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June 7, 2019

Set Your Sights On Thermal Optics


By Ashley McGee, FMG Publications

Advances in technology are changing the way people do pretty much everything — hunting included. And with predator populations (like feral hogs and coyotes) also on the rise in most parts of the country, it’s time for firearms retailers to set their sights on thermal imaging products.

Screengrab of FLIR Optic In Use
Screengrab of a FLIR optic in use during a hog hunt.

Trending Now: Buying More, For Less

For consumers, the most significant developments in thermal imaging are price, quality and performance.

“Quality continues to improve year after year and price points continue to trend downward — partly as a result of increased manufacturer access to quality, readily available components. A $5,000 thermal from five years age now hovers around $2,000–$3,000,” lends Jeff Murray, executive VP of sales at Sellmark Corporation, the sole partner and distributor of the Pulsar brand in North America.

“These trends, along with the significantly increased interest in hog, predator and varmint hunting, have brought a new user group into the market that once thought this technology was unaffordable,” he added.

An additional trend driving the growth of this category is an increase in the number of hunters who are recording their hunts and sharing them on social media. When viewers are able to see thermal optics in action, they want one for themselves.

Who’s Buying?

Unlike more cost-efficient night vision optics, thermal optics can be used both during the day and at night. While they can also serve tactical purposes, use in that capacity is mostly limited to military and law enforcement rather than for home defense by the average consumer.

For Dury’s Gun Shop in San Antonio, most thermal optic sales come from either hunters or farmers and landowners looking for ways to prevent crop destruction. In some cases, particularly during the holiday shopping season, they’re purchased as a gift for a hunter who seemingly already has just about everything else.

Johnny Dury, owner of Dury’s Gun Shop in San Antonio
Johnny Dury, owner of Dury’s Gun Shop in San Antonio, shared his team is able to close sales of thermal optics in two ways: by focusing on the features and giving customers new scenarios they didn’t previously consider.

When someone mentions hog hunting or predator control, Owner Johnny Dury uses it as a way to segue to discussing the features and benefits of thermal optics.

“You have to understand: This is a sizeable investment someone is making, and not every customer has the disposable income to afford it,” he said.

To help cast a wider net, Dury focuses on stocking three price points starting with an entry-level option (around $1,500), up to more high-end optics (sometimes exceeding $4,000).

Although there’s currently only a small market for home-defense use, he anticipates growth and recently started carrying the Leupold Thermal Optic Quest — a powerful handheld thermal device capable of detecting heat signatures out to 300 yards. It gives users an edge on situational awareness at a much more affordable price point of $649.99 MSRP.

LTO Tracker 2 HD
Leupold updated its handheld thermal imaging line earlier this year with the launch of the LTO Tracker 2 and LTO Tracker 2 HD (pictured). The original LTO Tracker, released in 2016, showed hunters the heat signature of game, blood trails and more. The LTO Tracker 2 and LTO Tracker 2 HD deliver the same performance, while providing a friendlier user interface and introducing new technology to track downed game — Beacon Mode.

Closing The Sale

Despite the fact price points continue to trend downward, cost still remains the greatest challenge facing a retailer’s sales staff. Your staff can overcome this challenge by implementing a thoughtful sales strategy, according to Dury.

“We’re able to close sales in two ways — by focusing on the features and by giving potential customers scenarios they didn’t even consider,” he shared.

For example, suppressors are legal in Texas and combined with thermal optics, a deer hunter can take out predators — including those who might be tucked back in brush — before the sun even comes up, and before they’re able to ruin an entire day’s hunt.

Dury said their best seller is the Pulsar Core Thermal Riflescope due to its unique versatility. It can be attached to the end of a normal riflescope, which allows it to be moved from gun to gun or detached and used as a monocular.

Pulsar Core Thermal Riflescope
Pulsar has a line of night vision front attachments (F135, F155), which easily transform an optic sight into a night vision device — providing more uses (and opportunity) for hunters.

When a customer is considering spending this amount of money, it’s important they understand the full potential of its use in order for them to realize the value.

The PTS line from FLIR Systems allows for multiple zeroes to be used on up to three different weapons.

Other sought-after features include LED display, Bluetooth capability, video recording, full-color overlay, ability to recharge via USB connection, E-zoom and drop-down menu navigation for ease-of-use.

“As detectors evolve and more powerful sensors are developed, thermal optics are able to deliver smaller pixel pitch,” according to Angelo Brewer, sales and distribution manager at FLIR Systems. “This not only influences your image quality, but also your viewing distance.”

FLIR Scout III 640 Thermal Imaging Monocular
The FLIR Scout III 640 Thermal Imaging Monocular can detect objects in complete darkness, haze or through glaring light — primed for use in law enforcement, hunting and outdoor pursuits.

Value Of Proper Education

To further equip their sales team, retailers should utilize manufacturer resources and take advantage of territory field representatives.

“When you do get a customer in your shop with the financial means to spend $3,000-plus on optics, at that moment, staff members need to be able to effectively communicate how devices work, what the limitations are and, ultimately, how to use them appropriately,” said Murray of Sellmark.

By default, thermal imaging products already stand out compared to traditional optics not only for their size and shape, but because they’re essentially handheld or firearm-mounted computers powered by jaw-dropping technology.

ATN’s ThOR 4 384 1.25-5X Smart HD Thermal Riflescope
Bringing the “weapons-mounted computer” concept to life, ATN’s ThOR 4 384 1.25-5X Smart HD Thermal Riflescope comes packed with features, including: one-shot zero technology, a smart rangefinder, dual-stream video, recoil-activated video recording and more.

To help draw further attention to these products, Sellmark territory/field sales representatives involved in the Pulsar product line worked hard with different retailers to develop custom displays, sales videos and in-store signage.

Additionally, every Pulsar account receives multiple visits each year by OEM representatives who are able to conduct live thermal and night vision demos, troubleshoot and conduct general training.

Similarly, FLIR Systems offers hands-on, in-store training to its dealers. Recognizing this is not always realistic, Brewer said they’re working to create an on-demand, web-based video training library to help educate both end users and retail staff on key features, benefits and selling points.

Higher Prices, Higher Margins

The bottom line here is thermal optics are packed with more features in a smaller size and deliver a higher performance at a more affordable price point than previously available.

Firearms retailers hesitant to invest in stocking this product category should remember in this case, “Higher prices brings higher margin,” said Brewer. “Thermal optics represent a great way to really boost your optics category sales volume.”

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