May 29, 2015
Airguns and Outreach Can Improve Your Bottom Line (Yes, Airguns!)
An excellent article on airguns and ways retailers can add these fun-to-shoot products to their inventory and gain new customers will be in the July/August issue of Shot Business. We got a sneak peek at that article here at NSSF offices, and author Jock Elliot did a tremendous job of highlighting the value in this often overlooked sporting goods category. In fact, his article is so well thought out, it got us to thinking.
Airguns often get dismissed as mere “toys,” which they most certainly are not. (Airguns, it should not have to be said, need to be handled with all the same safety precautions and care a firearm does.) Many think they begin and end with the nostalgic Red Ryder, something that couldn’t be further from the truth. Airguns today run the gamut from equipment simple and easy enough to use to accommodate introduction to the youngest new shooter on up to complex, ultra-accurate, precision shooters utilized by some of the world’s most competent target shooters. Taking that breadth of merchandise into consideration, where could airguns fit into your inventory and business model?
Aside from the high-end competition airguns made by prestigious firms like Anschutz and Walther, which you’d stock only if you were in an area with a dedicated concentration of shooters participating at a level necessitating such tools, your retail store or range has a wealth of airguns to choose from, many of which Jock Elliott highlights in his SHOT Business article. The bigger question isn’t so much what airguns to carry, but how to attract shooters who will buy them. Let’s look at a few ways to do just that.
Without a doubt, youth shooters are a tremendous opportunity. Airguns are easy on the budget for parents, and the lack of recoil and noise make airguns the perfect introductory tools for even very young shooters. With the appropriate pellet trap and a solid backstop, they can also be shot in places traditional firearms can’t; many solid-walled basements of stone or brick have been used safely over the years, both for casual practice and serious competition. All these things make airguns flexible and user-friendly — and highly attractive to adults who know their child’s whims can turn to baseball or dance lessons in the blink of an eye.
Promote your range or retail store (or both in a partnership) by hosting birthday party airgun excursions for kids (complete with lots of adult supervision and safety instruction, of course). You can use a variety of traditional paper bull’s-eyes, balloons and clay targets, all of which liven up a day on the range for young shooters. In his SHOT Business article, Jock Elliott really escalated the fun through using animal crackers (big-game hunting) and those tiny plastic toy dinosaurs you can pick up at the Dollar Store so that the kids can tell their friends they went “dinosaur hunting.” Either way, this is bound to be far more entertaining than that clown or magician most parents hire. Want to keep these kids coming back for more? Hold a contest for the first to break all the balloons or topple all the dinosaurs and give away gift certificates to your store or range.
We haven’t really gotten to summer yet, but this coming fall’s many game seasons are forefront on hunters’ minds. This is the season for practice, fine-tuning technique and accuracy, but we all know that with centerfire ammunition, that can be a pricey proposition. In fact, many say they’d practice more if it weren’t for the economics of it all. With supplies of .22 ammunition (or lack thereof) continuing to be a sore spot for both sellers and buyers, stocking a supply of good-quality, accurate airguns can fill that gap and keep your customers happily shooting away during the summer months.
In most cases, you’re going to have to really “sell” your adult customers on the value of airguns. This starts with you carrying models that adults will appreciate, certainly for their aesthetics, but also for their accuracy. When you carry airguns that fit both bills, you’ll need to educate your staff on their loading, unloading, firing and accessories, of course, but you’ll also need them to understand how these tools are useful to more experienced shooters. Remember, airguns are often dismissed as being “kids stuff,” so your staff will need to overcome those objections in a way that resonates with an adult audience. Consider things such as appropriate shooting distances and how wind still needs to be doped, how the reduced cost of shooting can allow their customers to shoot more, and how these low-recoil, low-noise tools can help them perfect their accuracy with their traditional firearms, much in the way a good .22 does.
For Teens and Tweens
What works for the adults is what will also work for the teen and tween crowd of shooters from novice to avid, though with a little tweaking. These youths may not need an airgun as well-rounded as one that interests an adult first-time airgun buyer, but they also don’t want their six-year-old little brother’s Red Ryder. Once you find a category of airguns suitable to this age group and agreeable to their parents’ wallets, then the selling point is the same: this is a super and inexpensive alternative to the .22, at least as much fun, and it’s a sport that has some pretty serious competition available for those teens looking to get more involved in regulated shooting sports.
This is the perfect age group for which to host an “Airgun Introduction Day” and an especially good way for a retailer that stocks airguns to partner with a local range for mutual benefit. The retailer can provide the appropriate guns, with staff from both providing instruction and supervision. Both businesses can share in the community advertising, which should encourage or even require parents (the ones with the buying power) to attend with each teen. Both can also drive return business by providing gift certificates to their facilities to the winner of a small shooting contest at the end of the instruction day or for a participant ticket randomly drawn from a hat. You could even give away an air rifle if you draw a large crowd, especially if you’ve charged a small fee to attend the event. However, consider holding such an event free to the community as part of your outreach efforts and safety programs. Local newspapers tend to look favorably on such efforts, which can provide you with lots of free press and enhance your business’ reputation within your community.