November 29, 2017
From the Counter: Final Flight Outfitters, Union City, Tennessee
“From the Counter” is the NSSF’s timely industry perspective from firearms 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.
Final Flight Outfitters — Union City, Tennessee
Resting on the eastern edge of the Mississippi Flyway, this western Tennessee retailer is located 50 miles south of Paducah, Kentucky, and 110 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee.
With more than 25,000 square feet of floor space, the store stocks an average of 4,500 firearms. This number includes up to 1,200 shotguns at any given time. There is a 35-yard outdoor shooting range used by patrons, as well as a gunsmithing department.
Final Flight employs an average of 45 full- and part-time staffers, including two full-time gunsmiths. Winter hours are 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.
Ringing the Register with Hard-Hunting Customers
While many stores focus these day on specialty home-defense markets, Final Fight is a hunter’s retailer. Its inventory of hunting guns and hunting accessories significantly surpasses large big-box stores.
In addition to being one of the most notable purveyors of shotguns in the country, the store is renowned in the industry for its high-traffic turns on steel shot and decoys. On average, the store turns more than a million pounds of steel shotgun shells annually.
While the elections last year were a concern, this store was ready.
“We had a significant reserve of both MSRs [modern sporting rifles] and handguns in inventory and were confident we could acquire more quickly. With the election of Trump, it has turned out that our sales haven’t dropped much after the election,” said Billy Hazelwood, Firearms Manager and gunsmith.
Final Flight’s customers hunt and hunt hard. While other stores have seen a decline in hunting guns sales, this retailer’s register has remained active for long guns, shotguns, handguns and MSRs.
Selling with Passion and Experience at the Counter
“We have always managed to keep exceptionally knowledgeable staff at our counters, and MSRs are no different. Our MSR manager is absolutely consumed by semi-auto rifle performance. His enthusiasm for distance shooting and hunting with an auto-loading rifle is infectious. It’s as if he wills the customer into a sale,” said Hazelwood.
Another reason MSR sales are steady is the store’s accessories program.
“No other product in the store has the number of accessories that MSRs have. They are profitable SKUs for us and extremely motivating to the customer. For that reason, we install them for free. Often, while the customer waits. Few customers can modify their guns in a practical manner; oftentimes they damage the rifle in the process. By doing the installations ourselves, it makes the accessory sale efficient and more frequent,” he said.
As a bonus, once the custom modifications are complete on one gun, it can be easy to sell the customer another rifle with the goal of a different performance spec. In turn, this retailer is selling an additional rifle with more accessories.
Another installation service includes the “scope counter.” If a customer buys a scope, the store mounts it and bore-sights it for free while the customer watches. During the holiday season, this counter will often turn nearly a dozen scopes a day.
Unpacking the Holidays — Gift Cards Drive Sales
In western Tennessee, waterfowl season, deer season, Thanksgiving and Christmas condense into a three-month period. It continues until the closing waterfowl season during the first week of February. This store knows this is a time to staff up and offer promotional sales. Final Flight has found gift cards are an efficient way to make a customer happy and to support multiple return trips to the store.
“We live to sell gift cards. They are the best way for a loved one to buy a gift for an active hunter or shooter who probably already has more gear than can be stored in a garage. There is no practical way for the friend or spouse to know what they need,” said Hazelwood.
He added that typically the cards will be redeemed in February and March, often, with customers walking out of the store spending significantly more than the face value on the card. “After the season ends, our waterfowlers know what needs to be replaced or changed. It’s the best time to move inventory out of the store and capture another purchase,” he said. Hazelwood also noted that 10 to 15 percent of the cards are never redeemed.
Moving Product Quickly — Connecting with Customers on Social Media
While radio and print once ruled the media mix of this store’s marketing budget, Final Flight is now adapting its approach. This store has recognized that the cell phone dictates how to communicate and connect with customers.
“The only way our customer is going hear our radio spot is in the car. Any other time it’s all about the phone,” said Hazelwood.
Final Flight has dedicated a full-time employee to social media. At just seven months out of college, this employee adds multiple posts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat daily.
“We quickly found out just how effective these posts are. If we post a sale item or a product-use video, the product moves immediately — I mean within hours,” he said.
Hazelwood stated that he sees the program as a priority, so much so he has added another part-time staffer to the program.
Adopting High Standards to Vet Employees
Hazelwood takes his hiring seriously. From his perspective, it is one of the most important management aspects as a retailer.
“We vet our employees. They are background checked and rechecked. We contact every reference and then some. We sell firearms. It is critical that our employees are honest, diligent and meet the strictest legal requirements,” he said.
Once the right employee is found, their job is simple. Be friendly, ask to help and stay with the customer until they leave.
“Our employees know this backwards and forwards. Believe me, they do not want to see the grumpy old-school gunsmith come out!” said Hazelwood, referring to himself and adding, “And they will if they just let a customer wander through the store without an instant greeting or a sincere ask for help. I understand some customers just like to look. If that’s the case, the staff member needs to give them room. However, the purchaser always has a question,” he said.
The store has learned to train and foster loyal employees. It has a long-standing history of hiring part-time college students and then offering them full-time positions after they graduate.
Lesson Learned from the Counter
This retailer is using a valuable matrix to drive sales.
- Moving MSRs — Investing in an enthusiastic counter-sales employee consumed with auto-loading rifle performance results in measurable MSR sales.
- Installing Accessories — Offering custom modifications and installing them for free as the customer waits engages customers and increases the bottom line.
- Selling Gift Cards — For moving inventory after the holidays, gift cards capture repeat and increased sales.
- Adopting Social Media — Committing resources and staff members to social media promotions drives customers to your store.
- Fostering Customer Relationships — Hiring friendly sales staff to address customers’ questions in the store leads directly to sales at the counter. Remember, the members of your sales staff are the profit center of your store. Choose wisely.