What does it take for a local gun store to be successful?


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Bob01
June 13, 2011, 03:19 PM
Hello All,

Just curious what would it take for a small local gun store to be successful. By successful, I mean continuous year over year growth in revenues and market share?

Beyond the obvious: Good Service, Good Prices and Location - what would be the finer points that separate good from great?

I would imagine a range is necessary? A large inventory would be great, but not necessarily key? Group Events? Gun Smith? Special Deals (ie "Home Defense packages")?

This question came to me, after visiting a very small, relatively new (opened 2-3 years ago) gun store - The staff (owners) were very welcoming and I thought one of the least creepy and or snobbish gun stores nearby. Although I will admit, what originally brought me there was their cheap FFL transfer rates and monthly bulk ammo purchases. They have a rather small selection of firearms for sale, but can get almost whatever you want in 2-3 days.

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RichBMW
June 13, 2011, 03:48 PM
1. Inexpensive firearm transfer fees. $25 seems fair. Local stores should realize that they can't match the stock or the prices of large internet gun providers like "Cheaper Than Dirt" or "Impact Guns." But they can make money on transfer fees. My local gun shop (really a pawn shop) has done thousands of transfers in the last five years.
2. Good communication. If a gun is ordered and does not arrive, the store should call the buyer and explain the delay.
3. Good gunsmith on duty who will explain what will be done with repairs or upgrades. He should also give an accurate estimate of the cost.
4. Classes offered for new shooters and those who want to qualify for their concealed carry permit.
5. Reasonable prices. I know the local gun shops can't match the big dealers in price, but if they come close they will have my business. A nearby dealer wanted $443 for a new Ruger LC9 and I had to wait weeks to get one. I purchased it for $379 (and no tax) from an internet dealer and I had it in three days.

Canazes9
June 13, 2011, 04:10 PM
The original post sounds a lot like my local shop, open and thriving for the last couple of years:

1) Quality, monitored indoor range set-up. Even frequent visitors have safe gun handling and range rules repeated every visit. The rules are politely but strictly enforced.

2) Decent selection of firearms for purchase and rental. They don't seem to try and emulate inventory that you can find at the local Academy or Wal Mart as they can't match the prices but they are reasonably priced.

3) The shop isn't fancy but it is clean and well maintained.

4) The staff is VERY courteous and is happy to help.

5) Classes offered (often full)

6) Gunsmithing available

Here are some additional pluses that my local store offers:

1) Family owned and operated - it is real apparent that everyone behind the counter cares!

2) A woman's touch. The shop owners wife stocks a pretty good selection of concealed carry purses, firearms geared specifically to women and women specific advice / discussion in a polite non condescending professional manner. Additionally, she carries a few woman focused, non-gun related items (high end bedazzled flip flops, etc.). Shop owner says they sell a bunch of that stuff....

3) Population base of about 250,000+ within about 30 minutes drive. Small potatoes for a lot of folks, I know, but there are places with far less population and I do think it makes it more difficult.

4) A Gander Mountain about 7 minutes away with many of the same high end fire arms behind the counter being sold at retail list prices w/ snotty kids behind the counter that act like they are doing you a huge favor by stopping surfing on the internet behind the counter long enough to say "what do you want?"

David

JustinJ
June 13, 2011, 04:28 PM
"Reasonable prices. I know the local gun shops can't match the big dealers in price..."

That's not necessarily true. There is a shop somewhere between Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio but kind of out in the middle of nowhere. They have insanely cheap prices on new guns but do mega volume. Walk into that place and one feels like they are at a gun show. Plus, they have a reasonable lay away plan (20% down and 90 days) but do tack on 3% for credit card sales. As an example they had FNX 9 and .40 new for $330 with plenty in inventory. Their building is like a giant warehouse. The only way i can see they are able to sell so cheap is by purchasing heavy volume directly from manufacturers. All their business is at the shop although they've been talking about opening up an internet store.

Apocalypse-Now
June 13, 2011, 04:32 PM
prices, and to a lesser degree, customer service. that's all most gun buyers care about.

Telekinesis
June 13, 2011, 04:43 PM
First of all, if you are looking to start your own gun store, make up a full business plan and make absolutely sure of what you are getting into. The firearms business has some pretty high entry costs such as ITAR (over $2,000 per year) and industry specific insurance which will be fairly expensive for a firearms related business, and that is in addition to the normal expenses seen by all businesses like rent and inventory etc.

More on the theoretical side of things, good service, good prices, and good location (in that order) are definitely good starting points, and will probably win/keep the most customers. Having a range is good, but it will greatly limit your ability to have a good, high traffic location for your shop.

