Hunting season can be a lucrative selling time for smart advertisers.
Hunting season used to be that time of year to which most gun dealers looked forward with unabashed glee and more than a touch of greed. And with good reason. Because each and every year for oh, so many years, the number of hunters who took to the field seemed to increase, and that meant an ever growing market for guns and gear. And, back in the days when gun prices were relatively low, hunting rifles and shotguns comprised the largest part of most dealers' sales. Inseason, those traditional hunting long guns tended to sell faster than most dealers could stock them. That all translated into about three months worth of big dollar sales without having to do anything special other than just opening the doors in the morning and just being there.
My, oh my, how things do change. For myriad reasons too involved to debate in this limited forum, the number of hunting licenses issued annually is on a steady downward slide. With the rising cost of firearms, the successful entry of discount stores into retail gun sales, and with all the new forms of sport shooting providing gunnies with more varied diversions, the traditional hunting shotgun and rifle are no longer the fast moving staples they once were. Consequently, gun dealers who still depend on three or four months worth of automatic, high volume gun sales during hunting season are seriously off track in their thinking.
Am I suggesting that hunting season is not a prime time for a gun shop to reap profits hand over fist? No siree, I certainly am not. But I am suggesting that in order for a shooting sports retailer to enjoy the same kind of accelerated sales and high profits as during past hunting seasons, he's going to have to be one helluva lot more smart, shrewd and methodical than he was ten or twenty years ago. Nowhere is that smart thinking more critical than in the related areas of merchandising, marketing, and the aggressive advertising and promotion that can make everything click.
In some parts of the country, hunting season is already in full swing; elsewhere, hunters are still chomping at the bit and watching the calendar. Regardless of your location, it's still early enough to turn this hunting season into a selling bonanza. Here are a few simple marketing and promotional ideas that might get your wheels turning and might help squeeze a few more dollars out of the hunters in your market this hunting season:
1) Advertise what sells. Seems like common sense, doesn't it? But it's amazing how many retailers continue to beat a dead horse by pushing stuff people don't want, don't need, or can't afford. As I suggested earlier, traditional hunting guns are no longer the big sellers they used to be during hunting season - at least not for most dealers. Instead, get customers in your store by advertising the accessories, aids, and small disposable items they're really going to need and can afford. Once you get them in your shop, they'll look at your guns and ask you about them. Eventually they might actually buy one. But the customers who walk through your door with the express purpose of buying a gun on the spot are few and far between. So spend your money advertising the things you know they'll need to replenish, like ammo or reloading components. Promote the stuff that will eventually wear out like clothing... everything from hunting jackets and shirts to vests, pants, gloves, wader, socks, boot liners, camo gear and rainwear. You should also emphasize items that might eventually break or that every hunter might be interested in upgrading because they might make him a more successful hunter... things like scopes, knives, bowstrings, bow sights and releases, game calls, decoys and scents, armguards and camo paint. Accessory and add-on equipment is high profit merchandise, and the very fact that so many big catalog merchandisers do well with it should point out the tremendous profit potential available in accessories for retail dealers, too. When you advertise accessories... whether it's in newspaper, on television or in direct mail fliers... don't just tell people you've got it and how much it costs; tell them a little bit about why it's so good, so special, or why it's such a terrific value. In other words, use a little creative salesmanship in your advertising as well as over the counter. In fact, take a page from the more successful catalog merchandisers and use the same kind of advertising approach they do. They really push features and benefits, not just brand name and price, and that's why they sell as much stuff as they do. The name of the game is "get them in the store." The more often they come in to buy small stuff the more likely they are to eventually become gun buyers. So structure your advertising to appeal to the hunter's continuing needs rather than to your own desire to move a lot of high ticket guns that might sit on your shelf until the next revolution.
2) Advertise "leader" items. The natural instinct for most retailers is to turn a profit on every piece of merchandise in the store. But sometimes it just makes good sense to buy a ton of special promotionally priced merchandise, advertise it at a bargain basement price, then sell it at break-even just to get people in the store. Get on the phone today and start hounding your suppliers for special volume buys on ammo, gloves, scent, game calls... anything you can buy and advertise cheap and sell by the truckload. Then advertise it heavily. You'll get traffic which, in turn, will generate additional sales of non-advertised merchandise.
