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June 7, 2019

Outfitting Hunters With A New Optic

By Tim Barker, FMG Publications

With the fall hunting season soon coming into view, now is the time to invest the resources into carrying the right mix of optics for your customers — along with educating your sales staff on grasping the ins and outs of why one optic might be better suited for another, depending on the end use, customer’s experience level and other factors.

In recent years, Arnzen Arms in Minnesota has seen a surge in the hunting market. Manager Jason Gentz isn’t exactly sure what’s behind the rising interest. Perhaps it’s the “farm-to-table” movement that has folks interested in the idea of being more connected to the food they put on their tables.

Whatever the cause, the Eden Prairie-based store has responded by increasing its offerings for hunters, with more high-end rifles in inventory. And where would those pricier rifles be without upper tier optics to go with them?

“They’re looking for something they’re not going to replace, so they spend a little more on that and the glass as well,” Gentz said.

Advising, Versus Selling

Of course, not every customer looking for a scope is ready to follow the sage advice about spending at least as much on the optic as you do on the rifle. The customer eager to drop $2,000 on a Swarovski, ZEISS or Nightforce will be followed by someone who might balk at the idea of spending even $100 on a lower-end offering.

Navigating your way through those types of customers can be challenge.

For Gentz, the key is figuring out what the customer wants and how much they want to spend. You have to respect that. There’s not much point in pushing a $600 optic on a shopper whose rifle purchase has eaten up most his budget.

“You don’t want to scare a customer away when they’re planning to spend $1,000 and they’ve already picked an $800 gun,” Gentz said.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t give yourself some room to make an upsell: “Don’t be afraid to have your $200 scope sitting next to your $800 scope. Let them ask about the differences between the two. Then, let them make the decision if they want to go beyond their original budget.”

To that end, you can’t underestimate the value of taking a customer outside with a few different optics — particularly if they want to see the difference between a low-priced scope and something on the higher end.

“Anybody can look through a piece of glass in fluorescent lighting in a store and think it looks good,” Gentz said.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for customers to step through the front door, already having a good idea of what they’re looking for.

“A lot of them know exactly what they want. More and more, they’ve already looked online,” said Ronnie Groom, owner of C&G Sporting Goods in Panama City, Fla.

C&G Sporting Goods’ Ronnie Groom
C&G Sporting Goods’ Ronnie Groom ensures his staff is well educated on optics to help guide those customers who may be “buying too much scope” to match their intended use. “We don’t try to impose anything on them,” he said. “I’m real strong on letting customers talk and then advising them.”

His salesmen are there to show those shoppers different models, while offering some education (particularly for newer hunters) and gentle nudging — a shopper, for example, might be buying too much scope for what he wants to hunt, particularly in Florida, where 100 yards is a long-range shot.

“We don’t try to impose anything on them,” Groom said. “I’m real strong on letting customers talk and then advising them.”

The New Hunter

While the number of educated shoppers is fairly high, there are plenty of novices hoping to be guided through the process by the store’s salespeople. Groom’s salesmen will take those shoppers to the scope counter and walk them through the basics, explaining things like power, eye relief and how to make windage and elevation adjustments. They can explain why one scope sells for $50, while another sells for $1,000.

That’s also when they’ll get Groom’s version of that advice regarding the gun/optic budget: “The first thing you do is buy the best scope you can afford. And then, with whatever money you have left, you buy a rifle.”

In Minnesota, Gentz sees a lot of these newer hunters tempted by the rifle/scope deals offered by manufacturers. That’s not, however, the direction they advise, considering a $500 package probably includes only about $25 for the scope.

Instead, they emphasize the value of spending more money on the optic. “You may change guns, but the scope can be moved to the next one,” Gentz said.

There’s also the fact that there are a lot of quality rifles found across a broad price spectrum. So, there’s no reason for anyone with a decent budget to skimp on the optic.

“If someone comes in with a $1,000 budget. I’d rather they spend $500 to $600 on a rifle and $400 to $500 on a scope,” he said.