A large inventory will be difficult for a new shop to maintain because it will be very capital intensive, especially if you want to create the inventory that would draw customers in its own merit alone. But even then, that won't guarantee that people will buy from you. For example, there is a gun shop that's been around for years (with a great selection) that I sometimes visit to look at and handle firearms, but I don't buy from them. I buy from the guy an hour and a half away who can order anything I want with a smile, rather than a scowl and a snap as he dry fires a pistol at my chest. Advertising and getting your name out there is a much better use of funds than just pouring money into inventory.

The biggest differentiating factor for me is service. If a customer comes to you with a problem (ESPECIALLY one that was caused by you or should have been prevented by you) treat them with respect (even the younger ones 18-30 years old). Talk with them, not at them. Don't treat them like idiots, and don't out right lie to them when they ask you about something, and definitely don't justify any illegal action by saying "don't worry, I do it all the time, you'll never get caught" and you'll go far.

Also, do your best to know all the laws regarding firearms in your area, not just the ones pertaining to FFLs. For example, federally, and in many states, it is legal to possess (and in some states even to carry) pistols at 18 years of age. DO NOT try to steal a pistol from a 19 year old who brought the gun in to get some night sights installed, just because you think he can't possess it just because you can't sell it to him. Selling and possession are completely separate sections of law (It was a pretty heated conversation ending with me threatening to call the police and report an armed robbery --as he was carrying at the time. I left with my gun and have not been back to that store since.)

I have several other stories like that, but my point is that I travel an hour and a half and pass 4 (!) other gun shops to get to a gun store that treats me well, and they get ALL of my business. Treating customers right will keep them coming back and buying from you, which I believe is the key to growing a business.

KimberUltra
June 13, 2011, 04:54 PM
Every local business is threatened by the internet companies. When I used to play paintball it was so expensive to buy paint and field fees because they weren't selling any equipment in the store because it's cheaper online. It got to expensive and 4 out of the 5 fields ended up on the brink of shutting down.

I go to the bigger store around me rather than the smaller mom and pop type. Mostly because they have a range in the building and they have a much much bigger selection of firearms. I can walk in buy a gun and be out of there in less than an hour.

Bob01
June 13, 2011, 05:08 PM
Thanks for the info!

I'm too new to guns to open a shop ;-), I was just curious what drives the gun stores.

I was initially thinking a range was needed - in order to offer try (or something similar) before you buy, classes/training, attracting first time shooters, etc. With the thought that the real profit generators would be the bringing in new shooters (who will hopefully become long term customers), training and probably to a certain extent FFL transfers.

Overkilll0084
June 13, 2011, 05:21 PM
large internet gun providers like "Cheaper Than Dirt" or "Impact Guns."
Impact is my LGS. I don't think of them as an internet powerhouse. While their prices are ok, I've never thought of them as a screaming bargain. I frequent the one in Ogden.
They have great staff, good facilities, and for the most part, good selection. This combo of things seems to work well for any business.

Maverick223
June 13, 2011, 05:22 PM
I can't say too much, but I am strongly considering opening up a gun shop or related business (machine shop producing accessories?), so I am very much interested in what others have to say on the topic. I know what I like, but additional input is always welcome.

:)

JustinJ
June 13, 2011, 05:23 PM
Unfortunately, i think price and availability are what it mostly comes down to. Most will endure poor customer service if the savings are there.

mhphoto
June 13, 2011, 06:34 PM
1: Most important for me is a knowledgeable staff who won't repeat the idiotic lore perpetuate misconceptions (you know, like the examples throughout this thread (http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=424502)).

2: You're gonna have looky-loos and tire kickers—it's inevitable. So don't disrespect them and shoot the stink eye at them just because they're there. Who knows, maybe they'll be your best customer.

3: Be competitive in your pricing. Don't let people walk in and see a $250 Mosin Nagant or a $400 Hi-Point.

4: Demand a healthy respect for firearm safety from your customers. Correct people handling the guns who sweep the entire room with their finger on the trigger.

Just my two cents.

Cosmoline
June 13, 2011, 06:45 PM
1: Smart and effective sale staff. I would rank it Number One because your staff *IS* your store. Without them, it's just a gun collection and it will just sit there. A good gun store salesman should be able to inform the customer without belittling him, make him feel smart without coddling him, and have patience to deal with folks who take time. He also needs to know the basics of gun laws and how to deal with NICS and the BATFE. It's a tough combination but the stores that have good staff have good business.

