July 11, 2018
From the Counter: Griffin & Howe
“From the Counter” is the NSSF timely industry perspectives from firearm retailers across the country. Our goal is to identify and highlight innovative market strategies that can help all retailers compete more successfully. Lessons learned will be drawn from an array of regions with diverse market economies. This month, we’ll focus on a manufacturer/retailer in northern New Jersey, less than an hour from Manhattan.
Griffin & Howe, Andover, New Jersey
Inspired by Teddy Roosevelt’s poorly-made rifle stock featured in the famed book “African Game Trails,” cabinet maker Seymour Griffin set out to change the image of the American sporting rifle and shotgun in 1910. His innovation and attention to detail led to a flagship hunting and shooting retail store on the streets of Manhattan.
Now, with nearly a century of experience, Griffin & Howe’s knowledge and experience is deep and wide, and today it serves as an exemplar of how a company’s past can lend credibility to its future. Having had previous presences in Bernardsville, New Jersey, and Greenwich, Connecticut, this now expansive operation, including retail, shooting school, gunsmithing and outfitter services, calls a farm in Andover, New Jersey, home. The retail store encompasses nearly 3,000 square feet, with more than 800 firearms in stock. The inventory comprises a mix of classic bolt-action rifles and break-open shotguns. Brands include Purdy & Sons, Blaser, Remington and Savage, in addition to the company’s proprietary brand, Griffin & Howe Firearms. This retailer also sells an array of used long guns and new handguns, including Sig Sauer and Cabot 1911s.
Griffin & Howe employs more than 20 full-time employees, along with an additional 13 part-time staffers. Our interview was conducted with President and CEO Steven Polanish.
Refining at The Firing Line
This company’s retail strategy has been refined over its several homes and many years in business. Retail, service, manufacturing and range testing have been combined into one facility, known as Hudson Farms. The 4,000-acre shooting farm utilizes numerous custom ranges for clays and rifles, including a 900-yard rifle range.
“It’s amazing. When you can fire a rifle on a range, you can sell a rifle at that range,” said Polanish.
All segments of range training are personally supervised. According to Polanish, the company has moved away from large-scale group classes and field instruction to personalized, individual instruction.
“We’ve found it’s the only way to focus attention on what the client truly needs. He may be shooting for the first time or planning for a hunt that will present a distance shot. Every aspect of the instructor’s time is focused on customizing the experience for the specific client,” Polanish said.
“We don’t want to provide a one-size-fits-all ‘set’ experience. We want the experience to uniquely meet the client’s needs.”
Shooting Outside the Comfort Zone
One of this facility’s training specialties is making the shooter uncomfortable.
“How often do you sit down at a bench out in the elements and take an animal? We train hunters to shoot at uncomfortable angles, to find rests and to practice taking shots with narrow views in miserable conditions,” Polanish said.
One of his favorite training rituals involves shooting sticks. “It can be a game changer. We help the hunter realize how a pair of properly used shooting sticks will dramatically increase his performance while freeing up his mobility,” he said.
Feeding the Retail Store from the Range
Thoughtfully calculated and excitingly alluring, the retail environment at Griffin & Howe is never rushed.
“Of course we see the classic, artistic side of rifle and shotgun manufacturing. It’s what we do. However, the performance side is an absolute in our retail store. We expect rifles to set up at a half-inch MOA. We make sure they can perform to those standards with easily available factory ammo,” said Polanish, adding that client success on the range directly translates to a desire to own a high-quality shooting rifle. That doesn’t stop at long guns.
“Optics have become an important part of our retail marketing. High-quality glass will massively improve performance, while giving the client confidence. It sets a standard that really can’t be achieved in any other way. None of our customers ever downgrade to a lower quality scope — ever,” he said.
High Expectations for Employees Are Rewarded
While clients’ expectations are high, employees are expected to do more than just meet them. Most of Griffin & Howe’s employees have been with them more than 15 years. For some, that tenure is more than 30 years.
There is no place for the cranky counter person or instructor. Every employee knows the client’s sheer enjoyment and ultimate satisfaction is paramount. Still, Polanish said, they’ll always be on the hunt for new talent.
One venue that attracts new talent is the Pennsylvania Gunsmithing School.
“When some of the custom shop employees were laid off, we were fortunate to get one of their finest gunsmiths, one who happened to grow up within miles of our shooting facility. It was an opportunity virtually on our doorstep. Our company had to refocus and make a place to include the gunsmithing department,” he said.
New Jersey has some of the highest housing prices and taxes in the country. When it comes to the cost of living, the company is committed to competitive wages and excellent benefits.
“It’s a must for our employees. We treat them like family. We make sure they receive full medical, dental and a strong 401K. It’s what you do for the people you appreciate. And, in return, very few leave,” he said.
When asked how declining hunting numbers could affect their business, Polanish replied, “We foster relationships with our clients by improving their skill sets and increasing their desire for a fine firearm. We believe they’ll keep coming to hit their mark for years to come.”
Lessons Learned from the Counter
When Griffin & Howe expanded its retail and range facilities and placed a hard focus on meeting the individualized needs of its clients, it set itself apart from traditional retailers:
- Fostering Personal Attention and Relationships — The company maintains an environment that fosters personal attention. This has made the facility a destination for families and corporations alike.
- Paying Attention to Details — Griffin & Howe pays attention to fine shooting details. By teaching shooters how to use a Kestrel wind meter, for instance, those customers will never stop trying to improve their shooting skill. These tactics translate to sales crossing the counter.
- Challenging Clients to up Their Game — Performance standards are always changing. But one aspect that doesn’t change is the client’s desire for success. This company has found ways to tap into and profit by providing opportunities that continually challenge and grow the customer’s skillset.