Optic Sales Counter at Sprague’s Sports, Yuma, Ariz.
Expertise in several segments separates you from the competition, and when it comes to optics sales your sales staff’s deep product knowledge will pay long-term dividends. (Pictured: Sprague’s Sports, Yuma, Ariz.)

The Experienced Hunter

In many ways, the long-time hunters are easier to deal with and are generally more predictable. These are the men and women who, by the time they reach the store, have already narrowed their choices down to two or three options.

“These folks are truly passionate about hunting and know what they want. They’re doing the research themselves,” Gentz said. “And if you don’t have those options in stock, you aren’t going to make the sale.”

That’s one of the reasons Arnzen Arms has significantly expanded its optics offerings over the past two years. The more you can show the customer, the better chance you have of making the sale.

These customers also tend to be loyal to their brands. It’s not uncommon, Gentz said, for hunters to be more loyal to a particular optic manufacturer than they are to any rifle maker. It’s something else to keep in mind: “Why would I try to sell them something else when they are perfectly happy with what they have?”

Groom says there’s value in carrying well-known brands – companies like Nikon, ZEISS, Swarovski and, increasingly, Vortex.

“It’s a lot easier to sell an expert hunter a brand name scope than some off-the-wall job,” he said. “The top brands — they’re not hard to sell.”

Vortex’s Razor HD AMG 6-24x50 FFP
Being aware of what your hunting customer is willing to spend on an optic will facilitate your ability to sell to them. On the high end of the optics scale, Vortex’s Razor HD AMG 6-24×50 FFP serves a variety of uses — from long-range competition to open-landscape hunts. It weighs just 28.8 oz., aided by its 30mm tube construction.

Play To Your Strengths In Marketing

Gentz employs a variety of strategies to get customers thinking about the optics carried at the Minnesota store.

Several times a year, he’ll attend local hunting shows and events put on by groups like the Wild Sheep Foundation and Safari Club International. He sees those events as a chance to show off some of his higher-end inventory.

“When you bring the stuff that people don’t normally see — it’s a good opportunity to promote the store,” he shared.
Arnzen Arms will also put together gun/scope packages to display around the store. These are also posted on Facebook and Instagram — going out to the store’s combined 5,000-plus followers. It’s all about getting customers to think about their options.

Arnzen Arms Manager Jason Gentz
Arnzen Arms Manager Jason Gentz shares his store has found particular success in developing gun/scope packages to display around the store — serving as both a conversation starter and field-ready option for hunters.

“We do sell quite a few of them that way,” Gentz confirmed. “But it also generates interest. It’s a conversation starter just because it’s sitting out there.”

Along those same lines, it never hurts for an employee to pull out a smartphone and show a customer what his personal hunting setup looks like: “People love to see what you’ve spent your hard-earned dollars on,” Gentz said.

Groom takes a more old-school approach, counting on word-of-mouth and a heavy TV advertising campaign during college football season — before and during the fall hunting season. He has no interest in Facebook or social media.

“I’m too old for all that,” he contends. “Whatever we’re doing is working. We’ve been here for almost 70 years.”

His shop does, however, enjoy something a bit unusual. They get a lot of mileage through its relationship with a popular local TV show, “Panhandle Outdoors,” hosted by a retired coach and avid sportsman. Groom is an advertiser and frequent guest on the program, which airs five days a week.

“It’s one of the best things for us,” Groom said. “It has a big local following.”

Knowledge Powers Sales

As optics become more technologically advanced, it can be a challenge to keep on top of the capabilities of the latest offerings by the various manufacturers. It might be a bit tough to sell a $2,000 optic if your salesman can explain to a customer why it’s so much better than the $1,000 version sitting next to it.

Both Gentz and Groom say it helps to have staffers who are avid shooters and hunters.

But Gentz said his employees also have received hands-on training from manufacturers — from Swarovski, in particular.

“Anyone can read the product description from the box. But it’s even better to know details about the company and its manufacturing processes,” Groom said.

“You tell them more than what it says on the outside of the box. When you can go into the details beyond that — that’s what people are here for,” Gentz added.

As is the case in other product segments, if your store can be known as local, friendly experts in equipping customers with successful rifle/optic setups the odds of repeat business and a thriving customer base are greatly enhanced.

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