I'll give you an example from my own recent experiences, since I just bought a pricey (for me) AR-15.
--I came into the store, where I'm well known for buying ammo but not so much for buying expensive firearms. I fiddle, I fondle, I prod and poke. Some clerks would dismiss me as a "lookie loo" and have. This store's staff doesn't, which is why I was there and not at the competition.
--After about half an hour of prodding, I start asking the clerk a series of questions about the various chamberings and options. He is patient with me, not short. He doesn't dismiss any of my potential choices out of hand, but he helps me assess pros and cons. I do a bit more research using the store's books. Again this is something other gun stores do not like people doing. (The books are for SALE after all).
--After about an hour or so of prodding and questioning I take the plunge. He immediately has the transfer form ready. I fill it out, but realize I don't have my proof of physical address. He knows something I do not--that the voter registration card works for this purpose. So we're not derailed.
--I'm about to get delayed as I usually do, but he sweet talks the NICS person into putting him on hold while they go check whatever it is that seems to perpetually get me delayed. Presto, I'm approved.
--He has the box, and rounds down the price when I include some ammo. He offers to deliver the thing even!
--He gets out an ACOG primo sight and has me test it. I'm impressed, but the price is astronomical. HOWEVER, pay attention folks. Because this very clever fellow has now set an UPPER MARK of $1,000 in my brainpan for optics. Which means that the Leopold running for $400 SEEMS LIKE A BARGAIN. Smart guy! And it also increases the chances that I'll go back there for optics, instead of easily ordering them on line.

So that's customer service, and that's why that particular store has been around for generations and is something of a legend. I know full well that I could have gotten that identical carbine on GB for about $150 less, but it's the service that makes the sale.

prices, and to a lesser degree, customer service. that's all most gun buyers care about.

Price is of course important, but I disagree that it outranks customer service. If it did then they'd just buy off gunbroker from the cut rate wholesalers where there's no real customer service. I'd say price is No. 2, with selection at No. 3.

There are other factors as well, of course. Having a store you can physically move through is important. I know one in particular locally that has a great selection but is crammed into a cubical so tight you can literally barely move between ammo crates and the display cases.

2: You're gonna have looky-loos and tire kickers—it's inevitable. So don't disrespect them and shoot the stink eye at them just because they're there. Who knows, maybe they'll be your best customer.

This needs to be stressed. I suspect a lot of owners encourage staff to get hard on the looky loos. But I can tell you that the two outfits locally who have no patience with folks like myself have lost a large amount of business as a result.

On the other hand, you don't want your store to become an exclusive gun club for a few old guys who never buy anything. You want it comfortable for browsing, but not *too* comfortable. Put out coffee, but don't set up tables and chairs ;-)

Ala Dan
June 13, 2011, 06:49 PM
A gun shop that sells only firearms will NEVER make it~! Believe me, I takes a
lot of inventory in firearms and accessories, fishing equipment, clothing, boots,
safes, bows, etc; all priced right, to sell~! ;) :D

Aiko492
June 13, 2011, 06:53 PM
The reasons I love my local shop:

1) Great selection first and foremost

2) Friendly staff that invites questions

3) They have a fantastic 12 bay pistol and rifle indoor range. They rent everything including Class 3. Love going there to shoot the HK MP5 and Glock 18-only $20 to rent.

4) They sell a full line of ammo and accessories.

Yo Mama
June 13, 2011, 06:57 PM
To me, it's the ability to bring my gun in (there are gun stores here that you can't), and the mood of the staff when I'm there. I like hearing jokes here and there, I like a smile once in a while, and good advice that's not bull.

Prices are secondary to inventory for me. I'd rather pay more for a local store.

newfalguy101
June 13, 2011, 06:59 PM
A gun shop that sells only firearms will NEVER make it~! Believe me, I takes a
lot of inventory in firearms and accessories, fishing equipment, clothing, boots,
safes, bows, etc; all priced right, to sell~! ;) :D
Unfortunateltly, Dan has nailed it to a tee.

Shops dont make much on guns, most of their REAL profit comes from accessories.

Grey Morel
June 13, 2011, 07:02 PM
Well, the #1 thing is to GET PEOPLE TO COME BACK.

If you're a wacko/militia nut/paranoid/wierdo/sour puss, and you scare off 1/2 of your customers on their first visit, then you are in for a long painful struggle with your lease and electric bills.

#1) Be personable to EVERYONE, even you're having a bad day. Make sure any employees do the same.

#2) Be HELPFUL to new people who are looking for their first gun, or just starting out in a new shooting sport. Don't push them into a gun just because it makes you more $$$, or because it's your favorite brand. TRY to be impartial.

#3) Be willing to aid a customer, even if your not going to make a fist full of cash. Even if you're only going to see a $20 bill for a transfer fee, send out faxes and notify them of arrivals promptly and courteously.

