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February 21, 2019

From the Counter: Shedhorn Outfitters

By Peter B. Mathiesen

“From the Counter” is NSSF’s collection of timely industry perspectives from firearm retailers across the country. Our goal is to identify and highlight innovative market strategies to help retailers compete more successfully. This month I visited with an independent retailer in the Rocky Mountain West. I spoke with owner Rob Gallentine a year ago, and what I learned then made me realize it was an excellent candidate for a “where are they now?” follow-up examining changes the company is experiencing in the rifle market and how it’s managing a large inventory.

Shedhorn Sports, Ennis, Montana

With 32 years in Ennis, a town in western Montana, this retailer is 70 miles outside the entrance to Yellowstone Park. The classic brick-and-mortar downtown location keeps 12 employees busy working with a variety of specialty soft goods and camping supplies, as well as its stock of about 3,500 firearms. This 8,000-square-foot store is open seven days a week.

Shedhorn began as a small gun counter within the local Gambles Hardware. Its founder, Rob Gallentine, operated with a seasonal family outfitting business specializing in high-country summer pack trips and guided big-game hunts. Today, the shop has evolved into one of the most highly specialized retailers in the Rocky Mountain West, with a mammoth bolt gun hunting clientele. This destination retailer considers it imperative to stock anything and everything the hunting customer needs.

“We want someone getting off a plane who’s heading to the mountains to feel confident that we have anything they need, and I mean anything,” said Cody Bittick, Buyer and Gun Department Manager.

Bittick said traveling hunters frequently arrive with their lost luggage or critical accessories having been forgotten, sending them on a buying spree before their trek up into the mountains.

Emptying Safes Lead to Upgrades

Shedhorn stocks close to 1,500 bolt rifles. Most are performance guns with starting SRPs at more than $1,000. The store is a mix of top-flight manufacturers, including Browning, Christensen, Kimber, Tikka, Dakota, Montana and Remington Custom. As 2018 wrapped, the high-stakes retail rifle business ratcheted up considerably from the previous 16 months.

“We are now commonly talking to customers about rifles in the $3,000-plus range. There are several dozen rifles on display touching $7,000—and they sell,” said Bittick.

“One of the basic customer upgrade strategies is to ask, ‘What’s sitting in your safe?’ We ask this question in our advertising, at the counter and relentlessly on social media. So many of our regular customers have safes at home that are full of guns that haven’t been shot in a decade or more. We encourage them to dig to the back corner and pull out three or four firearms that haven’t seen the light of day since the Bush administration. Some even come from the first Bush,” he said.

The goal is to recruit those customers with a financial cushion to upgrade to a higher-end rifle and get them into the store. Whether it’s a trade for a long-barreled big-bore revolver or one or more .30-06s, all of a sudden Shedhorn can offer a $3,000-plus custom boutique rifle often for $400 dollars or as a straight exchange. Best of all, these sales frequently occur with customers who never felt they could afford a high-grade rifle.

“We really feel accomplished when we get a shooter into a dream rifle. The transaction endears them to our store, and it also gets the customer back to shooting a ton. This instantly translates to higher ammunition sales, and it’s often the motivation to start reloading,” Bittick said.

Shedhorn Sports - Firearms Retailers

Customer Memories and Used Guns

When you trade for a lot of guns, you have a lot of guns in inventory. Bittick said that Shedhorn’s used gun inventory clearly brings in a higher margin, but also offers an important draw to new customers.

“We advertise up to a 300-mile radius and tout that there’s a good chance we have a gun from your past. I cannot tell you how often a customer we’ve never seen before buys a gun reminiscent of their childhood or one like the one they’d sold 30 years ago and wished they still had. They buy the gun to be transported back to those memories,” he said.

While the store’s used-gun values reflect current national pricing, Bittick says the shop keeps the markup on a used gun consistent with the cost they have in it. This often keeps the price of the firearm 10 to 20 percent less than auction houses or online sellers.

“Most of our used guns are between $250 to $450. Of course, there are exceptions for high-value guns, but, in the end, the retail price is indicative of what we paid for it, not necessarily its street value. This keeps the customer who sold it to us happy, without feeling gouged,” he said.

Turning Inventory

When there are $7,000 rifles on the wall, it’s important to know how long the store has owned the gun. Shedhorn makes every effort to turn its inventory over every year.

“We make a stern effort to sell a gun before the beginning of our tax year. There are exceptions, and they make us cringe. While it can’t always be accomplished, it’s always on our minds. Letting a gun pass into the second tax season will cause a hard discussion. It’s as if the firearm has started to smell,” he laughed.

Predicting MSR’s Future

At the time of this interview, Bittick felt MSR sales numbers had bottomed out, but will rise. The store has about 150 MSRs on the rack.

“It will come back, it always does. We weren’t caught in bad shape when sales went from three to four a day to one or two a week. Alternate calibers like .22, .308 and 6.5 Creedmoor are accounting for most of our sales today,” he said. Interestingly, attention to these alternative calibers has translated to higher-priced, non-starter MSR sales that deliver more profit.

Lesson Learned

By pushing bolt gun sales, this retailer is finding innovative ways to motivate customers to trade up into bucket-list rifles.

  • Maintaining a Destination-Ready Stance — Through practical product knowledge and its experienced staff, this retailer only stocks what they’ve used in the field. This expertise and confidence translate to profitable, last-minute, walk-in purchases.
  • Prioritizing Inventory Control — Stock it, sell it, avoid inventory tax, and make it a priority. This retailer constantly evaluates the scope and size of its inventory, remembering to ask the question, “What will it cost us to keep this on the shelf another year?”
  • Clearing Out the Dust-Gatherers — Most retailers understand the profitability in used guns. But by encouraging customers to make room in their safes, those clients trade in what they don’t shoot and, in turn, used-gun customers make a spontaneous, emotional purchase. At the same time, this retailer’s transparent pricing keeps the process clean and supports fast inventory turnover.
  • Riding the Waves of Political Change — Whether it’s MSRs or pistols, the last decade has been an education in high- and low-inventory availability and sales. Watch the trends, stay flexible, and rely on fast inventory turns to stay ahead of the boom and avoid the bust.

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