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Take a walk on the Wild's side; Wild's sports shop.

When six members of the Fligge family bought Orangevale, Calif.-based Wild's Sports in 1975, it was what brother Kevin called "a little bugger bait store." Today, Wild's is a large and prosperous retail firearms and fishing supplies outlet and one of the most professional gun stores in California.

According to the store's hunting manager, Phil Brelje, one of Wild's strengths is its ability to take advantage of the niche between small gun shops and the large retail chains. "The atmosphere we portray has a mom-and-pop attitude," he said, "but with the big-store selection."

The rifle selection ranges from all the familiar names such as Winchester and Remington to many of the smaller brands, including such names as Intermountain Custom and Kimber.

However, the pistol selection is the star of the store. "We carry just about everything in handguns. Our handgun display is one of the best around," Brelje said. The unique way in which the large collection of pistols is displayed makes the guns an easier sell. "The access to the rack makes buying a little easier," Phil said.

The quality of the pistol selection and display is part of a concentrated effort to move the store away from the traditional rifle market towards the pistol market. According to Kevin, the recent introduction of a 15-day waiting period in California has caused a significant increase in handgun interest. "We have been focusing on handguns because of the local political environment," he said. Customers seem to feel that there is less of a stigma attached to handguns than to rifles. "It is an attitude we are fighting," Kevin said.

One of the main effects of the waiting period is to cull the more serious customers from the curious aisle-strollers. "We are seeing a more dedicated participant due to the restrictions," Kevin said. "Before, you would have a guy buy a shotgun to go dove hunting with a friend -- that market is gone now.

Selling Guns Is Work, Year Round

Legislators are not the only problem that California's gun dealers have to worry about. The state has just finished its fifth year of a record-setting drought, and there is very possibly a sixth to come. Not that droughts are a new problem: "There has essentially been the threat of drought since we opened in 1975," Kevin said. However as the drought continues, hunting ranges get smaller and the seasons get shorter, thus cutting down on what is traditionally the heaviest sales period for gunshops.

In order to make up for the diminishing, seasonal sales, Wild's has had to become more aggressive in keeping a steady volume of sales throughout the year. "I don't think people are as seasonally inclined as they used to be," Kevin said. "It's year 'round. Part of that is how you promote -- we bang away 52 weeks a year, and we offer an incredible selection in our ads."

According to Kevin, Wild's has used several forms of advertising, including television and radio spots. He affirms that all of these advertising methods are profitable, but he has finally settled his advertising energies on the print media.

"Newspaper seems to be the most controllable and consistent medium." In keeping with this, Wild's advertises merchandise in both of the local newspapers: every week in The Sacramento Union and 40-50 weeks each year in The Sacramento Bee.

The main effort in advertising is to emphasize the store's spectacular selection of firearms and, simultaneously, the low prices. Even though Wild's low prices translate to a low profit on the sale of the individual rifles and pistols, they work to draw customers into the store. Once the customers are inside, the sales staff is able to sell accessories, which represent the largest profit.

"We sell the guns cheap and work on the add-on sales. They are very important to us," Phil said.

Wild's also uses direct-mail pieces to supplement their newspaper advertisements. Using a mailing list which is generated in-house by keeping track of all sales and inquiries, Kevin sends out an eight-page, newspaper-size flyer four to six times a year. These mailings, which appear similar to the newspaper ads, allow Wild's to make their pitch directly to the people who are most likely to buy guns and ammunition -- those who have already expressed some interest by coming into the store.

Profits Downstream

In keeping with the store's bait shop roots, Wild's gets nearly one-third of its sales from fishing gear. Approximately 40 percent of the 10,000-square-foot main showroom is devoted to a large fishing department, with its 1,600 display rods capable of outfitting even the most adventurous angler. "We can outfit people for marlin in Mexico or for halibut in Alaska," Kevin said.

Closer to home, the fishing tackle helps take advantage of the store's location on the way to Folsom Lake, Calif., one of the state's most visited parks, which Kevin credits for creating "an incredible flow of customers." Also, Kevin feels that the fishing side of his store helps to support the firearms sales by drawing additional outdoorsmen into the store. "We have always felt hunting and fishing are intimately related." he said.

Looking Ahead

Owner Kevin and manager Phil don't have the same visions of the future of the shooting industry. Phil sees an industry which is headed towards the more powerful. do-everything stores. "Larger, full-service stores is where I see the industry moving," he said. Such stores might deal in services such as gunsmithing and safety training which Wild's recommends out to other Sacramento businesses.

Kevin on the other hand, doesn't think that the industry has a well-defined direction. The industry is going to be the same as always -- there is going to be a mix depending on the population base," he said. "I don't think that any generalization is going to hold true."

Both men do agree, however, that Wild's has a solid place in the industry's future. Neither seems the slightest bit worried that Wal-Mart is opening a store near theirs. Phil, in fact, is too busy worrying about installing the new UPC checkout system to be frightened by competition. "UPC makes it easier all the way around: processing, inventory, everything," he said. "It's definitely going to be the wave of the future."

As Kevin pointed out, even successful stores like Wild's Sports have to make it a point to look to the future rather than resting on past glories.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Publishers' Development Corporation
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hunter, Bruce
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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