#4) BUY PRODUCTS THAT SELL. You may hate Taurus/Bersa/Charter/Milsurps but if you don't stock them, then you WILL loose most of your potential sales, and the money that comes with. Most people don't want to spend $900 on a gun they will probably never use. You NEED to have several handgun options in the $200 - $299 range, as well as some inexpensive hunting long guns in the $99 - $250 range, or you just wont sell as many guns as you're going to need to keep the doors open. You are also going to need the accessories for said guns to get that person to come back - holsters, ammo, safes, cleaning supplies, ect. If it gets asked for more than once, then you need to stock it.

#5) Advertise. If no one knows you exist, then you wont sell anything. Period. Hanging your placard out by the road is not enough exposure. E-mail sales flyers and short local radio spots are cheap and they can reach huge amounts of people.

Basically you need to be nice, stock guns that the general public will buy, and let people know you exist. Most LGS's fail miserably at all three of those - even the "good" ones usually fail at the last two. They gun shops that make enough money to open up secondary locations and hire new employees do all three.

22-rimfire
June 13, 2011, 07:03 PM
Unless you want to work out of your garage, gun sales aren't enough. Ala Dan summed it up briefly. Takes a huge investment in inventory to be successful along with knowledgable staff and fair prices. You need to attact more than gun buyers to your business. There simply aren't enough of them. Frankly, I would consider an alternative business combined with sporting goods like hardware. In my neck of the woods, ACE Hardware stores are pretty successful and they are generally not the lowest priced place around.

ripp
June 13, 2011, 07:07 PM
it's a VERY poor bet for a money making biz, if that is what you are asking. Instead, put your money in cross country leasing of your used, 18wheeler trucks, with reefer trailors, using Mexican man/wife teams that you import. Using them about triples what you clear per year, per truck. Buy used, fleet-serviced trucks, and be sure to run the fuel saving canopy atop the cab. They can spend their 1 day off (out of 8) "living' in an old van, at your base. Running new trucks will eat you alive with the interest, don't do it.

elano
June 13, 2011, 07:24 PM
Prices. If i can get it cheaper somewhere else, I will.

Ancient Woodsman
June 13, 2011, 07:46 PM
If you expand beyond family employees, do your best to vet your new employees.

Nothing worse than the new guy behind the counter who claims to have "been there, done that" (i.e. pretend SEAL/Ranger/SF/LE something-or-other) who really hasn't been beyond the keyboard. Those who have 'been there' will pick up on that and go & spend somewhere else.

Gordon_Freeman
June 13, 2011, 08:03 PM
I don't like it when I seem to know more about guns than the employees. One guy didin't know what a magpul pmag was even though they had them in stock.
I also like to see a good selection of accessories. I can order any gun online anyway, so it's convenient to buy the inexpensive accessories at the local store.

bakerloo
June 13, 2011, 09:39 PM
Not in any particular order:
1. Price-it's not necessary to be the cheapest or compete with internet sales. But, throw me a bone once in a while. Free gun rug ($7) after I paid darn near list price...
2. No SHTF senarios...Not all of us believe the world is ending this week.
3. Offer some kind of demo dayat a local range.
4. Offer a class on reloading.
5. Be kind to women customers. They but guns too.
6. Don't bad mouth other shops.

mizzlep
June 13, 2011, 10:08 PM
Price match. Don't insult the modern customer.

If I'm buying a $1500 rifle from you, and I can get it online for the same price, I expect your out the door price to be no more than $1530. This is ESPECIALLY true if the freaking thing isn't in stock, and I have to wait 6 weeks to get it. Sales tax isn't the consumer's problem, it's the stores problem. I mean, seriously. How long does it take to order a gun for a customer? How much do you have to make on that transaction? If you're not stocking it at your store, it's not costing you anything to sell it for less than your ideal mark up.

Military surplus ammo. I can't tell you how much I hate having to go to a gun show to buy it. Buy 100k rounds of Lake City green tip, and sell the freaking stuff! Preferably in 100-200 count lots.

Have a real stock of cleaning supplies. I don't want the only patches to come in a kit that includes a bunch of stuff I already freaking have.

Offer $5-10 store credit for the poor guys that have to come back because the NICS check didn't go through in a decent amount of time. Is it your fault? No, but it will give you a definite edge over the rest of the shops, and customers won't hate you.

Force all of the employees to participate in some kind of shooting competition, and have their scores displayed on their name tags. That way you know who's full of crap. ;-)

mhphoto
June 13, 2011, 10:18 PM
Force all of the employees to participate in some kind of shooting competition, and have their scores displayed on their name tags. That way you know who's full of crap. ;-)

Haha, great idea!

Murphy4570
June 13, 2011, 10:27 PM
Sales tax isn't the consumer's problem, it's the stores problem.

