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How to set up the great outdoor clothing department in your store.


If this year's SHOT SHOW in Dallas was any indicator to the trends in merchandising in the gun shops (the successful ones) of the future, then it should have been pretty obvious to any of you who attended that the really big bucks are going to be in outdoor clothing, all-weather gear and sporting accessories. One out of every three exhibitors at the show was promoting some form of apparel for the sportsman.

Last year, the outdoor clothing industry's estimate was over $300 million in sales, and growing faster than any other category of gun shop-related merchandise. Unfortunately, the average gun shop is not getting into the picture, and thereby is losing a tremendous amount of lucrative sales dollars which are easily within reach. Put another way, if your shop has not yet gotten into carrying at least a minimal amount of outdoor wear, you're losing money which your customers are spending elsewhere.

That's right, just stop and think. That loyal customer who you have been devoting your full-time and efforts to please is giving you only half his business in return. Don't think he only needs his firearms and equipment to make his hunting trip complete. Of course not. It's damn cold and wet out there, and just as he wouldn't go out there unprotected without his rifle and ammo, neither is he going out there without the proper boots, clothing, gloves, packs and all the rest of the accessories needed to make that hunting trip a successful one. He's getting all of that gear from someone, and it should be from you. AND IT CAN BE YOU, TOO.

Excuses, Excuses

"We're not a fancy clothes store...we're a gun shop."

"Starting up a clothing department would be too costly."

"We just don't have that kind of space."

"What do we know about selling clothes?"

Go ahead, add your own favorite excuses to the list of all time oldies but goodies. Of course, it will take a little extra thinking and planning, and there's risk and expense to be sure. But let me present just a few sobering, if not brutal, realities in support of broadening your merchandise mix.

What if the never-ending pressure groups get their way, and a strict gun law is passed in your area? What if popular pressure gets the upper hand and people start backing off at buying certain types of firearms? What if a big competitor moves in to your immediate area? Or if prices of your major lines get out of your or your customer's reach? What if you can't get shipments, or supplies, or parts? In other words, what if something happens to your "meat and potatoes" merchandise, leaving you high and dry? What happens if all of your eggs in the basket break? Are you going to be covered?

I'll bet you make sure to remind your good customers to keep themselves covered while hunting, or on the target range. Are you making sure you are covered in case sales begin to sag in your primary product lines?

Of course everyone knows the importance of diversifying a little, and I have no doubt that nearly everyone of you have done so, to some extent, and are continuing to do so as you grow. Outdoor clothing and accessories is but one such way to diversify.

Moving With The Industry

Let's just take it step by step, and explore the possibilities for you to move with the industry. It's not going to work for everybody -- that's an absolute fact. But I guarantee, with a little thought and reasoning, it will work out for a far greater number of you than you ever considered before. Let's consider the steps you'd have to think over in order to make a rational and realistic decision to expand into the outdoor clothing business.

STEP 1. Decide if it is all possible to add such a department to your shop?

Stop and think; perhaps the best advice in any situation. Take a moment to look around your store. What have you got? Is every rack, every counter, every shelf, every square foot of selling floor making money?...Pulling its own weight? Walk around the store. Anything with an inch of dust on it is just not selling...and is not what you would call a fast-mover. Get that junk out of there and put that selling space to profitable use. Now, that's how we start to decide if there's a place in your shop for an outdoor department.

STEP 2. Decide what items will be best for your shop...and your customers.

The easiest way to find out is to ask. Ask yourself if you can handle an outdoor clothing department? Investment...time and attention...familiarity or expertise in selling clothing?

Ask your staff what they think? Then start asking your customers about their outdoor clothing needs and buying habits. Find out what they buy and where? In more cases than you'll expect, you'll learn that most are probably buying through mail-order catalogs. (This should tell you a lot about the need for more stores carrying this kind of merchandise.)

