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To be successful keep your eye on the competition.

Well, here it is again - almost hunting season. That means I should probably be giving you some pointers about how to advertise all the neat hunting guns and paraphernalia stacked on your shelves and display racks. But I'm not going to do that, and for good reason. Let's face facts: the hunting market is shrinking. Maybe not dramatically. But that's the bastion of the firearms industry - that cornerstone of so many retail gun dealers' businesses for so long is becoming a less significant part of the overall American shooting sports scene. That's not to say that there are no more hunters around to buy guns and gear, because there most certainly are. But that reduced demand for hunting supplies is the best reason I know for an aggressive shooting sports retailer to look for new ways to expand his market through new product lines and new methods of promotion that reach new shooters.

One direction of new market development which is being successfully pursued by several retail dealers is the competition arena. "Wait a minute," you say. "I already stock a few trap guns, vests, clay birds and trap loads. And I usually keep a fair supply of wadcutter ammo and bullseye targets on hand." Sorry to be the one to have to break the news to you. But if you're still laboring under the misconception that trap, skeet and paper bullseye punching are America's primary competition shooting sports, it's time to crawl out of your cave and say hello to a more contemporary lifestyle.

Lots of exciting new competition games are available today for shooters looking for new and different challenges, and several of them are rapidly gaining advocates and showing tremendous growth, so they're well beyond the flash in the pan" stage. Shotgunners are flocking to the many sporting clays courses that are cropping up all over the country. Avid pistoleros are slinging zillions of rounds of ammo various types of action/combat/practical competitions, including IPSC (through USPSA), PPC and bowling pin matches, not to mention a continued interest in metallic silhouette competition. Riflemen haven't been left out, either, with such riflery opportunities as high power service rifle matches, practical/combat rifle competitions, and various smallbore and even air rifle events claiming ever-larger numbers of devotees. And each and every one of those sports requires specialized equipment. For a retailer like you, that translates into a golden opportunity to cash in on the current competition craze by stocking what the competitors want and letting them know you have it.

How do you go after the

competition market?

Your first step should be carefully researching which types of competitions are hot and/or gaining ground in your area. Contact all local shooting ranges and gun clubs and make some investigatory trips to local ranges yourself to see first-hand what some of these new sports are all about. Talk to the shooters to see what kind of equipment they're using; read every consumer gun magazine you can lay your hands on - the ads as well as the articles - and keep asking questions. If you're not sure what kinds of competitions are held near you, contact some of the national organizations that sanction local events and ask for information about local affiliated clubs. The idea here is to learn as much about competition opportunities within your retail market. Then you can begin to plan which kind(s) of merchandise to carry so you can satisfy the existing demand.

Next, you need to start promoting all that neat new whiz-bang stuff you're carrying. Like advertising or promoting any specialized merchandise, marketing competition equipment is not all that difficult if you learn to start thinking like the end user - in this case, a competitor. Ask yourself-. "If I was a serious clay target shooter (or IPSC or silhouette shooter) what kind of promotion would have the most impact on me?" Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking along those lines.

Become a competitor yourself and encourage your employees to follow suit. If you and/or your staff members start showing up at local matches, using equipment from your store with your logo on the back of a shooting shirt or on the front of a cap, you'll become known pretty quickly as a prominent supplier of the shooting sports. You'll also learn the parlance of the sport, keep abreast of changing developments, and make nose-to-nose contact with lots of prospective customers.

- Become a sponsor and/or prize donor at local matches. Don't look at donating prizes just as a "gimme." There's some real promotional value there, particularly if the club officials will return the favor by giving you free advertising space in their match program or allowing you to hang a banner with you store logo during the match

- Set up displays at those local matches that will allow it. As with the sponsorship and participation angles mentioned above, your time and investment will be returned many times over by the inside track you'll gain with the competitors to whom you're catering.

- If you sell or rent video tapes, make sure you stock and promote a good selection of the competition videos available through various suppliers. Play them in your store, too. Exposing a guy to a competition video is a great way to give him the fever to become a competitor himself

- You and your key staff members should become active members of every local club that promotes the type of shooting game for which you'll be selling equipment. Once again, that gives you an inside track on what's going on in the sport, and it will probably present you with opportunities you wouldn't have as a non-member, like being mentioned in the club's newsletter, and being able to propose ideas of your own that might be to your mutual benefit.

- Use all the help that's offered by the manufacturers of the equipment you stock. Most of the suppliers of competition are pretty aggressive marketers, and many will be willing to provide you with professionally produced ad slicks, posters, and other neat advertising materials.

- Give some consideration to sponsoring clinics and seminars related to specific shooting disciplines, either on your own or in conjunction with a local range or club. Offer instruction, display products, and let new shooters try their luck. If you tie in with a local club, the members will probably do most of the leg work, and they'll probably have a pretty good idea where to find qualified instructors.

- When you advertise competition equipment, give your ads a competition flavor. And choose media that's most likely to reach competition shooters. I'm talking about going beyond your traditional newspaper ads and experimenting with different opportunities. For instance: A lot of action shooters, in particular, admit to having a "need for speed." Fast cars, fast bikes and fast boats often appeal to them almost as much as fast guns. So capitalize on that cross-over appeal, and try advertising on commercial and cable TV shows about auto racing, motorcycle racing, even horse racing. Use your imagination and don't be restricted by your past practices. These are competition shooters you are trying to reach - not hunters. And they're a different breed of cat.

The key to successful promotion of competition equipment is to think like a competitor. Then you need to learn to be aggressive and act like a winner. If you're smart and a quick learner, your trophy will be a better bottom line.
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Title Annotation:advertising and marketing tips for the retail gun dealer
Author:Grueskin, Robert
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Previous Article:Archery review '89.
Next Article:Receiver sights are not so obsolete.

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