I disagree. Sales tax is levied against the purchaser of a product, not the seller.

oneounceload
June 13, 2011, 10:35 PM
Sales tax isn't the consumer's problem, it's the stores problem

The store is responsible for collecting it from you on behalf of the state. If you want to get really technical most states require you to voluntarily remit the appropriate sales/use tax on interstate purchases as well.

Price match. Don't insult the modern customer.


Even if his cost is above that? Seems you really don't know anything a out running a business. He has to make a profit and pay for that brick and mortar store. If your online place is such a great deal buy it there. You sound like the person who screams about wanting all the customer service without being willing to PAY for it

gym
June 13, 2011, 10:37 PM
The first thing you need is the ability to motivate yourself when things aren't looking great.
Things that will feed your exhisting business with revenue from other related areas, like training, courses, ccw courses, home defense, family defense courses.
And the knowledge of how to promote your business in a way that is afordable.
Going the extra mile to introduce clients to weapons that may be better for their situation than what they now have taking into account their likelly objections and having the answers ready before they ask.
Doing or having a gunsmith on site. and being able to do Duracoat and parkerizing, etc.
Having a spray booth and air compressor set up to do work in house.
Being able to guarantee all of the work you do for a reasonable time.
Including installation along with the price of night sights, Just charge a little more, say 10 dollars or include it in the price. if you make a killing on a scope and mount, give the guy a discount to mount it, or do it free if it's a high profit number. Sight or help sight in the optics you sell. People are sometimes embarrased to ask, so the worse thing is to spend a thousand or two and not be able to put whatever you bought on the gun. offfer help, you retain customers that way.
A lot of folks are too proud to say they don't know how to do something, after they have been talking to you for a few days or even minutes. Offering them the "service", takes a load off their mind and allows them to retain their dignity. Oh you guys do that, I would do it myself but since you do it I may as well let you put it on since it's here anyhow.
That's how you build a client base and a business.

dogtown tom
June 13, 2011, 11:13 PM
JustinJ "Reasonable prices. I know the local gun shops can't match the big dealers in price..."
That's not necessarily true. There is a shop somewhere between Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio but kind of out in the middle of nowhere...
Care to narrow it down a bit? :scrutiny:
You've described an area bigger than some states.



.

mizzlep
June 13, 2011, 11:44 PM
The store is responsible for collecting it from you on behalf of the state. If you want to get really technical most states require you to voluntarily remit the appropriate sales/use tax on interstate purchases as well.



Even if his cost is above that? Seems you really don't know anything a out running a business. He has to make a profit and pay for that brick and mortar store. If your online place is such a great deal buy it there. You sound like the person who screams about wanting all the customer service without being willing to PAY for it


Obviously, if a price is below his cost, I can understand that. However, we're talking about a gun that he doesn't have in stock. I'd prefer to give my money to a local brick and mortar store, that's why I mentioned the fact that they should price match (or close to it), but I'm not going to pay more than the online price, plus tax, for something they don't have in stock. I mean, I'm flexible within reason, but a lot of shops are out of their minds. I'm not trying to nickel and dime anyone, just not going to pay $200+ more dollars for no good reason. $50 or $60 more than cost should be more than enough for a gun that you DON'T HAVE IN STOCK.

Most states can require me to cluck like a chicken and lay eggs for all I care. I'm not paying sales tax if I don't have to.

mgmorden
June 13, 2011, 11:57 PM
Realistically, you're going to be competing a lot with online sellers that you might not be able to beat on price. You have two choices there: Complain about it (and get nowhere) or, recognize that that's the market at work, and work around that the best you can. With that in mind:

1. As you mentioned, a range is incredibly nice. You end up essentially just selling a space with little overhead, and you'll sell a lot of other accessories than you otherwise would (ie, targets, ammo, etc. heck I've even bought holsters and magazines on a whim while visiting the local indoor range/gunshop).

2. As noted, you're going to be competing with internet sales anyways. People need transfer guys for this. If they aren't getting you to do it, then they will find someone else. Don't turn that money away. Set a fair price - $25 or so - and offer that service. No sense in letting that money go to someone else.

3. Recognize that powder and primer are expensive to ship due to hazmat fees. Those are things that people tend to buy locally keep a good selection.

4. Price your guns reasonably. You're never going to make up lost profits by raising prices further and reducing your volume even more.

5. Offer gunsmith services - even if you have to outsource it. Shipping guns is a pain - particularly handguns. People like to work on things locally. You might be able to find an smith who isn't a "people person" and doesn't want to work a counter that will work on your guns. One of the gunsmiths I use occasionally is like this. He will offer his services separately, but most of his work is subcontracted from a local gun shop (where they charge an extra 20% on top of what he does to turn a profit).