3) Advertise special packages. Put together special packages for various types of hunters... particularly introductory packages for beginning hunters... and advertise them at a special "value" price. How about camo rain gear, a duck call, waders and several inexpensive decoys for waterfowlers... all for one low price? Or maybe throw in one or two free archery accessories or a couple of extra arrows or broadheads with every bow sale? It's a pretty simple approach that can be extremely successful... but only if you take the initiative to do it yourself without waiting for the manufacturer to offer you a deal, and only if you advertise it.
4) Use gunsmithing as a promotional tool. Do you have an in-house gunsmithing operation? During hunting season it can be a great promotional tool as well as a money maker. Try advertising "free firearm checkup and cleaning" during the first month or so of hunting season, and just see how many new faces appear. If you think you're giving something away for nothing, that's really not the case. Because a surprising number of the gun owners who take advantage of the freebies will also buy something on the spot or will return later to become customers, not to mention the number who will eventually become regular customers of your gunsmith. It works... particularly if you advertise it.
5) Use creative in-store displays. Unfortunately, most shooting sports retailers fall flat on their faces when it comes to effective in-store merchandising and displays. A really good, in-store display goes well beyond "neat and orderly." Your displays should be selling tools that start your customers daydreaming and motivate them to do a little impulse buying. For instance: A thematic duck hunting display could feature either a small blind or a johnboat with a mannequin dressed and equipped to the teeth with every piece of duck hunting clothing and paraphernalia you can muster... clothing, rain gear, a duck call, a stool for sitting in his blind, binoculars, a couple of boxes of shells, decoys... whatever the quintessential duck hunter needs. If you show your customers you have it, you'll get them thinking that maybe they should have it, too. How about a display of all different types of game calls, from duck and goose to deer and even pheasants. Dress it up with stuffed examples of each species. Then be sure to offer demonstrations of all the various calls in the display. Think that won't sell more merchandise than something that wastes away inside a glass display case?
6) Select your media carefully. During a potentially high volume sales period, proper media selection is crucial. You need to be concerned with both "reach" and "frequency," because it's important that you reach as many potential buyers as often as you can. If you usually advertise in only one media, there's no better time to add a second. For instance, if you usually advertise only in newspaper, consider adding radio or television. During hunting season, it's also more important than ever that your advertising is targeted on your primary market, so in broadcast make sure you're scheduled in programs with strong male audiences; if you can, tie in with hunting, fishing and outdoor shows and sports programming. In newspaper, make sure your request placement in the sports section.
7) Use coop advertising to increase your media schedule. The coop advertising programs offered by some manufacturers are designed to stretch your advertising dollar by reimbursing you for advertising specific products in your local market. Make a serious effort to find out which of your suppliers offers coop, which of their products would do you the most good to advertise, and how the various plans work (including what you have to do to qualify, how much they'll reimburse you and the method of reimbursement). By using coop intelligently, you can run larger ads more frequently and promote more hot selling products... and it will probably cost you less money.
8) Use direct mail to reach proven buyers. You should be maintaining an up-to-date list of current customers. Use that list to do regular mailings during hunting season. Don't do just one mailing... do a weekly or bi-weekly mailing. Just a simple one-page flier is fine, featuring your hottest buys, your newest products, and your weekly or monthly specials. To expand your mailing list, try running ads in other media promoting a regular weekly or monthly drawing for a free prize or gift certificate of some sort, then make sure everyone who walks in your store signs an entry blank, whether or not they've bought anything. Your mailing list will definitely grow, and your direct mail efforts will become much more effective.
9) Tailor your advertising to match regional demands. You've got to know what's going on in your geographic area before you know what to advertise. Why advertise 7mm Magnum rifle ammo in an area that doesn't even allow rifle hunting? On the other hand, if the bag limits or the seasons in your area have recently changed or been expanded, hunters' needs for certain merchandise is probably going to be greater than in previous years. If there's a new fall turkey season, for instance, or if your state has just opened a handgun season for the first time, advertise the merchandise hunters will need to be able to participate. But the burden is on you to keep abreast of changing developments, regulations and trends; nobody's going to offer the information unless you ask. This hunting season can be a profitable one for you. But intelligent merchandising, marketing and advertising strategies are crucial if you expect the kind of high volume sales you've enjoyed in previous years. Don't know where to start? There's plenty of help available through trade organizations, from advertising and marketing agencies from the media, and from magazines like Shooting Industry. All you have to do is ask, and you'll be on your way to becoming a smarter marketer and advertiser and a more successful retailer.
Got questions about advertising, specific or otherwise? We'd like to help. Contact me c/o Shooting Industry. I'll do my best to answer your questions in future columns, or I'll refer you to someone who can.
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|Title Annotation:||gunshop advertising|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1989|
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