How to get your ammunition sales.
Ammunition is to a gun shop what Coca-Cola is to a convenience store: It's a product consumers "use up" fast and return for more. The question is, how do you keep shooters returning to your store?
For Drew Huy, 36, and Dan Gast, 40, of The Ammo Attic in Melbourne, Fla., the key to success is superior customer service. It starts the moment a person walks through the door of their custom-built, two-story building that looks like a log cabin.
"We greet every person coming into the store, so we can help direct them to the proper location for the products he's seeking," said Gast, who works with three other full-time employees primarily on the bottom floor of the 3,000-square-foot store. There he and Huy stock all manner of impulse-buy accessories, clothing, archery tackle and the like. "If a customer is looking for firearms, reloading supplies, black powder or ammunition, we direct him upstairs."
Gast joined Huy in The Ammo Attic 12 years ago, after 10 years of retail experience in the drug store business. That's why customers traverse product-laden aisles en route to the gun department.
"Why do you suppose the pharmacy is at the back of the drug store?" Gast asks. "Why is a market's dairy case at the back of the store? The reason is so the customer is exposed to other products he may not have intended purchasing, but may develop a desire for."
When an ammunition buyer heads upstairs in The Ammo Attic, one of the four full-time workers in the gun department greets the customer and asks if they can be of assistance.
"We ask a lot of questions," said Huy, who worked in a gun store in high school before trying construction and then returning to retail 15 years ago when he opened The Ammo Attic. "When a guy says he needs ammunition, we qualify whether he means larger or hunting ammo, or .22 bricks for plinking.
"If a guy wants .30-'06 ammo, we ask if it's for hunting or target shooting. We narrow down his needs. If he's seeking hunting loads, then he'll want bullet weight info and perhaps hollowpoints. If he's just playing, then probably the cheaper surplus ammo is best."
For handgun ammunition sales, similar considerations apply. "If a guy asks for a box of 9mm, we ask if it's for home defense or to burn up in target practice," said Gast. "If he's going to burn up five boxes in a weekend, he'll probably take full-metal-jacket loads."
Buyers of .22 ammo are usually plinkers or weekend shooters who want to ventilate some aluminum cans. "In that case, he'll take the cheapest brick we have," Gast said. "But if he's going to hunt squirrels, he might want hollowpoint ammo."
"If he's a plinker, we'll steer him to Federal's standard-velocity bricks," said Huy, who has hunted south Florida's deer, hogs and snipe since he was a kid. "If he's a squirrel hunter where he needs accuracy, I lean toward Federal high-velocity bricks. Frankly, I like Federal .22 ammo because I use it in my guns and it performs well. Most people either know what they want or are out to get the cheapest."
All of which points out the importance of questioning customers - unless, of course, they're store regulars who know precisely what they want and need.
"We don't allow anyone under 18 years of age into the store without adult supervision, so we don't have a problem leaving ammunition on shelves," Huy explains. "We have little pilferage, because we have plenty of help keeping an eye on things."
Rifle ammunition, except the four-foot-long aisle featuring .22 bricks advertised weekly, is kept behind a counter and offered upon request.
"If he knows what he wants, we pretty much leave him to self-serve his needs," said Gast. "Our advertised specials are stacked into separate displays with appropriate signage. We'd do more signage if we had the time."
This is similar to the sales method used by the experienced employees of Lone Star Guns in Plano, Texas. Frank Smith opened the 1,500-square-foot store in a strip center 25 years ago. Today, Lone Star Guns is a factory warranty location for Smith & Wesson, Mossberg and Remington.
"Our normal routine is to greet a customer and ask if he needs any help," explains Tom Neubrand, 46, a general salesman who's worked at Lone Star for four years. "If he said he wants target ammunition, we ask the caliber, whether for rifle, shotgun or handgun, and then lead him along or put him with the staff member with the most experience in that firearm."
Neubrand handles questions on shotguns, which he began shooting at age 17. Smith tackles gunsmithing queries or questions on pistols or rifles, and store manager George Cotter is a pistolero and reloading information resource.
"In all, we have more than 100 years of experience available to any customer coming in the door," notes Neubrand, who said the sales force regularly uses factory brochures that list velocities and bullet data. "That's one reason regulars return to us - we're knowledgeable and make customers feel special."
Experienced salesmen are what Arnold Capone seeks when hiring for King's Gun Works in Glendale, Calif. The "70-something" Capone started as a gunsmith 40 years ago and his retail establishment "just sort of grew up around me." Besides featuring a full line of primarily hunting firearms, plus handguns, accessories, clothing, knives, reloading supplies and books, King's Gun Works also manufactures and markets aftermarket products for Colt's Government Model 1911A1. The direct mail business accounts for half of King's total sales.
"John Langdale and Paul Rutherford came to me recently from Turner's Outdoorsman," notes Capone, referring to the huge Southern California sporting goods chain. "Ben Jimenez has been with me a couple of years and these three really know retail. I have three gunsmiths working here. Besides myself, there's my son, Bill, who literally grew up in the business, and Phil Jenkins, who's worked here for 12 years. So when it comes to gunsmithing questions, we know what we're talking about and that keeps regular customers coming back."
So all three retailers handle customers similarly once they enter the store. But how do they get customers in the door?
At The Ammo Attic, advertising is the key. Gast has the responsibility for "spreading the word" to Melbourne's 75,000 residents, although the store draws regularly from Palm Bay, a nearby community of 75,000, as well as Vero Beach, 30 miles distant.
"I put together co-op ads in one of our two daily newspapers, the Florida Sun, which I feel has the largest circulation - they claim 120,000 on Sunday editions," said Gast. "I also run ads before the previews at our local movie theaters, which do real well - a guy who can spend $7 for a movie has the discretionary income to buy our products. I also do some radio advertising and work with shoppers (weekly ad brochures)."
