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March 16, 2016

Veteran Retailer Advice—Finding Balance in a Hectic Sales Year


Just as we’re talking with manufacturers about how to handle what is anticipated to be a very busy year for our industry, we’re also talking with veteran retailers, those who have been in business for years, sometimes decades. Why? Well, not only have they seen booms and busts before, they’ve survived them, even thrived through them—and that makes for experience and advice you can’t find in a lot of other places.

Our first retailer up for talking with us that fits that bill is Richard Sprague. Richard is owner of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Arizona. With a 10-lane in-house firearms range and a well-mated secondary business in truck accessories and camper shells that naturally complements the firearms business and drives foot traffic, Sprague’s Sports is one of the largest firearms dealers in the Southwest. Founded in 1956, the store stocks hundreds of new, used and consignment firearms, archery equipment, a flush inventory of related accessories, optics and ammunition, including those that meet the needs of law enforcement, and the store has both an in-house gunsmith and a schedule of classes that cater to everyone from those wanting to obtain their concealed carry permit to private skills instruction and how to get started in reloading.

With more than 40 years in the firearms retail business, Richard has seen a lot of up-and-down cycles and trends come and go. But even he acknowledges that 2016 looks to be a remarkable year. Here’s what he advises other retailers do to maximize returns in the coming months and position themselves to continue to thrive no matter the results of the coming elections.

NSSF: With the anticipated volatility in customer demand and product supply, what are three (or more) things that you are doing now to ensure supply and meet future customer demands?

Richard Sprague (RS): First, today’s retailers must stay on top of current trends in customer needs. Second, monitor and take advantage of opportunities offered by manufacturers and distributors as they become available. Finally, make every effort to pay all your bills on time, as this is one of the keys to staying valuable and relevant to your suppliers—and that’s the kind of relationship that can help put you closer to the top of the who-gets-what list when demand is sky-rocketing and supplies are tight.

NSSF: What is your inventory plan if customer demand dramatically decreases?

RS: Hedge your inventory investment dollars toward the categories that have been in highest demand. That doesn’t mean ignore all your other categories, just that the balance needs to be heavier toward the high-demand products. In pairing with that, retailers need to keep their credit lines as open as possible, making them available to pounce when those deals come along that will make a difference in your bottom line.

NSSF: What advice would you give newer firearms retail store owners about the upcoming selling year?

RS: Listen and learn from all your vendors, but stay balanced in your approach to ordering. In other words, it doesn’t pay to put all your eggs in one basket and rely on just a favored few to provide your inventory. At the same time, you want to be a good partner to those companies that offer you the most assistance with your business product flow.

NSSF: Are you looking at any non-traditional strategies to overcome product deficits and to drive foot traffic to your store?  For instance, are you increasing your training offerings or adding in more products in niche-ier markets like airguns, archery, etc.?

RS: We stay involved in all of our ancillary departments because we find value in each of them. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have them in the first place, but we also have those products on hand because we’ve made an effort to do and offer what no one else in the our area does. That’s really the key when you’re looking at both your core skus and the ancillaries—you want to provide at a higher level what no one else in your market is. When that meets your customers’ needs, they in turn will reward your efforts with their patronage.

NSSF: What strategies do you have in place to engage the customers who might be in panic-buying mode and turn them into long-term buyers?

RS: Our indoor range plays a huge part in cultivating new shooters and turning them into loyal, repeat customers. The ability to offer a range of classes from the excellent First Shots Class to Concealed Carry Permit to Active Shooter Defense training is a difference maker. Having rental guns so that customers can experience the handling differences of models they are considering is also incredibly valuable.

NSSF: Anything else you’d like to add?

RS: Yes. Despite the anticipation nearly everyone has for a strong year, everyone must continue to promote and advertise their businesses. This is vital to all business success. Word of mouth is a great thing, but it doesn’t have the same reach as strong marketing and advertising that works to find the customers who haven’t heard about about you.

Our thanks go to Richard for taking the time to share his expertise with our retailer members. It sounds like Sprague’s Sports has an excellent strategy in place and is set for the year, no matter what happens.