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April 3, 2018

From the Counter: AZFirearms

By Peter B. Mathiesen

From the Counter” is NSSF’s timely industry perspectives realized from firearm retailers across the country. Our goal is to identify and highlight innovative market strategies helping retailers compete more successfully. Lessons learned will be drawn from an array of regions with diverse market economies during this era of political change. This month we visit with an independent retailer on the west side of the Phoenix metro area.

AZFirearms, Avondale, Arizona

Often called “The Biggest Little Gun Store in Arizona,” this small, tightly inventoried retailer in western suburban Phoenix keeps 1,000 firearms packed into just 1,000 square feet of selling space. An additional 4,000 square-foot space is used as an auction house twice a month on the first and third Tuesdays. Six employees at the firearms store work Tuesday through Friday 10:00 a.m. 6:00 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The shop is closed on Sunday and Monday.

The firearm mix leans heavily toward historical military firearms, MSRs, pistols and vintage revolvers. Sporting long rifles and high-grade sporting shotguns are also in the sales rotation. This retailer rarely stocks lower-price-point firearms.

Finding Their Ground

Dan and Cheryl Todd came to the shooting sports industry after selling another business. The concept of combining their love of history, collecting and the shooting sports has morphed into a sustainable living.

AZFirearms - Cannon - Rifles

As they traveled, they purchased notable firearms to add to their private collection. Once they had amassed enough inventory to fill a store, they secured a piece of property on the outskirts of Western Phoenix. They then began to renovate the space for a retail store and museum.

“The retail building was barely over 1,200 square feet. This set us on a course to be extraordinarily particular about our inventory. When you don’t have much space, every SKU is a question,” said Dan Todd, Owner.

While they were completing the majority of the construction of the retail store, it became apparent that their plan had to change.

“Once the retail building was done and the museum structure was cleaned out, we were simply out of cash,” said Dan.

The lack of operating capital was a serious concern. They decided the quickest way to raise money was an auction.

“Our first auction included a few impressive firearms, coins and run-of-the-mill household items. We had participated in enough auctions that I believed we could pull it off. The good news? We did so well right out of the gate, we quickly surmised that this should be a regular event,” he said.

And with that, the museum was tabled. Today, the auction service is an integral part of the business. The couple sells rare firearms, coins and a notable collection of antiques, as well as high-grade collectibles. The bimonthly event attracts an average of 400 customers and has become a destination for clients from more than 500 miles away.

AZFirearms - Pot Og Gold Auction

While the auction business can be a combative experience for a consumer,  Dan says that it’s all about fair trade.

“We’re happy to guide new customers. We always offer a flexible experience that never feels abusive or argumentative,” he said. He also noted that selling what you know is the best way to stay honest and create competitive value.

Feeding the Register

This business has found a way to complement both sides of the income stream: The auction house feeds the store, and the store feeds the auction house.

“We’ll buy out collections, sell them in the store or list them at auction depending on the needs of the client. This provides options and a flexible outlet to meet the needs of each customer,” Dan said.

He expressed that one of his greatest joys is when they can take the burden away from someone who is closing an estate. “Oftentimes, the executor is unsure of the value of a collection or how to sell the firearms,” he said. To maximize sales, the Todds offer the opportunity to buy large collections outright or to sell individual pieces at auction.

Many of the firearms have extraordinary stories, and Dan said he is always just a little sad to see them leave.

“When we find a buyer for a truly historical firearm, I’m a little torn watching it depart the store. But, I’m also pleased by knowing the item has found an appreciative home,” he said.

Adopting Best-Practices Standards

One of the tools this retailer uses to keep his employees aware of business best practices is discussing the scenarios in one of the SHOT Business magazine’s most popular column.

AZFirearms - Gunsmith - Pistols

“After we receive each issue of SHOT Business, we sit down and discuss the magazine’s column ‘The Undercover Shopper.’ It gives us ways to list the mistakes that we don’t want to have happened when a customer walks into our store. Of course, it also reminds us of the kinds of behind-the-counter behaviors that drive sales and best relationships with any customer,” said Dan. He added that although the poor behavior stories can be entertaining, they are a sobering reminder of how not to treat a customer.

Filling the Airways

Although getting behind a microphone is not the norm for many shooting sports retailers promoting their businesses, it is for Dan and Cheryl Todd.

“We started with a short, 15-minute segment that today has blossomed into a two-hour podcast with worldwide distribution,” Dan said.

While Dan says that it has been a great way to promote their store and auction, the show has been an even better experience to share this family’s passion for the shooting sports.

“We concentrate on the fun and diversity in our industry. We make sure that anyone who’s listening knows that they’re welcomed into our sport. We make a point to answer their questions with no judgment while offering encouragement,” Dan said.

Lesson Learned from the Counter

  • While a museum and auction house may share some of the same items, the difference between profit and operation is extreme. This retailer was savvy enough to pivot and change his plan when the needs of the business unexpectedly changed.
  • Delivering a high standard of service that can be easily communicated to your employees is key when trying to facilitate change at the retail counter. In this case, the retailer has written and entertaining examples that employees enjoy hearing while learning experientially.
  • Dan Todd is passionate about the inventory he and his wife have crafted and maintained. He demonstrates and translates that passion into sales by sharing the compelling historical story of the firearm during the sale. Driven by limited retail space, this retailer never stocks a SKU casually.
  • Broadcasting podcasts for this retailer have been a practical extension of their retail advertising. While it can take a time commitment, someone with the knowledge, desire and little out-of-pocket investment can achieve impressive results.

You may also be interested in: From the Counter: Sidney’s Department Store and Uniforms

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Tags: auction house AZ firearms from the counter history long guns military MSR museum pistols podcasts rare firearms selling shooting sports shot business sntiques sporting shotguns staff training store management Undercover Shopper vintage revolvers

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