Remember, people want to see, and touch, and try-on clothes before they buy whenever possible. You'll be doing your customers a great service having the goods right there. Don't be afraid to ask some pretty forward questions: What items they buy?...How much they want to spend?...And how much they actually end up spending? Also, ask them if they'd like to buy their outdoor clothes from you--if they could? Take good notes, and keep records of their responses. Not only will this indicate if they want to buy their outdoor clothing from you, but will also indicate what they will expect to buy from you. Try to pin them down as to names and manufacturers, styles, sizes and prices they have been paying, and their opinions and preferences as to what they have and what they still want.

This will be extremely helpful in selecting what items to carry, and how much. I can't encourage you too strongly to put as much effort into this step as possible. Spending a little extra time and money at this stage will definitely save you a lot more time and money later -- and will greatly reduce the risk of costly mistakes in buying and stocking after you've begun.

STEP 3. Decide what and how much you should stock.

From the feedback of your customer survey, you should have a pretty good idea what they need and what they buy. Go with it. You also know your own area: your local terrain you might say.

What might sell by the carloads in the shop on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan may hang on the rack for years in Phoenix. So choose only that merchandise which is going to sell in your area. If none of your customers hunt or camp or fish, don't tie up your money in that particular kind of clothing. If they only want rifle jackets, then just stick to those.

Of course, you can experiment with a few specialty items, just don't get too involved until you see how well they sell in your shop. Take it slow and steady at first. You can always add items, or even "special order", whenever necessary. The risk of losing one sale is a lot cheaper in the long run than having to lose a bundle on a full rack or mark-down merchandise nobody wanted in the first place.

Feel free to discuss your needs with each vendor. Naturally, they want to sell as much as they can, but they have also been throught this before -- many times--and since most of them will want your repeat business, they won't try to over do it the first time out.

Choosing Vendors

In choosing vendors, you should have a clear idea of how big you want to start off before you contact any one of them. Decide first how broad you will want your merchandise mix to be -- at least in the beginning. Should you start with just one or two specialty items, like rifle jackets or ammo vests, or should you try for a modest, but more complete full line of outdoor outfittings? Should you get into footwear? Should you select from many different resources for variety, or deal with only one or two comprehensive suppliers?

These are just some of the considerations you should keep in mind as you search for the type of merchandise you want to carry in your shop. Knowing this will make it just that much easier to get started -- and choose the manufacturers and the merchandise you will need in order to put together an outdoor clothing department best-suited for your shop, your customers, and even more important, one that will be most profitable.

STEP 4. Decide how and when to begin.

Timing is the key to success. Carefully planning what to do first, and when, will reduce problems along the way, and keep costs and confusion to a minimum.

As illogical as it sounds, the first thing to decide upon is the end -- that is, when you should have everything finished, then work backwards. When to "open" your new outdoor clothing department is a crucial consideration. Obviously, it must be done when the need -- and the demand -- begins to build, or just before the season gets started. Trying to sell hunting gear a week after the season closes, or months after the last shooting competitions are finished, will be next to impossible. You will have completely missed your peak selling period, and you will be stuck with a lot of your money tied up in merchandise for many months to come, not to mention all that out-of-season merchandise taking up valuable sales and/or stockroom space. So target your "Grand Opening" reasonably prior to the season, but far enough in advance so as to have time to set it up, and insure delivery of the goods.

Find Out First

Before You Jump In

If you haven't dealt with the garment industry before, it might be wise to familiarize yourself, and your staff, with it before you start. You'll have no trouble finding plenty of people who know all about it (fellow retailers in your neighborhood). There are a few secrets you should know, and anyone in the business will be more than happy to give you a few tips.

Keep in mind delivery times, and when you can expect to start receiving your new merchandise. Most garment manufacturers deal in seasons. Delivery isn't necessarily an everyday affair; they usually ship all at once -- and they have a pre-determined schedule they stick to. It is necessary, then, to start contacting potential vendors right away so you can find out delivery times, and start getting your orders in. You may have to wait, so get this done first.

