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Retail advertising: a retailer's perspective.

RETAIL ADVERTISING A Retailer's Perspective

What's changing? Your customers' buying habits, among other things. In many parts of the country, more business is done at gun shows than in stores. Mail order sales continue to increase, mostly at the expense of the retail store trade. Discount stores figure in prominently, and then there are the 240,000 plus hobby FFL holders.

Advertising isn't an isolated activity. For it to work well, it must fit into your overall operating plan. For example, ten years ago, much of the country was in a recession. Manufacturers and wholesalers, caught with too much inventory, began offering deals, dumping goods to raise cash.

A couple of stores that I knew of began handling these as distressed goods. The plan was to buy cheap and sell cheap, but at a good profit. They advertised their bargains weekly in the newspaper. The ads were small, usually picturing and featuring two or three items.

An ad was considered successful if the gross profit on the advertised items sold was more than the cost of the ad. Most of them were successful. They brought a steady stream of customers into the stores. Business was good; folks bought the advertised items and all the other stuff too.

The program worked well for about five years, then slowly became less effective. Two things happened. Most of the companies that had been dumping goods either got well or went under, so there were not as many bargains to be had. The increased gun show and mail order business drove retail selling prices lower, so there wasn't as big a spread between a "bargain" and ordinary prices.

Gradual changes are not usually noticed, so the stores were both in a state of decline before their owners recognized that their plans just weren't working any more. One of the stores no longer exists, but the other is trying to develop a new operating plan for today.

Another store that I sometimes visit advertises less often and sells at higher prices. It uses larger ads, listing many items. The store made a good connection with a finance company and most of its ads offer financing to qualified buyers. The relationship has proven to be a good one. The store has built a customer base of charge customers, most of whom now have credit lines with the finance company.

This program is still in effect and working, but is beginning to wind down. The problem is that the store has just about saturated the market in its area.

Regardless of how they were doing a few years ago, or how they got to their present status, all stores in the area are faced with the same problems, fewer customers and lower (closer to cost) retail prices. Within the past few years, stores that never advertised before are now doing so. This is more evidence of hard times and increased competition in the gun business.

The store that was selling distressed goods a few years ago is now working on a new plan of action. Some of this company's ideas may be useful to you. Among the ideas being considered are:

Gun Shows

If Mohammed won't come to the mountain, then the mountain must go to Mohammed. To many consumers, a gun show is the preferred place to buy. A store owner who thinks that he can't make money at gun shows is only partly right. He probably can't make money operating at the show the way he does in his store. But it should be obvious that those folks who go to shows every weekend are making money or they wouldn't continue.

As of this writing, the dealer has been to two shows and is pleased with the results. He expects to exhibit at about a dozen more shows this year, during which time he will continue to evaluate shows.

Gun shows offer the retailer several opportunities. The show is a good place to advertise his business. In two days at a big show he can talk with more people than will come into his store in several weeks. If his display gives the visitors a representative look at his operation, some of them will later come to see him.

Every store has a few white elephants - good stuff that just doesn't move. Take it to the show and mark it down to cost or below, if necessary, and move it. If all you do at shows is free up money that's been buried in dead inventory it's worth the trip.

Signs

Walk across the street and look at your building. Look at your sign, your windows, whatever. Can it stand a little improvement? How your store looks may not make your regular customers spend less, but it might cause a prospective customer not to stop.

When the store owner that I talked with looked at his building, he noticed several things that should be done. His sign, now twenty years old, was faded. New paint was in order.

Years earlier when he first moved into the building, there was little traffic in the area. This suited him; he only wanted to deal with folks who sought him out. Today, though, things have changed. There's more traffic in the area, and the store needs more business. It's time to dress up the exterior.

His high security building doesn't have display windows, but it has a series of eighteen 20 inch by 40 inch windows across the front, seven feet above street level. The owner adapted the windows to hold plastic panels, which will be decorated with manufacturer logos, sales messages, etc. Since the panels are easily removable, there can be frequent changes to suit the season or the product.

Yellow Pages

The store has always been well represented in the yellow pages in the belief that a good sized, informative ad will bring customers. Lately, though, most callers ask for prices, date of the next gun show, or other info. Few express interest in coming to the store; fewer actually arrive.

The yellow pages in his area do not seem to have the value they once did. The owner will probably reduce the size of his ad for the next issue. He no longer quotes prices over the phone, and invites people who want information to come to the store.

The store continues its ads in the paper. They are smaller and less frequent, usually on Fridays that are closest to the 15th and the end of the month. The emphasis is different; because there are not as many bargains, ads feature lower priced guns, airguns, and items that other stores may not advertise.

Off The Wall

Two ideas that haven't yet been tried by the retailer seem to be worthwhile. Often, when customers write a check, they don't write your store name on the payee line, expecting you to have a rubber stamp. The idea is to get one of the self-inking stamps with your store name in one color and your phone number in another. That way, when your customer is balancing his checkbook, your name will stand out on his cancelled check. The same two-color stamp can be used to stamp all the manufacturers' catalogs that you give out.

The other idea is to have a series of weekly in-store specials. Post a new list the same day each week, with the statement that the price is good while quantities last or until the next list. The list should have only a few items, and they should be at prices low enough that folks will be tempted to buy, even if they can't use the stuff. An alternative arrangement might be to have a bargain table with the sale items displayed together. The program has to be run in a manner to cause consumer interest and to move merchandise or it is of no value.

What we really need is an industrywide program to attract new people into recreational shooting. We have to promote and advertise ourselves as well as our sport to increase our base of customers.

PHOTO : Dynamit Nobel representative mounts first sign in window track on store front. Seventeen more to go.

PHOTO : Dealer's table - retailer displays adult airguns, contender barrels, other items.
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Title Annotation:firearms advertising
Author:Reynolds, Dave
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Jun 1, 1990
Words:1373
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