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Sports South: dealers of the round table.

Candid communication and warm Southern hospitality blended together to produce outstanding results at the shooting industry Round Table Discussion in Sherveport, La., last month.

Skipper Dickson, host of the meeting and dynamic president of Sports South Inc. brought together top-level executives from seven of the largest manufacturers and nearly 40 of the nation's most active dealers for a two-day retreat in northwest Louisiana.

After surveying the participants, Dickson reported a unanimous reaction. "The feedback was 100 percent positive," said Dickson, whose family business spans over a century and a half. "Whenever you break new ground you are venturing into the unknown. Our concept was to increase and improve communication between the manufacturers and the dealers. They all tell me we were successful. We're delighted."

The Round Table format allowed every dealer the opportunity for 30- to 45-minute segments with executives from Beretta, Federal Cartridge, Remington, Smith & Wesson, Taurus, U.S. Repeating Arms, and Winchester.

The dealers, who traveled from 17 states, sat four to six at a table while the manufacturers' executives rotated around the room. Each executive offered the dealers an overview of their sales and marketing strategies for the fall/winter '92 hunting season and any special dealer programs of interest before opening the question-and-answer period.

Neil Oldridge, director of sales for Remington, said, "We took a few hard punches, and some nice compliments too. This was a terrific idea by Skipper. We'll go back to the home office with fresh input from the front lines and hopefully the dealers will leave with a better understanding of our commitment to them."

Bob Brindle, who, along with his son Steve, operates Bob & Mickey's Department Store in Mercersburg, Pa., has been doing business with Sports South for over 20 years. "This was really a worthwhile event," Brindle said. "I feel like I could pick up the phone and call any one of these big boys and they would take care of my problem."

Despite the executive title, Oldridge validated Brindle's reaction. "My mission is to serve Remington's customers," he said. "That means every dealer in this room. If they cannot receive the service they need through normal channels, then they can call me directly."

The chief concerns voiced by the dealers covered the gamut -- everything from the competitive threat from mass merchandisers like K mart and Wal-mart, to inventory control, price fluctuation, and delivery schedules.

"What we have heard here is reality," said Skip Jeanneret, director of sales and marketing for U.S. Repeating Arms. "These are some of the most prominent and influential dealers in the country in this room. You bet we're listening, and we'll make sure every problem, concern, and fear is addressed."

Reality was indeed everywhere. Vaughn Jackson awed his colleagues with a chilling account of defending his store, Gun Heaven, from looters during the civil unrest in Los Angeles.

"It was a 'round-the-clock thing for us," said Jackson, whose shop was only blocks away from the flash point of the riot in south central L.A. "We protected the store in shifts and got to be pretty good friends with the police officers who were on patrol. It was one hell of an experience."

All On The Cable

The June 11 and 12 program began with a seafood bonanza at famed Ralph & Kacoo's Restaurant in nearby Bossier City. The ammunition manufacturers in attendance -- Federal, Remington, and Winchester -- hosted the dinner to set the tone.

Sports South's Charles Roney, embarking on his 20th year with the company, and Advertising and Marketing Manager Debra Birmingham tended to the diners, who enjoyed a delicious seafood feast and "get acquainted" discussions in a traditional southern atmosphere.

After the four-hour Round Table the following day, the participants toured the Sports South facility and gathered for a crawfish lunch with all the trimmings. "We've done a lot of business and had a lot of fun," said Bruce Savane, vice president of Taurus USA, as he attacked another boiled crawfish. "When your home base is Brazil you learn to appreciate the value of communication and understanding. Both are really in evidence here in Shreveport."

The Round Table discussion was long on specifics, impressing dealers like Wayne Runion of Runions Guns and Ammo in Harrisonburg, Va.

"It's great when the little guy gets to go eye-to-eye with a top person at Smith & Wesson," Runion said. "I was impressed with what they had to tell us. They were prepared and sincere, and that's important."

Merchandising Experts Speak Out

Winchester's vice president of marketing, Jerry Foust, predicted that the ammunition "price war" expected by many of the dealers would be a "blood bath."

"I believe ammunition prices for the fall and winter hunting season will drop so low that making a profit will be nearly impossible," Foust said. "Our pricing structure is set to protect the independent dealer from unfair advantages that the mass merchandisers have enjoyed."

Foust reported that Winchester's Black Talon line is "selling very successfully," and that other hunting calibers are possible additions to the line.

Winchester has over 1,500 dealers participating in its Advisory Center program, which is designed to increase communication and assist the dealers in building traffic in their stores.

Remington's Oldridge assured the dealers that hunters in the market for the Model 700 SS and Camo 700 rifles would be coming through their doors. "Those popular models are not available at the mass merchandisers," he said.

Warranty and service turn-around time are priorities at Taurus, according to Sales Manager Bob Powell. "We have four full-time gunsmiths in Miami to expedite guns sent in for repair under our lifetime warranty. The are supported by our outstanding customer service representatives."

Powell described sales of the .44 Special revolver as "super," saying "We've sold as many units in the first six months as we projected for all of '92."

The recall of the first batch of the model PT 22 automatics for minor adjustments has not hindered plans to manufacture the .22 Magnum eight-shot, stainless steel revolver in 3- and 4-inch barrel models at the Miami plant.

Al Cornell, Beretta's national sales manager, told the dealers that sales of the A 390 auto shotgun were "heading into the stratosphere." Similar strong sales have the Model 950 pocket pistols on back order.

"Our dealer program is very strong," Cornell said. "A minimum order of five units earns a very attractive discount price and we are also seeing a lot of growth in our law enforcement program."

Beretta's cutlery line, under the directorship of Gary Fadden, is offering dealers another profit center, according to Cornell. Knife sales are getting stronger and stronger," he said. "Beretta offers excellent quality, a beautiful product, and a very attractive pricing structure."

Jeanneret previewed the new consumer ads from U.S. Repeating Arms, underlining his company's pledge to promote its product line in a high-profile manner.

Skip also happily told the dealers the new drop box rifle magazine not only is being embraced by the convenience-oriented consumer, but that "Excellent profit margins on this product are great news for all (dealers)."

During his two-year tenure at Smith & Wesson as vice president of sales and marketing, Bob Scott has earned the reputation as an accessible and cooperative executive. Scott's honesty in admitting what he termed S&W's "neglect of its core business -- revolvers," brought knowing glances from the dealers.

"We sell over 300,000 revolvers a year," Scott said. "Our sales have stayed pretty constant, but we expect them to increase." Smith & Wesson is offering a rebate of $8 for each N-frame hunting handgun sold beginning in August.

S&W has also found success with their new low-price pistol line. Scott said, "Our Model 915 is a red hot seller right now, and that should continue." Don Campbell of Federal Cartridge was the junior man of the group, coming aboard as director of sales just over a year and a half ago. "I came over from the grocery business because I wanted to be involved in hunting and shooting,"

Campbell said. "I wonder when I'm going to have the time to enjoy that?" Campbell said that Federal, while known as primarily a shotshell company just a decade ago, is now selling more centerfire ammunition than any other type. "All of our handgun ammo is selling tremendously well. At the same time, our premium rifle shell line is increasing Federal's presence in the market."

Campbell thanked the dealers for their interest and enthusiasm, but hoped that their next meeting would be in an outdoor venue. "I'd love to see us all together again," Campbell beamed. "But wouldn't it be great if it were out in the hills with rifles under our arms?"

When asked if Sports South would host this type of manufacturer-dealer forum again, Dickson replied, "We are already looking at that possibility."
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:sports arms dealers
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Words:1465
Previous Article:What's new in hunting? A hunting products round-up for the 1992 season.
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