February 13, 2017
From the Counter: Thriving in the Post-Election Retail Year – Part I
The first several weeks of the Trump Administration have been nothing short of a whirlwind of change. Many firearms retailers had prepared preemptively for a Hillary win, and in the wake of a Republican win, some retail outlet turns have quieted. We wanted find out how firearms businesses were adjusting to a Trump win and its effects on the retail bottom line.
This will be the first of a four-part series, “From the Counter.” It provides a perspective from behind the counters of four firearm retailers in four diverse regions of the country, while also examining market strategies and adjustments to help retailers everywhere compete successfully during the next four years.
Davenport Guns—Davenport, Iowa
Founded in 2014 and located in the heart of middle America, this store stocks an average of 500 long guns and handguns. The 3,600-square-foot facility has a 12-lane indoor firearms range and a staff of 18 employees. The store is open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and on Sundays from noon until 5:00 p.m.
Davenport is part of the Quad Cities. It encompasses two medium-sized cities, Rock Island and Moline in Illinois, as well its sister cities, Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, across the Mississippi River.
This retailer was ready for a Democrat win in November.
“We were prepared for a Hillary presidency. Although we had strong stocks of MSRs and some pistols, we hadn’t gone off the charts buying. That said, with Hillary in the White House I saw the future of any product that was an auto-action being vulnerable. I believed Hillary would have been far more aggressive than the previous administration regarding any SKU that used a cycling action,” said Jeanelle Westrom, the store’s owner.
At Davenport Guns, there was little to no panic buying pre-November. While sales are no higher than this last time year, the good news is that the sales needle has not lowered as February moves forward.
“We live in an area with multiple auto rifle manufacturers,” Westrom explained. “Our customers focus on mid- to high-grade rifles. Entry level MSRs have never been a big part of our retail mix. I feared that when Trump won all we would hear were the sounds of crickets in store. In reality, the place is seeing great turns and is quite noisy. The store’s gun range is the busiest in its history.”
Back to School
This retailer says keeping up with marketing trends and understanding what motivates customers is key to any business’s survival. Attending SHOT Show University during this year’s SHOT Week in January has been a key factor to ensuring this newer store’s growth.
“Just as it has been in past shows, this year’s SHOT Show University was an indispensable way to bring new marketing ideas to the staff of our store,” she said.
Westrom cited the “Reinventing the Wheel: The Science of Creating Lifelong Customers” seminar by Christopher Zane as an important way to incorporate new strategies to her store. One concept presented was the creation of an electronic file of ideas. Anyone who works at the store can access, read and contribute to the “ideas file” at any time.
One of the new employee-generated ideas recently submitted was to organize a fun-day shooting league at the range. Westrom followed through.
“We now have guys practicing an extra couple of hours a week on our range so they can win a box of ammo,” she said.
Another idea was to offer a free gun cleaning twice a year.
“For our female clients this is huge. They bring us their pistols, get them cleaned, always buy more accessories and often use the range. This is all part of our strategy to appreciate our customers and develop them into a lifetime customers.”
Other strategies have included fresh coffee and cookies baked on the premises.
“We really want our customers to know that we appreciate their business. We look forward to making sure they enjoy themselves when they’re in the store,” she said.
Westrom did warn there are parameters surrounding the “coffee group.”
“Be careful,” she told me. “You don’t want to create a barbershop environment where the old guard rules the new shooter. The experience must be fun, inclusive and involve mentoring without criticism.”
Other basics include maintaining a clean, well-lit store. Westrom reminds retailers that you should never overwhelm consumers at the door with large displays. To increase sales, stock accessories between the door and gun counter.
The Next Opportunity
Westrom sees the deregulation of silencers as the next big retail curve.
“Looking ahead, the new administration will make the shooting sports safer and far more noise friendly. As it becomes more affordable with less red tape, our customers will respond in droves,” she said.
Westrom said her store is investing significantly in silencer inventories. She has already committed to a few open orders for a monthly delivery of new inventory to make sure she can keep up with demand.
“You can’t stay in business waiting for the next panic buy. You don’t want the reputation as a seesaw retailer that capitalizes on the worst fears of customers to make money,” she said.
“Our goal is to build steady growth of loyal customers. By developing new strategies to engage shooters, you will keep your store profitable long after the political storm has passed. Shooters who love our sport are a joy to sell to, and they will always endure far beyond the next bubble,” said Westrom.
Lessons from the Counter
While the angst surrounding the political climate has relaxed, success for industry’s frontline sellers will hinge on solid retail strategies. Many of these boil down to focusing on new and innovative tactics that engage your staff, because that is what will continue to engage their customers. Bottom-line lessons learned from this retailer include making a commitment to stronger customer service, building new and loyal buyer relationships, creating events to drive store traffic and adding value for the retail customer.