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August 22, 2019

From the Counter: Sprague’s Sports

By Peter B. Mathiesen

“From the Counter” is the NSSF’s timely industry perspective 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. For this column, we focused on a larger independent retailer in Arizona, just six miles north of the Mexican border.

Sprague’s Sports, Yuma, Arizona

Sitting just across the Colorado River from California and 10 minutes from the Mexico border, this retailer rests on Route 8 next to a Lowe’s and only five minutes from the Yuma International Airport. Sprague’s Sports store is 18,100 square feet of retail store and indoor range and keeps more than 1,800 firearms in stock, with an attendant mix of hunting, home defense, archery and gun safes in inventory. Used firearms are always in great demand and make up between 250 and 500 units of the overall firearms inventory. The firearms inventory is a mix of bolt guns, MSRs and handguns. It hosts one the West’s largest selections of hunting shotguns and rifles made by the best in the business.

Sprague's Sports Exterior

The shop keeps a staff of 30 employees, a mix of full- and part-time. Sprague’s services a wide range of customers, from hunters and home defense practitioners to law enforcement and beginners. It also serves an extensive number of Marine, Army, local law enforcement and Border Patrol personnel.

Welcoming Dove Hunters at the Opening Day Event

Opening day of dove season for this retailer is just a few dollars short of their Christmas rush. Starting around Aug. 30 and running through Sept. 3, the entire Yuma area feels the influx of dove hunters, with the majority traveling from nearby California and a surprising number from all across the country too. Sprague’s has fostered its dove opening day event since the mid-1950s, and today the event is as popular as ever, with community-wide support welcoming hunters to Yuma.

“It’s hard to express just how much this community embraces the out-of-town dove hunters,” said Chad Converse, Manager. Yuma’s dove opener is such a big deal that the City of Yuma even puts up banners on main street signs to welcome dove hunters.

The parking lot fills quickly, as this retailer opens two hours early and closes four hours later than normal during the first few days of September. “We hire five ladies just to process nonresident licenses. Although the lines get long, you can hear the excitement as the camaraderie grows. Everyone has a great time. You can really see the appreciation from the nonresident hunters from California; we know their frustration with their state’s firearms and hunting climate.

Sprague’s receives significant support from manufacturers such as Federal Ammunition, Benelli USA, Beretta, Browning, Beretta, Mossberg and others to put on its annual opening day events. Twelve- and 20-gauge ammo is displayed on pallets that see restocking many times each day. Even gauges like .410, 16 and 28 attract seriously heavy traffic.

“The Yuma dove opener is a great way to kick off the fall hunting season with friends and family. Let’s face it, who wants to hunt in July when its 120 even in the shade,” Converse said. Typically, most dove season openers see temperatures in the high 90s to low 100s. Yet, Converse said this event creates a sense of autumn in the air. For many, it serves as a seasonal mental dividing marker, taking them from the dog days of summer to the anticipation of cooler temperatures and annual fall hunting seasons.

At the heart of this event is Sprague’s famous — famous — “Big Breast” dove contest. While merchants across America will run “big buck” contests in the fall, with winners separated by a few pounds of overall weight or inches of antler, this retailer hands the top three finishes to hunters whose field-dressed dove breasts are separated in placing by a gram or less. September 1-2 this year will ring in Sprague’s 31st Annual Big Breast Contest, with substantial prizes for the winners.

Sprague's Sports Counter

Truly a community event, in addition to drawing customers to other local businesses’ doors — including restaurants and hotels — Sprague’s dove opener event raises significant funds for local nonprofits. Yuma Catholic High Schools kicks off its annual gun raffle at Sprague’s every year, and this year the raffle features 175 guns and other prizes valued at over $90K.

“We love the local fundraising aspect every time we have an event like our dove opener, and we’re excited to be able to support charities across our community,” said Converse.

Lessons Learned from the Counter

Established events and promotions are a critical part of the mix for this long-time local retailer. By engaging with and giving back to the community, this store feels it is far removed from the hunting and firearms turmoil existing in other parts of the country, especially neighboring California.

But Sprague’s also goes the extra mile by involving the entire community. Working with local charities allows Sprague to be genuinely engaged in addressing issues important to the community. That’s important because research shows that as charitable giving increases, customer loyalty increases; engaging and giving back to local nonprofits results in significant generated income and community goodwill.

As a result of this multi-faceted approach, local customers and out-of-town guest hunters alike feel part of something much bigger than just a day in the field — and that results in a bottom-line profit boost. FFLs looking to replicate this kind of success should explore their community and regional annual events that have reputations for drawing crowds and develop a plan to partner with and capitalize on them. This is certainly easier for many when such events are hunting season openers or, say, large regional shooting competitions, but those aren’t options for every FFL. Look to law enforcement appreciation days, 4th of July activities, Little League opening days, annual harvest festivals and others that can be a fit if you’re creative with your marketing, partnering and charity. With such an approach, your business will be seen as being a genuinely valuable asset to your community, and that goes a long way toward ensuring your success and longevity.

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