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Succeeding today! RSR Wholesale has been there, done that, surviving and succeeding in tough times. Here are their savvy success tips.

Has the firearms industry gone into a slump from which it will never recover? Not according to the leaders at RSR Wholesale Guns Inc. They refuse to allow the pessimists to gain the upper hand. RSR President Bob Steger and V.P. Michael Saporito believe the shooting industry controls its own destiny.

According to Steger and Saporito, all that is needed is using standard business practices with an aggressive approach and a desire to succeed. These are the principles RSR has used to grow from a fledgling operation into one of the nation's premier firearms distributors.

Humble Beginnings

RSR started modestly in a two-car garage in Rochester, N.Y., in 1977.

"In the beginning we bought our goods from other wholesalers and learned by watching and emulating the larger firms, as nothing succeeds like success," said Steger.

Over time, RSR picked up some well-known names like Dan Wesson and Harrington & Richardson. and also a few accessory lines.

"What really propelled us to grow was our realization that a great demand existed for faster shipping," Steger said. "Our dealers were constantly telling us they would lose sales as consumers were not willing to wait several weeks for their desired purchases to get shipped to their local gunshop."

RSR became the first distributor to advertise same-day shipping. The secret, said Steger, was to maintain an adequate inventory and offer it at competitive prices.

"We became known as the place for inventory selection, competitive price and fast delivery -- everything a dealer could want from a distributor," Steger said. "Fast delivery became our hallmark and the rest is history."

Two months after opening, RSR moved out of the two-car garage to its first warehouse in Rochester and by the end of its first year, sales had approached the $800,000 mark.

Today & Tomorrow

"The future is really in our hands. Business is not bad unless you make it so." Steger said. "Presently, there is a funnel effect taking place where manufacturers are attempting to force a large amount of product down a narrow consumer pipeline.

"In addition, retailers have to do more in the way of promoting their businesses to keep the product line open. There are lots of strategies dealers can employ to move more merchandise and ensure their own economic prosperity."

Insider Tips

The 4473 FFL forms, Saporito points out, is a ready-made marketing tool. It has the buyer's name, address and age. This can be used to bring the customer back into the store.

"General mailings can be sent out to all gun buyers whenever there is a sale or other firearm-related promotion taking place," Saporito said. "By looking at the type of gun purchased, targeted mailings can be prepared which offer promotions on products related to that firearm.

"For example, purchasers of target rifles or pistols could be sent a mailing offering special discounts on target shooting supplies. Buyers of concealable handguns could be offered a deal on holsters and self-defense ammunition. Buyers of double-barrel shotguns can be enticed into returning to your store by sending a card touting the variety of upland shooting gear."

Age-specific mailings could be prepared as well, Saporito added. The birth dates listed on the 4473 could be used to send out cards at the appropriate time of year wishing customers a happy birthday and offering 10 percent off regular prices in celebration of their birth date.

Saporito also suggests sending out promotional materials highlighting specific products most likely to appeal to consumers by their age brackets.

"If you've sold a number of high-end products, such as over/under shotguns, then you already have a pool of customers who are looking for premium-priced accessories," said Saporito. "The promotional possibilities when using FFL data are almost endless."

Look Beyond Your Store

Another key to success in a tough market is networking in the local business community, according to Steger. It's a way of discovering what works for other businesses.

"Ask questions of other retailers in your area. Find out what they are doing to draw customers into their stores. There are common strategies that can be employed whether one is retailing firearms or floral arrangements to increase sales volume," Steger said. "Once you become friendly with your business neighbors, you may realize you can join together with your fellow merchants in launching joint promotions."

Another common pitfall retailers fall into, says Steger, is selling based on price alone.

"Dealers should concentrate more on their ability to offer selection, advice and service - particularly service after the sale," said Steger. "Make sure your staff is knowledgeable, not only about the products they sell, but also about local hunting seasons and regulations. Be able to direct those new to the shooting sports to a place to shoot. Becoming the source of information in your area will keep customers coming back to your store. Once inside, a good percentage will make impulse buys."

