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June 21, 2018

“Embrace the Suck” — Turning the E-Commerce Annoyance Into Advantage

By Josh Fiorini

The dawn of the internet and the ensuing proliferation of high-speed data access upended long-established business models. For retailers, particularly small- to medium-sized brick-and-mortar stores, the expansion of e-commerce has often been one more in a series of blows.

As much as we might wish for a return to the “good old days,” fighting a changing world, one so focused on e-commerce, can be like trying to swim against a tsunami: It takes a lot of effort, can be downright dangerous and you still end up in the same spot.

The late Stephen Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” If the traditional retail model is going to survive the e-revolution, its operators are going to have to be very intelligent.

How can a traditional retailer take advantage of e-commerce? How can you ride the tsunami instead of swimming against it? There are solutions.

“Embrace the Suck”

Many military veterans will recognize that phrase and can probably recall a circumstance when they heard it, had to push through a difficult situation, and potentially even make that difficulty their ally. That phrase should resonate with any retailer or range owner who’s found the world of e-commerce daunting.

As e-commerce grows and evolves along with the technology that supports it, it is actually becoming viable at smaller and smaller scales. Where robust software and web infrastructure were once available only at major price tags that only major corporations would find feasible, every day now means new and more economical solutions being launched.

It is possible today for a business of any size to get online to sell their products. Because of that, it’s also possible to consider changing your vision from a local market to a national one. In other words, maintain your traditional in-store operations but also put your products online and capture sales from anyone, anywhere. A small investment in software and web design, combined with elbow grease taking inventory, pictures and some catchy product write-ups can transform your business from an exclusively brick-and-mortar operation to an online retailer with a nationwide presence and a “flagship location.”

Turn Annoyances into Opportunities

Regardless of how many firearms sales are initiated online, one ever-present requirement always brings them back into a store. Everyone who purchases a firearm online in the United States must have that item shipped to a licensed FFL retailer, after which they will fill out the Form 4473, have their background check completed and take possession in person. This is a fact well known to firearms retailers and, to many an anathema or, at a minimum, an annoyance. They view the sale as being lost, and somehow whatever transfer fee they charge doesn’t seem worth the effort.

But instead of thinking of it as a firearm sale someone else made, why not focus on the opportunity that has just presented itself? In the absence of e-commerce, you would not have had that firearm transfer take place in your store. But because it did, what you have now, without question, is a qualified and interested consumer standing at your counter. That sale has driven traffic, so take advantage of it! Transfers are a perfect opportunity to sell accessories, magazines, ammo and services, such as gunsmithing and training, all of which generally carry higher margins than the firearms themselves. Those who best take advantage of this kind of “annoyance” create bundles of those items and train their staff to sell them when someone comes in for a transfer. Some even offer a no-fee transfer in exchange for the purchase of an accessory or ammo bundle.

Making Purchase in FFL - e-commerce
Too many FFLs view firearms transfers from online sales as a sale they’ve lost. What they really have is an opportunity with a live person in their store who needs ammunition, accessories and even training — all of which likely have higher margins than the firearm itself. Sell beyond the gun!

Bottom line, your customer has a new firearm and is excited about it. They need to feed it and dress it up. They need a place to shoot it, and potentially need training with it. Position your products to address all these needs and it’s now an easy thing to turn that annoyance of a perceived lost sale into profit.

Adapting to change is all about looking for new ways to use your existing skills and talents in new circumstances. You can’t fight it, so figure out how to profit from the change.

About the Author
Josh Fiorini has a wealth of experience in manufacturing, business management, and finance both within and without the firearms industry. He was the CEO of PTR Industries, Inc., for seven years, and spent the first decade of his career in finance holding positions as an equity analyst and portfolio manager before starting his own hedge fund which led him to the firearms industry. This experience, along with a deep background in manufacturing, banking and private equity, has made him a sought-after contributor on numerous boards and discussion groups on political and economic issues. Currently, Fiorini invests his time and resources into non-profit initiatives and acts as a contributor and management consultant to various firms in the firearms industry. His activities have been reported in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today.

You may also be interested in: Turn Rate — A Firearm Retailer’s Best Friend for Getting Inventory “Right”

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