-store displays. He often features a product in two locations to maximize its attention-grabbing features.

Whitlock frequently creates "teaser displays" at the store's entrance or at cash registers to get customers thinking about a new high-tech gadget. Then he captures their interest through an impressive display by showcasing every model he handles in the product section.

His mechanizing of GPS units is a good example. Whitlock teases customers with a particular Garmin model, but when they visit the GPS section, they are wowed by 30 models lined up side by side.

Does Whitlock's sales technique work?

"We have virtually no returns of these products. Say you buy $4,000 worth of stereo equipment. If it doesn't work and the only help you get from the place where you bought it is an 800 number for the factory, are you going to shop there again or tell your customers about the store? I don't think so." Whitlock said. "We have a term called 'suicidal customer service.' We are totally inclusive and do everything for our customers. That's our job and that's why high-tech sales play an important role in my store."

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HELLO, DEER!

Cash-in On Game-Camera Mania

The sale of trail surveillance cameras, or deer cameras, as most people call them, has grown tremendously in recent years. Large manufacturers have joined many small start-up companies in offering the cameras.

Bushnell and Hunter's Specialties introduced new models this year. In addition, Bushnell has plans for a portable, handheld unit to view, transfer and store images without removing the camera from where it is mounted.

"We believe in the market and want to be considered the leader in the digital trail camera category," said Darin Stephens, Bushnell's product line manager. "It's not your father's old binocular anymore. Technology is changing the way the hunting industry works and how consumers experience the outdoors. Technology is becoming a tradition in hunting."

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Whitlock places a high emphasis on deer cameras in his store for good reason. He averages 300 to 400 unit sales per year with an average sale nearing $300 per unit sold. That's more than $100,000 in gross sales added to his store's business each year.

"Within 10 feet inside the front door, I have at least six different models of deer cameras and at least 35 to 40 units stacked in a display. We sell a lot of deer cameras, making them a significant part of my store's income each year," Whitlock said.

Deer cameras come in a wide variety of quality and price levels. Although Whitlock carries all price ranges, he tries to steer customers clear of the cheaper models. He also gives customers some common sense advice.

"We ask our customers how much would they spend on a camera to take photographs of their family and kids. Would you only spend $69? A $69 deer camera doesn't leave much money for waterproof or infrared sensor quality," Whitlock said.

Mark's Outdoor Sports carries the Leaf River and Bushnell line of trail cameras and favors the digital format over 35mm film technology. While most digital cameras cost more initially, the price is easily justified after factoring in the hassle and cost of film development, plus the time required to change film.

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With a digital deer camera, the images are simply download or the memory card switched. Whitlock's customers agree and don't squabble over the higher-priced digital models.

Today, there is surge in sales of trail surveillance cameras, which is often associated with a relatively new product category. Will it last?

"You might be worried that everyone who wants a deer camera will eventually purchase one creating a void in sales, but it doesn't work like that," Whitlock said. "Look at binocular sales. They continue to increase each year. I can't tell you how many pair I own, but every year more technology is introduced and I have to try something new."

Whitlock believes trail cameras will follow a similar trend.

"First off, most folks purchase more than one camera and often have several. Plus, you're dealing with an electronic product that sits outside strapped to a tree. Eventually the elements will get to it and you'll need to replace it," Whitlock said.

Increased Sales

Do deer cameras increase your customer's chances of hunting success? Whitlock isn't 100 percent sure they'll guarantee you a buck each year, but they do provide information and entertainment for a customer's dollar. Kids love to see the images and they definitely help confirm if monster bucks are cruising your customer's hunting area. That increased confidence often transfers directly into increased hunting success--and additional sales for you of trail cameras.
HIGH-TECH MARKET

ADCO Sales 237
Aim Shot 238
Aimpoint 239
Alpec Team 240
AOSafety 241
Beamhit 242
Beamshot 243
Bonner Technologies 244
Brunton 245
BSA 246
Burris Co. 247
Bushnell Sports Optics 248
CamTrakker 249
Carl Zeiss 250
Carson Optical 251
C-More Systems 252
Crimson Trace Corp. 253
Cuddleback 254
DeerCam 255
Eagle Electronics 256
Flash Target 257
Game-Vu 258
Garmin International 259
Gilmore Sports Concepts 260
Horus Vision 261
Howard Leight 262
Hunter's Specialties 263
Insight Technology 264
ITT Industries 265
Kenwood Corp. 266
Laser Devices Inc. 267
LaserLyte 268
LaserMax Inc. 269
Leaf River 270
Leica 271
Leupold & Stevens 272
Lowrance Electronics 273
Magellan 274
Maxon America 275
Meprolight Inc. 276
Michaels of Oregon 277
Micro-Lite 278
Midland Consumer Radio 279
Millett 280
Moonlight Products 281
Motorola 282
Night Owl Optics 283
Nikon 284
North Safety Products 285
Pelican 286
Pro-Ears 287
ScoutPro 288
Silencio 289
Silver Creek Industries 290
Site Lite 291
Smith Abrasives 292
SonicTechnology 293
Stealthcam 294
SureFire 295
Swarovski 296
Taser International 297
Trail Sense Engineer 298
Trijicon 299
U.S. Night Vision Co. 300
VibraShine 301
Walker's Game Ear 302
COPYRIGHT 2005 Publishers' Development Corporation
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kayser, Mark
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Words:2093
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