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February 14, 2018

From the Counter: Shedhorn Sports

By Peter B. Mathiesen

From the Counter” is the NSSF real-time industry perspective from firearm retailers across the country. Our goal is to identify and highlight innovative market strategies to 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. This month, hot on the heels of the 2018 SHOT Show, we visited an independent retailer in the Rocky Mountain West.

Shedhorn Sports, Ennis, Montana

With 32 years in western Montana, this retailer sits 70 miles outside the entrance to Yellowstone Park. The classic brick-and-mortar downtown location keeps eight full-time and four part-time employees busy. It stocks more than 2,000 firearms along with a variety of specialty soft goods and camping equipment.

Shedhorn Sports began as a small gun counter located within the local Gambles Hardware store. Rob Gallentine operated it with a seasonal family outfitting business specializing in high-country summer pack trips and guided big-game hunts. Located in Ennis, Montana, the store now serves as a destination retailer that services every kind of customer from tourists and guided big-game clients to the local rural populace. The 8,000 square-foot store is open from Monday to Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The shop is open most holidays except Christmas and New Year’s.

Morphing from Hardware to Guns

In 1982, southwest Montana lacked a sporting goods store that catered to this clientele’s needs for camping gear and hunting firearms. As the ’80s pushed into the ’90s, the sporting goods store slowly overtook the hardware floor plan. Originally the manager and now the owner, Gallentine spent his time growing the gun department. He was always at the store by 7:00 a.m. fixing Stihl chainsaws.

Shedhorn Sports - Rifles - From the Counter
Bolt rifles are this retailer’s bread and butter. Shedhorn stocks more than 1,500, and premium brands are in strong demand.

“In a small town, it takes several jobs to make one,” he told me. He fondly remembers that, in 1982, the only firearms display was a factory-supplied Remington Plexiglas gun case with a tiny brass padlock on the front that held four long guns. Today, the shop is one of the most highly specialized retailers in the Rocky Mountain West. It caters to a serious backcountry hunting clientele.

Stocking a Hunting Mix

While handguns account for a slight majority of the overall sales at this retailer, when it comes to long guns, traditional bolt-action rifles rule this counter. Shedhorn stocks close to 1,500 bolt rifles, and most are performance guns with starting MSRPs at more than $1,000. The store stocks a mix of higher-grade manufacturers including Browning, Christensen, Kimber, Tikka, Dakota, Montana, Remington Customs and many more. Although the store does stock MSRs, including a strong supply of higher-price-point models, semi-auto rifles account for less than five percent of its total rifle sales.

Mastering the Trade

Despite its rural persona, the state of Montana is awash with big-box destination stores. Still, Shedhorn customers will commonly drive up to four hours to turn a deal. Selection is certainly part of the mix. However, its owner notes that trade-ins drive many of the $1,500-and-up purchases.

“We constantly remind our customers through ads and digital media to bring us those guns in the back of the safe that don’t get used and trade them in for the performance rifle they’ve always wanted,” said Gallentine.

Trades cross this counter daily, and the increased margins on used guns underscore the strong formula for profit.

“Customers know they’ll get a fair deal at our store. We are upfront with our margins. In most cases, we give an average of 60 percent of what we think the gun will sell for. A poor condition can lower the amount and high demand could raise it slightly,” said Gallentine.

Shedhorn Sports - Hunting - From the Counter
Shedhorn caters to backcountry big-game hunters and stocks clothing and accessories that make such hunts successful. The store’s dedication to meeting the needs of its clients makes it a must-stop destination for the area’s sportsmen and -women.

Keeping everyone in alignment with what the estimated value streamlines the process, even with a new customer. Gallentine says that every employee has the power to make a deal. The rule is to check the trade with one other sales person. The process rarely fails. This ensures the customer feels treated fairly and trade executes quickly and efficiently.

Shedhorn’s goal with its focus on trade-ins is to foster an upgrade for their rifle clients. “Sales of high-quality guns means developing a quality shooter. That always translates to better optics, ammo and an intolerance of poorer performing firearms. Once you learn to shoot well and have the tools to do so, there’s just no turning back,” said Gallentine.

The “Tickle Sheet”

Gallentine observed that when the store was busy, there was a tendency to move the sale along too quickly to get to the next customer. He knew those salespeople were walking away from profitable accessory sales.

“We usually have the scope sales locked, but the small ancillary items were not selling. Sadly, once that customer drives four hours home, they buy their extras at a competitor. We put an end to this practice with our ‘Tickle Sheet,’” he said.

The “Sheet” is a list of discounted ancillary accessories every sale has to go through while the paperwork is traveling through the NICS check. It gives specific discounts like 10 percent off ammo, 15 percent off cleaning accessories, and 20 percent off cases.

“We walk the customer through the discounts. It always translates to extra income at the close of the sale,” he said.

Hiring Employees for the Long-Term

Employee management strategies at Shedhorn include offering equal pay to big-box store managers, along with health insurance. He trusts his staff to make decisions and stands by them when they make a mistake. He also added that although new hires need hunting and shooting skills, their people skills are paramount.

“Our staff has to enjoy being around people. It must feel warm and friendly. We have no room for an arrogant, crabby, gun salesperson. None,” he said.

Gallentine also mentioned that his turnover is practically non-existent. At the forefront of his mind are the days and stress of holding three jobs, one of which was in a gun store. This was a tradition he did not want to hand down to his staff. His dedication to permanent staff has worked. In recent years, one employee had a spouse who required a move for a career change, and one other passed away. That was it.

Lessons Learned From the Counter

This retailer created a unique strategy to deliver what others in the state cannot while fostering sales with customer integrity.

  1. Identify Unique Sales Opportunities — Promoting trade-ins from customers who haven’t used their firearms is a powerful way to incentivize a client to trade up while minimizing the need for cash to complete a transaction.
  2. Capture the Accessory Sale — Creating a “Tickle Sheet” of ancillary accessories to complement the sale keeps the register ringing. It ensures profitable turns that could have easily gone to a competitor.
  3. Transparency Strengthens Relationships and Fosters Repeat Business — Treat your customers honestly, fairly and with transparency. Listen to their wants and needs and offer them a deal they understand and one with which they can walk away happy. It builds relationships, creates trust and leads to long-term repeat sales.


You may also be interested in: From the Counter: Final Flight Outfitters, Union City, Tennessee