6. Presentation. You'd be surprised how many people ignore this, but a depressing store leads to depressed shoppers, and depressed shoppers don't spend money. Keep the store's lighting BRIGHT. Keep the store decorated with appropriate posters and promotional material. Keep it CLEAN. Keep the paint fresh, and the floor tiles (make sure its tiles not not plain cement) shiny. You want them to feel like they're in a retail establishment, not some shady back alley shop.

7. (last on my list, but the MOST important). Attitude, attitude, attitude. Your customers are your lifeline. Treat them with respect. Too many gun store owners seem to act as if you should be groveling at their feet just for them daring to allow you into their holy shrine. Be courteous, friendly, and don't talk down to anyone. If a customer literally knows nothing about guns, don't sneer at them. Help them and realize we were all at that point once upon a time.

BLB68
June 14, 2011, 12:17 AM
The main thing a local gun store needs to be successful is margin.

In general, that's going to mean having, and carefully managing, a good inventory of supplies and accessories. Knives are also good margin, and fit right in. (And if you knock a couple bucks off full MSRP, unlike most stores, folks will just buy local instead of waiting for an internet order.)

The guns themselves, if not used (and get some of those), don't carry a lot of margin. Accessories and knives typically have a lot of margin. Also, and services you can provide that don't require additional manpower beyond your routine staffing, such as FFL fees are good margin. Being the cheapest FFL transfer fee in town, even if by a little bit, can make you some serious cash. (A lot of price gouging that way around here.)

olafhardtB
June 14, 2011, 01:29 AM
I am amazed that nobody has mentioned the two things that I think are most imporant. First the store must take guns as trades. Wally world doesnt. Second the store must have a viable layaway policy not possible at a gun show. These two tactics define the local gun store for me. I have found in selling luxury items people often want to be deceived and overcharged. If he buys a two carat cubic zirconia for way more than its worth and they both think its a diamond they will be happy. Some guys just know a Browning has to be a better gun than a Savage.. Ziess must be better than Bushnell (because it costs more). I missed that deer because I didnt have Weatherby, but I'll get that SOB this year. He will take the remington on trade for a down payment on the Weatherby. The dealer makes margin off the trade.

NoVA Shooter
June 14, 2011, 12:06 PM
1) Competitive pricing makes all the difference. Nothing is more discouraging than to see a LGS price guns at MSRP (or higher) when everywhere else has the same gun for 10-20% off MSRP. I don’t expect the price to be the lowest I can find, but the bigger the gap, the less likely I will even show interest.

2) Be willing to negotiate. If you can’t go lower on the price of the gun, throw in some other perks such as ammo, range time, etc. Even a token offering goes a long way. If a stores is unwilling to budge on price/perks (within reason) when it means the difference between a sale or no sale, that tells me they don’t need my business.

JustinJ
June 14, 2011, 12:43 PM
"I have found in selling luxury items people often want to be deceived and overcharged."

Hmm, sounds someone has gotten so good at deceiving people that he can even do it to himself now.

mizzlep
June 14, 2011, 12:57 PM
One more thing:

Have a website that doesn't look like it was created (and last updated) in 1997. Nothing makes me angrier than the "Coming Soon!" page, when in fact it's not coming soon. It's not ever coming.

I automatically assume that if your website is dumpy and half done, your store will be the same. It also says you're a crotchety old-timer that doesn't have any customer service skills, and you'll only interested in selling guns 20% over MSRP to 19 year old kids trying to impress their girlfriends (or whatever).

Danb1215
June 14, 2011, 01:53 PM
Well, every gun store in my area couldn't possibly be run worse. No service, no product costing < 10-15% over MSRP, horrible hours, and add to that you have a better chance of hitting the Powerball than of getting them to successfully order something. All that said 90% of these stores have been in business 15 years minimum.
Evidently its a foolproof business, at least around here. I think having a basic level of commonsense will put you miles ahead of other stores, if this area is representative of the rest of the country.

ErikO
June 14, 2011, 01:59 PM
Here's my recipe for those that want me to come back in the door:

Good selection on hand, ability to check stock at the distributor with either a quick phone call or a visit to their web page - web page is possible if they go through Acusport or Davidson's.

An unbelievable lay-away program. No set down or set period to pay, order the firearm in to teh store after the dealer cost is covered by the layaway and do final transfer from stock when the whole cost is in the store. This is how my FLGS does it and it works great for him. The cost of the firearm is there, he keeps it at his warehouse and once the cost + tax is in the purchser get the firearm. This is only done on new orders, used guns have a 90-day plan to be covered.