In STEP 3, I mentioned choosing vendors. You can start by looking through the December SHOT SHOW issue of SHOOTING INDUSTRY, and looking up in the "Directory" under "Outdoor Clothing And Accessories." Of all of those manufacturers and distributors who are listed, and/or participated in the SHOT SHOW, you should get a pretty good idea of just what kind of merchandise is available out there and from whom.

I have also put together, at the end of this article, a fairly good sampling of write-ups, that represent an excellent cross-section of select companies that are well-known in the industry. You can call or write yourself, requesting a catalog from any of those companies that look most promising. Based on this material, you should be able to put together a well thought out merchandise mix, and you can then start contacting your target suppliers and place your orders. Just make sure it all arrives when you want it: not too late...nor too early.

Setting Up Your

New Department

Now that your choice has been made, and your orders have been placed, you can start setting up your new department in your shop. By this point, you would have already determined where and how you want to put it. Actually, putting the department together should go pretty smoothly if it is well planned in advance.

Setting up a clothing department can be as modest or elaborate as you want. Cloth, being what it is, is perhaps the easiest and most versatile form of merchandise to stock and display: it bends. Fold it, hang it, stretch it, squeeze it into spaces of every'll fit almost anywhere.

You can use the racks and shelves you already have, invest in new (or used) specialty furnishings, or use some imagination and come up with ideas unique to your own shop. Outdoor gear makes great displays and is a terrific attention-getter. You can have your staff wear some of the new items while working to promote sales, or put some of the flashy new items in your windows to attract a whole new clientele. (Every kid you see nowadays seems to be wearing some form of camouflage or other.)

You should also remember to make sure you have a place to try things on. Your employee restroom can be easily converted into a changing room in a short period of time. And don't forget to include a full length mirror.


Give this idea some very serious thought. No matter what kind of shop you're running, there's a great potential to capture a part of the lucrative outdoor clothing market in your area. Start off simple. But the more sales your new department generates, the more space it should be entitled to. Just let it grow naturally.

The biggest point I am trying to get across to you is that you should take time to consider the highly profitable potential of outdoor clothing merchandise, and how it can stimulate and increase sales and traffic in your particular shop. It may not be right for everyone, but, since it can be easily adapted to any size type of shop, it's certainly well worth considering. With the steps I have presented here, and with the company write-ups in the sidebar, you should have all the ammo you need to put together an effective outdoor clothing department of your own.

PHOTO : State-of-the-art outdoor clothing, like this reversible parka and coveralls from Fieldline, although intended for the sportsman, may bring in non-sporting shoppers who are attracted by its look or function and versatility. This could double your overall sales figures by broadening your clientele.

PHOTO : Walls -- Leading The Way Outdoors. Walls represents one of the most complete selections of outdoor clothing and accessories.

PHOTO : Outdoor gear is perhaps the most versatile form of merchandise to display and stock -- it' bends, folds, hangs or stacks. Here is a sampling from Woolrich's Penn-Rich Collection of outerwear.

PHOTO : Woolrich has introduced The Rabbet System, an innovative system of integrated outerwear, part of the Penn-Rich Collection. Here, the garment is in blaze orange, one of but a multitude of options to choose from in this new System of clothing, which has something for everybody.

PHOTO : Day One Camouflage combines the safety of blaze orange with a camouflage pattern to create their special look.

PHOTO : Top footwear manufacturers includes: Herman Survivor, Red Wing, Timberland, Rocky Boot and Wolverine, all featuring Thinsulate Thermal Insulation.

PHOTO : Have your staff wear samples of your new merchandise to capture the attention, and interest of your customers. Take a cue from Bob Allen Sportswear. Here are samples of the Ladies' Bush Coat and Men's Bush Coat.
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:Rasmussen, Tom
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Apr 1, 1989
Previous Article:How to work with the media.
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