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June 6, 2019

From the Counter: Cabin Fever Sporting Goods, Victoria, Minnesota

By Peter B. Mathiesen

“From the Counter” is NSSF’s timely industry perspectives from firearm retailers across the country. Our goal is to identify and highlight innovative market strategies helping retailers compete more successfully. Lessons learned are drawn from an array of regions with diverse market economies in an era of political change. This month we visit a retailer in suburban southeast Minneapolis.

Cabin Fever Sporting Goods, Victoria, Minnesota

This general sporting goods store stocks a mix of tackle, archery, and outerwear within its 6,000 square feet. The shooting department alone encompasses 1,500 of that total, sporting more than 600 guns in stock, including 75 handguns and a large number of custom and mid- to high-grade sporting shotguns and rifles.

Cabin Fever has three full-time employees and two part-timers at the firearms counter. The store is open seven days a week.

A Niche Market Supports the Bottom Line — and Community

Within the last eight years, high school trap teams have expanded dramatically in suburban Minneapolis. This growing area sport has impacted Cabin Fever’s spring bottom line notably, and to attract and support this niche market, Cabin Fever helps these young shooters advance in the sport.

“It starts with committing to help the parents and the schools and supporting the events. We sponsor most of the raffles and events put on in the area. We buy a lot of ammo and sell it to them with very little markup,” said Jeff Byrne, Owner.

One of the services this retailer performs is storing shells on the floor for students to pick up.

“Many of the schools really don’t want the responsibility of storing their shotgun ammunition. We sell them the shells and often inventory it on our site for them. This way the student and their parents come into the store with greater frequency — and those visits often trigger a purchase,” Byrne said.


Catering to this market has been a boom for Cabin Fever. Sales from trap guns and accessories often surpass spring handgun sales.

“It has been nice having another segment to market to in the spring. Although handgun sales remain strong in the spring, they have fallen since the last election,” he said.

What has impressed this retailer is the number of parents that walk in the door never having any connection with a firearm before their student joined the trap team. “These parents are hauling kids to events, buying guns and safely storing a firearm in their home. Many of them are complete urbanists. They haven’t had a firearm in a family home since their grandparent or even longer,” he said. “After a season or two, the parents realize that ownership of a firearm is a positive experience. Often, they also start shooting,” Byrne said.

Investing in Full-Time Staff Pays Off

While part-time employees are the go-to solution to manage costs for many successful retailers, this store has found part-timers difficult to schedule.

“Our part-timers are usually older or very young. We’ve found they both have the same problem: They don’t want to work on weekends or holidays, they don’t want to go to shooting tournaments, and they too often want to take off early because of a family event,” said Byrne. “For us, it’s just easier to add a full-time employee and pay the benefits. We really need staff, especially for weekends and holidays. The part-timers have just not been very flexible,” he said.

Another factor that deters part-time staff is that this store opens early to accommodate its shooting clientele.

“During deer season, it still surprises us how many people are at the door when we open at 6:00 in the morning. It takes a dedicated employee to show up that early,” Said Byrne.

Cabin Fever has had a few employees work alongside them for up to 18 years. On average, most stay from five to six years. “We try to have a comfortable and friendly work environment and there’s not a lot of room for employees with a negative attitude,” said Byrne.

Building Customer Loyalty

Byrne emphasized that sharing knowledge about guns with customers is always one of the staff’s goals. Little things make a difference.

“We love to show a kid how to clean a shotgun or a new 1911 owner how to dismantle a pistol. It sells accessories, reduces repairs and keeps the firearms in far better condition,” he said. “By taking the time to invest in our customers, they know we care about them. Most memorably, it makes the customer feel reasonably endeared to our store and builds loyalty,” Byrne said.

Spotting and Getting Ahead of Emerging Trends

In addition to high school trap, one of the other trends gaining momentum at this location is distance bolt-rifle shooting.

“It has been a surprise, even to me. There are so few places to shoot anything over 100 yards in this area. Most of our customers spend time in the western Dakotas. That’s where these rifles are taken and fired. I can tell, you based on ammunition sales, they shoot them frequently,” he said.


Byrne added that any bolt gun in the store that comes in 6.5 Creedmoor attracts attention quickly. This retailer reported some customers are purchasing two, even during the spring months.

Capturing foot traffic for an array of accessories after a transfer is another top goal for this retailer. In the last few years, the store has found gun transfers are valuable traffic builders.

“We charge $35 to do a transfer. We make sure we are friendly and inviting to customers when they ask for this service. The reality is, we can’t sell a Smith Shield for $250. However, we can with great frequency sell a holster, ammunition and a cleaning kit for the vast majority of transfers we do,” Byrne said.

Cabin Fever views these transfers as an absolute chance to gain a new client.

“In my mind, that’s an opportunity. And, we didn’t pay to advertise to them. Most of the time, we’ll sell $75 to $100 worth of accessories with the purchase, where, of course, the margins are considerably higher,” said Byrne.

Lesson Learned from the Counter

Moving from spring into early summer sales can be a slow period for some retailers. By recognizing trends and taking advantage of changes in the local shooting sports community, this retailer is capitalizing on significant opportunities.

  • Identifying Unique Sales Opportunities — While product diversity can always strengthen a retailer, finding and magnifying the right new trend leads to extra sales. By extending support and fostering new trap shooters and their parents, as well as an emerging audience of distance shooters, this store is finding rewards and profitability.
  • Taking the Extra Step to Build Customer Loyalty — Teaching a customer how to clean a gun, helping them select the right accessory, getting involved in sponsoring events and asking thoughtful questions demonstrates this retailer is there to help. These practices provide a solid foundation to build a base of loyal customers.
  • Enhancing Flexibility with Full-Time Employees — Part-time employees need to be available to fill in when and where the store requires them. Yet, this store found part-timers have not filled that role suitably and made the sound decision to invest more in benefits and a working environment that attracts full-timers and keeps them on the payroll for years.

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