Friendly service to the whole family. Treat everyone in the door like they are welcome, especially new shooters and younger family members of new shooters. Ask questions and give answers of the person who is speaking, especially when its a woman being helped. Reward well behaved kids, especially if there are poorly behaved kids in the store as well. ;)

'Frequent shoper' specials. If someone buys high-margin items from your store that they can get elsewhere, thank them by dropping your margin on new firearms. Establish a 'membership' club that is free after you've purchased over $750 worth of firearms in a six month or less period of time, including lay-away. Give them 10% off of $200+ orders of in-stock items.

Either have your own indoor range or if space doesnt permit, establish a relationship with a local range.

mgmorden
June 14, 2011, 02:35 PM
One more thing:

Have a website that doesn't look like it was created (and last updated) in 1997. Nothing makes me angrier than the "Coming Soon!" page, when in fact it's not coming soon. It's not ever coming.

I automatically assume that if your website is dumpy and half done, your store will be the same. It also says you're a crotchety old-timer that doesn't have any customer service skills, and you'll only interested in selling guns 20% over MSRP to 19 year old kids trying to impress their girlfriends (or whatever).

Absolutely. This one didn't spring to mind (surprising as stuff like this is how I make my living :)), but by all means maintain a professional looking website. If you contract it out, make sure that whatever web designer you choose puts the domain in YOUR name, not theirs, and reserve it for as long as you can (10+ years). Even if you're not in business that long, the different in cost is trivial for the extra time (we're talking around $100-150 or so total).

Also, from experience I know the mere thought of this will somehow offend many old-timers, but for goodness sakes setup a Facebook page for your business. You'd be surprised how many people will 'Like' a store that they visit a lot, and once they do that, you're free to post sales, information, etc, and all your fans will see it showup in their news feed. I can honestly say that from an online store perpsective I love seeing J&G Sales and AIM Surplus post stuff on their Facebook - often times its stuff that I would have otherwise not noticed. My local shop does it too though, and they advertise specials on various guns. Sometimes they even offer free range time early in the week to any Facebook friend that comes in an mentions it.

Keep them feeling like they're INVOLVED.

I will say though that I disagree with the bit about "negotiating" on the price. Again, possibly a generation difference here, but I personally LOATHE price haggling. I'll do it occasionally if something is just flat out overpriced, but here's the reality: people who are in areas where they often price haggle just end up setting their prices too high to begin with, because they're building in some haggle room. While that might work for some, a lot of other potential customers just walk in, see the initially high prices, and walk out without bothering. Notice how many people seem to prefer internet shopping these days? Notice something that is not much of a factor when buying from net-based stores like Buds, J&G, or AIM: price haggling. Their price is their price, and because they're not building in wiggle room to start with, there's no sticker shock.

If you want to provide some perks to your customers like free range time (which is essentially free to you unless you're booked to capacity anyways - you're already paying for the lights and the building), then that's fine, but if I have a choice between going into a store and buying a $415 gun straight up, vs seeing the same gun for $475 and talking them down to $400, I'll pay the extra to avoid the headache every time.

olafhardtB
June 14, 2011, 10:45 PM
justin j takes me down for saying people want to be deceived and the next bunch talks about how you can tell a good GUN store by thier WEB site as if you can google a limit of ducks. There is no game in North America that cant be very adequately hunted with a $500. 00 dollar gun. If you cant capitalize on customers who want to pay extra for something "special" you will have a tough time at a gun store. You got to provide what Wally world, gun shows and the web cant. For me thats trades, layaways and legal transfer. People want to buy more than they got cash for LAYWAY. They get tired of what they have soTRADE. Most of us want to feel legal and dont mind paying a little to do so. These folks need a friendly FFL helps. It really helps to know a bit about guns.

CutMan
June 14, 2011, 11:00 PM
I'm pretty sure that I would be loyal to a store that actually 'had' friendly employees. I'm pretty tired of the gun-snob and grumpy old man types that work in a lot of the stores in Dallas. That's my primary reason for buying online. I'd be willing to actually pay more if I actually felt welcome in a given store..... and knew I wasn't going to have to hassle with 'tudes if I had an issue of some kind.

mgmorden
June 15, 2011, 11:23 AM
the next bunch talks about how you can tell a good GUN store by thier WEB site as if you can google a limit of ducks.

Did you not read what was written? A website an amazing way to keep in touch with customers and push out information in the modern market. Even the local stores in my area that I frequent all have a good solid web presence.

Sorry, but the scoffing at new technologies like this is exactly the type of "grumpy old man" attitude mentioned by others that is killing a lot of gun shops. That's not an attack on the older generation in general, but rather those that believe that the world never changes and get "stuck in their ways". It's a business - you have to adapt to the market as it changes or you risk going the way of the buggy whip makers.

oneounceload
June 15, 2011, 04:02 PM
but I'm not going to pay more than the online price, plus tax, for something they don't have in stock. I mean, I'm flexible within reason, but a lot of shops are out of their minds. I'm not trying to nickel and dime anyone, just not going to pay $200+ more dollars for no good reason. $50 or $60 more than cost should be more than enough for a gun that you DON'T HAVE IN STOCK.

