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September 19, 2019

From the Counter: Daryl’s Gun Shop, Inc., State Center, Iowa

By Peter B. Mathiesen

“From the Counter” is NSSF®’s timely industry perspectives from firearms retailers across the country. Our goal is to identify and highlight innovative market strategies to help retailers compete more successfully. Lessons learned are drawn from an array of regions with diverse economies. This month, I visited with a family-staffed, tightly run, small-town gun store in the Midwest.

Daryl’s Gun Shop, Inc., State Center, Iowa

Daryl's Gun ShopDaryl’s is a general sporting goods store stocking a mix of tackle, archery and outerwear within its 5,000 square feet. The shooting department encompasses the majority of the floor plan, with an inventory of more than 400 firearms, including nearly 300 handguns and a strong mix of mid- to high-grade sporting shotguns and rifles. Outside is a 300-yard rifle range and a trap course. An additional indoor shooting range resides in the basement.

Daryl’s has two full-time employees, with an occasional part-timer providing coverage during busier times. The store is open seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

It Started with a BB Gun

Daryl Schoppe originally started dismantling BB guns at the age of 10. The young man became so proficient at gun repair that when he graduated from high school he took over a building on the family property and opened a shop.

Adhering to a strong midwestern work ethic, Daryl went to work digging foundations and septic systems during the day, tooling guns in the evening. After Daryl married Marilynn, she took over day-to-day store operations while Daryl was off operating heavy equipment.

That was in the early ’70s. Few women managed guns shops then, but in short order, Marilynn became an ace at dismantling pistols, shotguns and various rifles.

Growth, Kids — and Big Shoes to Fill

After a few years passed, a large 5,000-square-foot building was added the Schoppe’s original footprint. As inventory grew, Marilynn became the store’s buyer and general overseer.

The couple had two children who grew up in the store working on weekends and evenings. Dana, their daughter, eventually went to work in the medical industry. Her brother, Dean, ran the excavation business and would help in the store when possible. But three years ago, an unexpected illness took Marilynn Shoppe’s life. This left the family scrambling to manage the store.

“At first, it wasn’t part of my plan to run the store. But my family needed me. I was one of the few people who knew the business well enough to step in and keep the store running,” said Dana Schoppe, now the store’s manager.

While Dana understood the day-to-day operations, the experience of stepping into her mother’s shoes was an eye opener.

“Just as it is with many family members or employees, sometimes you really don’t know what a great job they did, because they made it look easy,” she said. “The reality was my mom took care of so much more than many of us realized. The place ran smoothly, which was a testament to her heightened skill set.”

In Box, Out Box and Dust Rags

While Dana had a feel for the sales, buying, inventory and shipping and receiving, she still found there were daunting tasks in running the store’s everyday operations. The most massive was wading through a daily mound of paperwork.

“My mother was the sole keeper of all things relating to forms, filings and federal state paperwork,” she said. “I really had little idea of the massive time commitment the job required. I found that I had to come into the store early every day just to stay up on the process,” Schoppe said.

Another task that proved vexing was keeping the store clean and dusted. “I didn’t have a clue how big of a job keeping the place clean was,” she laughed.

Investing in Local High School Trap

A newer shooting segment keeping this store in the black has resulted from the renewed interest in high-school trap leagues.

“The school trap leagues have been a wonderful surprise. This is especially impressive, because our local school district had become so anti-gun,” Dana said. “The school’s constituency raised the awareness [of the sport] to the point our district had to get involved. Sure, it means great sales for shotguns, but most of all we love seeing families out on our trap field.

“This is an opportune moment to get high school’s talking about positive experiences with guns. We hope to turn the crucial conversation from an extreme negative to a positive,” she added.

Mindful Expansion

When asked about the clientele the store supports, Dana told me, “We know our customers, and we’ve always known them. Our shooters are repeat customers. Their families come to the store. In fact, they are our family and we treat them as such.”

That said, she is developing a greater selection of products for women, though she’s doing so cautiously.

“I’ve been so tempted to order product that I personally like. However, I know that’s a slippery slope. Case in point, I have handguns in our inventory that are some of our most popular sellers, but they’re less than my favorites. There’s a lesson in keeping track of demand and listening to the interests of your clientele. Just because I like a product doesn’t mean it will sell,” she said.

Finding the Place You Belong

While Marilynn’s death was shocking and consuming, her daughter has found a place where she belongs.

“At first, it was hard leaving my career in the medical profession,” Dana told me. “However, I’ve found comfort and love from my family while running the store. It’s wonderful to keep in touch with our customers and the regulars. But it’s spending time with my dad that has made the difference. Walking in the shop at 7:30 a.m. with him makes every minute in the store worthwhile,” she said.

Lessons Learned

  • Taking the Extra Step to Build Customer Loyalty — This retailer learned from day one that treating customers like family is a sound investment. That personal attention means customers have remained loyal for generations.
  • Choosing Product That Sells — While the buyer’s experience and passion for the shooting sports often affects inventory choices, it’s import to see the difference between customer trends and the buyer’s personal biases. When expanding product lines, consider giving the customers historically popular options first.
  • Consistent Hours Increase Sales — This retailer firmly believes that staying open is the ticket to strong sales. Customers love a consistent open and closing time that doesn’t change during the weekend.

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