Gast and Huy carefully select what they feature in ads. "When I was in the drug store business, I learned that you advertise the stuff that is used up quickly," explains Gast. "For example, drug stores always advertise two-liter bottles of Coke, since it's going to be gone in two days. We use the same philosophy with target ammunition. We advertise what a customer will use up over a weekend, such as .22 bricks, 9mm, .38, .380 or .45 ammo."
That keeps customers coming back to the store, where we can hopefully get to know him - and sell him other products like scopes or handguns that make us money," adds Huy.
That's important, Huy emphasized, in an area populated by Sports Authority stores, WalMarts and about four other gun stores.
While Gast is willing to consider bargains offered by his distributors, he's found it best to advertise what customers want. And he uses co-op funds - money provided by manufacturers like Winchester, Remington and Federal - to help offset advertising expense.
"I use co-op money whenever possible, although it's a pain to track all of the paper-work that's required," explains Gast. "The newspaper helps by providing a detailed invoice that specifies the proportion of coop advertising expense. But I still need to gather the tearsheets and tabulate all purchases I made from, say, Winchester, which will give me 2 percent co-op funds.
"Some of the larger distributors provide an itemized statement that shows Winchester purchases, but smaller distributors won't, so I've got to hunt down all of that information and supply it. I won't chase a $50 co-op payment, but I will chase $100 to help keep our name in front of the public."
According to Gast, once the paperwork is in hand, Winchester, Federal and Remington readily provides funds. Gast also concentrates on regular mailings to the 5,000 premier customers in The Ammo Attic's data base.
"I make mailings about quarterly, and would like to make them monthly, but there's just not enough hours in the day," he said. "Each customer's phone number is his account number, and our staff can punch it up or enter it at the register."
The effectiveness of any advertising, however, pales in comparison to the "one-minute sound bite by the President on a gun-related topic, or a local TV news story on a crime wave," said Gast. "When this happens, we see a sales blip, for instance, on home-defense guns."
At the King's Gun Works in California, Capone features monthly specials and seasonal promotions on dove, duck and quail shotshells from Winchester, Federal and Remington.
"I don't advertise outside of the Yellow Pages, and I don't have a mailing list. I am forced to mark down the dove and quail loads for opening day," Capone said. "You don't make money on seasonal promotions. You just hope people buy other things."
As with Capone's store, where most customers come in first for gunsmithing services, business for Lone Star Guns often starts with warranty work.
"We draw customers from all over Texas, because of our warranty service," said Neubrand. "But once they come in, we generally keep them. We have a sophisticated data base on 2,500 customers. The information comes from warranty cards and purchases."
Lone Star mails out tailored direct-mail pieces, usually featuring parts and gunsmithing supplies, especially to gun dealers who buy a lot of parts.
"Like most everybody, we have weekly specials and rotate them through different calibers and types," Neubrand said. "In our specials, we concentrate on the top-of-the-line brands like Winchester Super-X. We'll sell this for $14 per brick, making $1-$1.50.
"If a guy is only interested in price, he'll go to the mass merchandisers like WalMart. That's why we stay away from the bottom-end loads - shooters can get them anywhere. If he's only interested in the lowest price, he's not the type of customer we want, anyway."
Lone Star Guns does little newspaper advertising to the 180,000 residents of the Plano metroplex.
"We do no radio, no TV, no movie theaters, and it's purely due to expense," Neubrand said. "We advertise in the Yellow Pages, but we find that word about a good gun store gets around among experienced shooters. These are the people who recognize the value of a knowledgeable staff, and who like us."
While Lone Star Guns has used co-op money for advertising in the past, they aren't presently. "But we're looking at it again. especially from Winchester since we're a Winchester Ammo Advisory Center."
Is there a target of opportunity for sales to competitive shooters, such as benchresters or claybird busters?
"We don't get many competitive shooters," said Neubrand. "I believe there's real potential with sporting clays shooters. since six courses have recently opened here and these are guys who shoot weekly."
Huy of The Ammo Attic has found little demand from trap and skeet shooters, or sporting clays enthusiasts. "It's real tough to make money off competitive shooters," he said. "If they bought single boxes of AA trap or skeet loads, we'd make perhaps $1 per box. But purchased by the case, we about break-even. There are too many distributors who will sell directly to these heavy users."
How does he feel about that? "If I find out, they won't be distributing to me," he said firmly. "I prefer to stay with distributors who recognize the value of retail outlets like The Ammo Attic."
Any final sales tips?
"I suggest retailers, who are selling to serious shooters, have a large variety of ammunition brands and calibers. You never know what your customers are going to ask for," said Capone. "My best-selling brand is Winchester, which sells because of name recognition."
Neubrand suggests retailers run a lot of specials and stick with the top-of-the-line brands and loads. "Serious hunters and target shooters will come to you as word gets around," he said.
Huy advises remaining as competitive as you can on pricing. "Many retailers try to make 50 or 60 points on ammunition, which means they don't move much product," he said. "We prefer to cut the points and move the product, which brings buyers into the store for other and future purchases."
- A CHECKLIST -
* A knowledgeable sales staff is worth its weight in gold. Hire the best.
* Meet and greet each customer as they enter your shop.
* Learn as much as you can about each customer, so you can determine future needs - and sales opportunities.
* Use factory brochures as guides when answering questions.
* Use co-op advertising dollars when possible.
* Advertising ammunition that will be used quickly to keep customers coming back.
* Keep a data base for direct-mail offers. Tailor your mailings to reflect your customers' interests.
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|Title Annotation:||marketing strategies|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1997|
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