SO? If I do not have it in stock, that means I have to special order it. That means that MY cost might be higher than the online Bud's who has no inventory but does turn some product. Any GOOD gun store is going to tell you they can't compete and go from there.........if all you care about is a low price, then make Bud's your shop and hope there is still a local shop to do the transfer

eye5600
June 15, 2011, 04:35 PM
I don't know about gun shops in particular, but I do have a couple of things to emphasize.

1) All retail is hard. The hours are long. You can't do it all yourself. You can't hire people as good as you need them to be.

2) The most important thing may well be fixed costs: rent, utilities, taxes, insurance, etc. If your rent is too high, the location won't work. When you see a store that only does a little business, chances are he is his own landlord.

3) Know your local customers. If you're on the eastern shore of Maryland, you really want to know waterfowl. Somewhere else, maybe cowboy gear. Another place, maybe tactical.

4) I'm sure the point about making more money on accessories is true.

5) I see lots of stories about people hanging around gun shops talking. Try to find a way to make money off them. (Sell'em coffee and donuts.) If you can't, encourage them to congregate elsewhere. Most of the stories are about how the make it hard to do business.

I think the point about layaway is interesting. I see more mention about layaway on gun boards than anywhere else. In fact, I don't ever see any mention anywhere else. It took me a while to figure out why, and it goes with another odd fact about the gun business: it can be hard to find the gun you want. A production run of a given model at Ruger or S&W is probably less than one gun per gun shop. No one can stock them all, even with major capital. The big distributors have to guess which are going to be popular (and sell out and be hard to find) and which are going to be less popular so they don't get too many (and sell out and be hard to find.) Which is why buyers have learned to put their name on what they want when the see it.

ThePunisher'sArmory
June 15, 2011, 04:43 PM
Customers :uhoh:..............good prices, and customer service.

Black Butte
June 15, 2011, 04:47 PM
Simple, the right products offered at the right prices. The higher those prices climb as compared to other sources, the better the level of service needs to be.

olafhardtB
June 17, 2011, 03:38 AM
I have worked in a gun store. These are some things I observed. One the owner loved to hagle and wanted the staff to also. Two all us really wanted people to hang arround shoot the breeze and fondle the merchandise. People wanted to be reassured that there rifle would "knock him down way out yonder", Any rifle from 243 up is adequate for most of us, But who wants adequate. Some do so you sell them a trade in. Often a fondler will sell himself a gun usually some hagleing takes place. One of our sales staff who had lots of satisfied customers was a real liar. This is a store that is a local land mark, been in business for decades and sells everthing from antiques to ARs and silencers too. To you guys who dont want to hagle, dont but you will miss some deals and fun. Order it of the net if you have the cash or credit. If you dont have the ready cash or want to work it out of your pocket money layaway may be an option and who will know. I will say that if you have got to ask what it takes you probably aint got it, but you might. We still did transfers at reasonable prices some times free, had a public restroom and welcomed ladies and kids.

Sebastian the Ibis
June 17, 2011, 07:57 AM
Try to sell something different. The fantastically successful LGS near me makes its money selling equipment to PD's and Latin American Gov/Mil.

I'd also get an import license and import Commie 9mm, .223 and 7.62x39. There is a pretty insatiable market for cheap ammo.

lizziedog1
June 17, 2011, 08:04 AM
Have an attractive, scantily dressed women working behind the counter.:evil:

Jonah71
June 17, 2011, 09:20 AM
If depending on repeat business.....honesty.

Sam1911
June 17, 2011, 09:46 AM
Have an attractive, scantily dressed women working behind the counter.

I know this was a joke, but ...

Please, PLEASE don't do this. "Sex sells" tactics are just so incredibly off-putting to both serious (male or female) customers and in general to that half of the population we should try hardest to interest in shooting.

I've even seem some large manufacturers place young ladies in their booths at trade shows, conservatively but very attractively dressed, and when they can't answer technical questions and don't seem to have more to offer than curb-appeal, it is actually insulting.

Setting yourself up to appeal to the "Hooters" or strip-club crowd is not a recipe for success, and shouldn't be.

I know some lady shooters who would make great sales-people, but it isn't because they'd look good in a halter top. If you know some crack-shot ladies who really know guns and shooting, and you can convince them to join your sales staff, AWESOME. That WILL produce sales as they can reach a wide segment of your clientèle with insight and experience.

A bevy of "chicks" to ogle? No way.

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