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Exclusive or Elitist

Choosing what makes you unique

I remember from my first experience of speaking at the SHOT show, a dealer who wanted to ask questions after a seminar I had just given. He began by outlining the problems his business was experiencing. His story was like many in that he had been in business for many years; in the same location with many of the same customers and same sales help that had allowed him to achieve excellent profits for many years. Only now things were changing.

As we talked, he realized that it was not that things were now changing. It was that he was now at the point where the changes were tremendously affecting his business. His story was similar to the tale told about the hound dog that had sat on the porch all day and was constantly howling. Someone asked the owner if the dog was howling because he wanted to go hunting. The owner replied that the dog was howling because of a burr in his tail.

"Why doesn't he just turnaround and get the burr out?", was the question asked in response.

"Because the burr only bothers him enough to make him howl."

The same was true of this owner. In the past he was only howling. Now he was doing something about it. There was the arrival of the marts. You know, the Wal-Mart and K-Marts. There was also the farm supply stores who moved into the area and offered their fair share of hunting supplies. Add to this the mail order dealers, the firearms show held at the armory a couple of times a year, and then the Internet.  With a smile, he said he was at least glad that 7-11 was not yet stocking hunting supplies and firearms.

I asked about what he had done to change his business in response to the market changes. His response was that he had discontinued almost all of the products that were stocked by the chain stores. The justification he offered was that he could not survive on the margins they could so instead of appearing to be the high price store with these products he just would not have them.

He began to look at the SHOT show for lines and items that would allow him to maintain a much higher margin. His business was becoming much more of an exclusive store. He even liked the idea that he thought he was attracting a better clientele. He referred to some of his customers as being the "gentlemen hunters". People who came from the larger city into the rural area and would perhaps have a small house or cottage in the area. Many of these had 5 to 15 acres around the house so that they could also farm.

A friend of his with the local farm implement dealership remarked that this type of customer had also been his best growth area.

The strategy was working, he thought. And I believe most of us would agree with him.  I asked him one follow up question. Are you an exclusive dealer or an elitist dealer?

"What do you mean?", he responded.

I told him that he was to be commended for taking action in the situation. It did appear that it was not a case of "too little, too late" and that his business was recovering. But I asked what happened when a parent brought a young son or daughter into his shop for their first gun. Understanding what the dealer had done about changing product lines, I was wanting to know how many parents would allow their children to join the parent in owning one of the higher quality weapons.

The response was that there were fewer sales for the young people, and the occasional comment was, "When you get older and more experienced, we will buy you a gun like Mom or Dad's".

Even though he had made this change to his business within the last three years, I asked what affect he had seen on his business. The answer was that there had been a couple of parents return with their youth to purchase a higher quality gun.

I mentioned a bumper sticker I had seen on display at one of the vendors at the SHOT show.  It said, "I would rather eat worms, than own a (name of gun)." The name of the gun was one that this dealer would no longer stock. I told the dealer that worse yet, I had even seen the bumper sticker in another dealer's shop.

What does this bumper sticker say to the young gun owner? What does it say to the parent? While it may be said in jest, and selling the bumper sticker would make a buck or two for the dealer, I think it does a couple of things.

The most obvious is that it is a slight or insult to the owner of that weapon. The second is that it can be read to state, "When you are ready to join the "big boys" come to my shop."

In the interim, you are requiring the customer to shop elsewhere. Imagine the situation where the parent does take the child to one of the other stores. And while they are picking out that first gun for the child, Mom or Dad decides to pickup a couple of boxes of shells. And then there is the display of camouflage jackets and hats.

Not that the parent is going to now purchase all of their selections at the chain store because you have done a great job of attracting the group of clientele that want the better quality products than those available at the chain store. But with the example we have just given, there is easily $50 to $100 in shells and accessories that is going to be spent elsewhere.

The other part of the question in having the young customer come back when they are ready for a better quality weapon is asking how will they know when that time is? And if they do not know when that time is, how will they ever know to come to your shop?

As we reviewed the possibilities, the dealer and I agreed there are shops that can be an exclusive dealer for a particular brand. There is also good reason to become know as "the" dealer when you want a quality firearm. But when it comes to definitely leaving out a group of customers; a group that can be cultivated to become quality customers, there is no room or reason to be an elitist.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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