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August 22, 2017

From the Counter: Dynamic Design Meets Intelligent Planning

By Peter B. Mathiesen

“From the Counter” is NSSF’s timely industry perspective from firearm retailers across the country. Our goal is to identify and highlight innovative market strategies that help retailers compete more successfully. Lessons learned will be drawn from an array of regions with diverse market economies in an era of political change. This month, we’ll visit a new retailer and range attracting Millennials in the heart of the Midwest.

Crossroads Shooting Sports, Johnston, Iowa

Opened in 2015, Crossroads Shooing Sports is an independent dealer located in northwest suburban Des Moines, just off the I35-80 corridor. The sizeable facility encompasses over 17,000 square feet. It includes an array of classrooms, a recently designed best-practices, 17-lane shooting range, and one of the largest retail firearms display spaces in Iowa. The store specializes in hunting, home defense and competitive shooting gear, and it is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.

CrossRoads Shooting Sports Shooting Range Customer

Designing with an Open Floor Plan

Opening in 2015, this retailer had a distinct advantage. It understood it must secure a unique position in the Des Moines marketplace to ensure longevity. It was clear that opening a new store would take resources and planning, but it had to start with the most fundamental question: “Was there a market?”

“After moving to the Des Moines area, my wife and I were mildly frustrated by the lack of shooting facilities. There was no place to shoot, except for the state ranges in our area,” said Tom Hudson, General Manager.

An earnest assessment of the local populous and retail competitors, combined with more than two-dozen store and range visits throughout the country, converged into a clarifying strategy.

“We designed the store without the 50-year-old male shooter in mind,” said Hudson.

A female, non-shooting, commercial designer was hired to design the facility. Unique, atmospheric cues were gathered from retailers like Starbucks, Apple and even luxury women’s clothing stores. The outcome was an uncluttered store and range with extraordinary ambient light. The women’s four-stall bathroom contains a vase of fresh flowers.

“It’s not that we don’t love our older shooters, but we know that a darkly lit, cluttered store with bars on the windows is simply not inviting to Millennials and Gen-Xers,” Hudson said.

One of the more expensive visual caveats to the store was the addition of viewing glass generously installed throughout the shooting lanes.

“We wanted customers to enjoy watching the events, while shooters utilized the range. While most ranges are dark and uninviting, ours are bright and welcoming,” said Hudson.

Crossroads Shooting Sports Open Floor Plan

Opening the Register Flow

One retail lesson Hudson learned from his research was that a single register becomes a pinch point in the retail sale.

“We wanted someone who dropped by for a box of ammo to be able to grab a box, pay and go. We understand that it can be frustrating to wait in line with three customers, two of whom may be filling out paperwork and slow down the register,” said Hudson. At Crossroads. there are multiple ways a sale can be closed, with or without the use of a counter and bulky register.

Still, while the store has learned that while the open floor plan keeps the customer engaged in shopping and shooting, there was a learning curve. Making sure patrons had short wait times required extra personnel.

Attracting New Shooters

Crossroads Shooting Sports Class RoomSmart retailers want and need to attract new customers. In 2017, the new shooter has been the gold that’s paying the bills at this retailer’s register. While handgun sales are up, rifles, ammo, hunting and even range time are flat or slightly down at this location. Web sales and transfers are steady, but not rising. Only handgun sales are on the rise, and Hudson attributed this sales trend to new customers — and once a new customer is in the door, Crossroads is confident that the first 9mm purchase will quickly turn into a second and third handgun purchase.

Since February, handgun sales are up from post-election highs by nearly 25 percent. By late-summer of this year, Hudson projected the new shooter would represent an average of 35 percent of the monthly handgun turns — more than half are women.

Without question, Hudson pointed out that friendly, knowledgeable service takes any retailer further. But he also attributes the store’s success two key retail strategies. First is providing an inviting environment to attract young, female shooters. Second is hiring a nationally known competitive female shooter to instruct and provide customer service to them.

Hosting Events to Engage Customers

The key to extending the buying habits of this new customer is to give them additional incentives to come and shoot. To attract and retain this demographic, this retailer hosts events. Special leagues, video simulators, Date Night shooting events and, most recently, Wine Tasting Night (wine is only consumed after shooting is done), create innovative reasons to be in and return to the store.

Respecting Political Savvy

The 2016 election year began in the state of Iowa. Crossroads made sure to invite every candidate to the range for some target time. Hudson pointed out they are serious defenders of the Second Amendment.

Although the store has enjoyed political celebrities like Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz shooting at its range, the staff is sensitive to and does not engage in political rhetoric. Its goal is to welcome shooters from the other side of the aisle.

“Yes, we have Democrats who are regular shooters at our range and in the store. We feel that it’s critical they are treated with respect and dignity,” Hudson said.

Maintaining Discretion

While social media plays a daily role in this store’s marketing, it is implemented with the customers’ privacy in mind. Not all customers want to be a part of social exposure.

“We have clients who are wealthy, and we have clients who are working class. Not everyone wants to be displayed on social media. We feel the key is to treat all of our customers with dignity,” said Hudson.

Lesson Learned from the Counter

Crossroads Shooting Sports SignAlmost any retailer would like the opportunity to start fresh, utilizing current retail trends and attracting cutting edge demographics, and not many retailers have the opportunity to renovate their store to achieve industry best practices as Crossroads has done. Yet there are a number of lessons to be learned from this retailer’s experiences over the past year.

The first is to conduct research continually to assess the retail landscape. Identify your store’s strengths, challenges, and opportunities to occupy a unique, strategic niche that continues to make the cash register ring.

Second, identify your core customer and determine the key demographic/s you want to attract. Clarify the amenities that are valuable to those constituents. Provide knowledgeable staff and host events and experiences where they feel welcome and safe. If you’re looking to add more women shooters to retail tallies, visit and adopt a high-end clothing retailer perspective.

Third, be friendly, nonjudgmental and listen to the customers’ wants and needs. Make sure you have staff that treats them like family. If you want to attract younger and new shooters, keep in mind they are often looking for new experiences while they move in groups.

Fourth, keep your store clean, organized and well lit. It’s important for your customers to feel safe on the retail floor, on the range and as they walk into and out of the store.

Finally, while marketing and promotional efforts change monthly at this store, Hudson reminds retailers to keep your eyes on the big picture. By making the firearms experience feel safe, fun, and inviting, his store has attracted and retained a lucrative new demographics’ support.

You might also like: 10 Ways to Celebrate National Shooting Sports Month

Own or operate a shooting range? Apply for NSSF’s Star-Rating Range Program.

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