Other tips Steger says dealers should consider include offering some gunsmithing services, such as scope mounting. This shows the customers you are serious about being in the business and you are willing to perform service after the sale. It also gives the firearms enthusiast reason to come back to your shop and not go somewhere else for his shooting needs. Steger suggests that if a dealer doesn't have the ability to perform gunsmithing in his shop, arrangements should be made with an outside 'smith to handle the work. Key: make sure the person selected is competent, as your name and reputation depend on it.

Get Marketing Savvy

Advertising is an essential part of doing business and firearm dealers need to allocate a portion of their budget to advertising.

"All businesses need to advertise - not only to bring in new customers but to remind past shoppers to come back," said Saporito. "Local media isn't as expensive as many think. Particularly good rates are available on cable television and in radio advertising. Just putting an ad in the Yellow Pages is not enough, as it is too passive. Dealers must think in terms of pro-active advertising, such as offered by electronic media."

Don't forget about help from your biggest suppliers.

"Most major manufacturers have co-op advertising dollars ready and waiting, as coop programs have been greatly underused. All the retailer really has to do is ask for it, and a large portion of their local advertising expenditures will be reimbursed by manufacturers," Saporito said.

Other excellent promotional vehicles are events and seminars within the store, or even out in the parking lot, according to Saporito. Most of the major manufacturers have reps who will conduct product demonstrations for customers. Consideration should also be given to holding hunter education and concealed carry license permit classes. This brings in new consumers.

"Doing some research on the preferences and habits of various groups of shooters will also reap sales opportunities," Steger said. "Sending out a notice to your wingshooting customers about the new 'bird shooting' book section you have started will likely have these shooters flocking back to your store. Why? Research shows this group of hunters tends to be better educated and loves to read about their sport. In addition, some dealers have found that book signings by the books' authors have worked well in drawing crowds."

Join The Computer Age

In keeping with their philosophy of up-to-the minute service, RSR is on the World Wide Web:

"While only a small number of firearms dealers use computers, to succeed in the 21st century, dealers will have to become computer literate and computerize their inventory," Steger advised. "Even if they only have a very basic computer system, a dealer can hire a knowledgeable person to input all of their customers' names onto a mailing list for about ten cents per name. This computerized list can then be used to do mass mailings."

In a parting bit of advice, Steger recalled the market conditions during the recession of 1982. Then, the shooting business slowdown was much like today.

"The shooting sports industry was really hurt and the overall market declined significantly," Steger said "Competition intensified between wholesalers causing prices and profits to drop and same-day service became the standard for shipping. But a new era had begun. Those who wanted to stay in the game had to play by new rules. Companies who marketed and promoted survived; those who could not, disappeared."


* Use 4473 FFL forms as a marketing tool.

* Network in the local business community.

* Concentrate on selection and service - not price.

* Advertise on radio. Take advantage of manufacturers' co-op programs.

* Hold events and seminars.

* Get computerized.


RSR Wholesale Guns Inc. 4405 Metric Dr P.O. Box 4300 Winter Park, FL 32793 (407) 677-1000 (800) 541-4867 Fax: (407) 677-4489

RSR Wholesale Guns West 4700 Aircenter Cir. P.O. Box 71540 Reno, NV 89502 (702) 827-2111 (800) 634-4867 Fax: (702) 827-2380

RSR Wholesale Guns West 1450 Post & Paddock Road P.O. Box 535097 Grand Prairie, TX 75053 (972) 602-3131 (800) 752-4867 Fax: (972) 602-0727

RSR Wholesale Guns Midwest 8817 W. Lynx Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53225 (414) 461-1111 (800) 832-4867 Fax: (414) 461-9836

RSR Wholesale Guns 21 Trolley Circle P.O. Box 60679 Rochester, NY 14606 (716) 426-4380 (800) 458-4867 Fax: (716) 426-3814
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Author:Hausman, Robert
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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