There are few things more difficult to control in a retailer’s day than time. Along with managing employees, tracking inventory and responding to customers, many managers and salespeople barely have a clue when it comes to tracking just how much is involved to make a sale. Your time investment in a customer is often just a perception—or even a blurry guess. Then, when late summer comes and the counter activity is brisk, some shops are just trying to get through the day.
Archery Business asked four shops near the peak of their pre-season to follow the sale of a bow priced above $600 from beginning to end. They tracked the time with the customer at the counter, how long the bow was on the tuning bench, and the time spent at the target. Other considerations included accessories sold and any related giveaways.
Our four experienced retailers totaled 95 combined years in the bow business. They included A-1 Archery, in Hudson, Wisconsin; Brian’s Archery, in Barrington, New Hampshire; Mark’s Outdoors, of Birmingham, Alabama; and Two Bears Archery, in Springfield, Illinois.
Archery Business created a time sheet and asked each retailer to track the sales of two different bows during one of the busiest days of late August. Three of the stores were exclusively archery shops that sell some softgoods and hunting accessories, while Mark’s Outdoors is a full-line hunting and fishing dealer with an archery-dedicated pro shop.
Every aspect of the first interaction that starts at the counter will determine the outcome of the sale. Like many parts of the survey, each of the stores had the same overall goals—but approached them quite differently. Everyone agreed that closing the sale during the first visit was the goal. Once serious buyer intentions were identified, the sale could be closed on average 75 percent of the time during prime season.
Not every store sold their “high-end” bows exclusively to existing customers.
“I really hate to see it happen, but we’ve had a lot of shops close in our area. That has driven in customers we’ve never seen before looking for product. Two years ago, nearly 90 percent of our premium-selling bows were sold to existing customers. This season it’s about 50-50,” said Brian Brochu, owner of Brian’s Archery.
All the dealers stress to their counter people that listening is a must-have skill set.
“We find out what the customers like to do and how they like to do it. We become their friends and look for ways to make an honest connection. Most importantly, we listen to their stories with respect. Being engaged with the customer about his first big deer, or the one he missed last year, is all part of determining what they need and want. Sometimes listening to a golf story, or about their kid going away to college, can be just as important as the 150-inch deer they killed two years ago,” said Bill Volkert, manager at A-1 Archery.
Time is of the essence, but Volkert did mention that his customers responded to the pressure of a busy store. “When a guy walks in and sees the counter is three-deep, there is a heightened sense of urgency. We’ve found that when the shop is full, a customer will commit to a large sale quickly. We use the off-season time to foster those relationships, and the ‘in-season’ time to close the sale,” said Volkert.
At Mark’s, the goal is to lock the sale expediently. Like A-1, a fast pace at the counter seems to close more bows. “Our counter guys have regular weekly sales meetings, and we’ll always review closing techniques. Closing the sale is part of the crucial vocabulary. Each person in the pro shop understands it and responds to it,” said Mark Whitlock, owner.
“A closing phrase like, ‘What accessories do you want with your bow?’ has proven effective. There’s always an interest in the customers’ activities; however this staff makes an effort to only engage in small talk and stories when there are few customers in the store.”
Whitlock also mentioned that unwanted employee behavior—such as responding to a text message when talking to a customer—can be a first-class ticket to the unemployment line.
When Two Bears Archery is on the hunt to close a premium bow, the technique is simple:
Ask questions. “We find out what they’re shooting and why they might be looking for a new bow. In most cases, we’re pretty sure what they’re going to do, in about five minutes,” said Darin Brauer, owner.
When it comes to a customer who has his mind set on a specific bow, Brauer is careful to only push so far. “Younger customers can be totally obsessed with speed and short-braced bows. Unfortunately, the product they’re dreaming of may be just beyond their skill level. If that conflict arises, we are very gentle to let them know that they may not enjoy a bow that’s so unforgiving. As the season progresses, if they find that shots much past 30 yards are out of their reach, we never say ‘I told you so,’ and make it as easy for them as possible to get into the right product. From that point on, we’ve built the necessary trust to create a loyal customer,” said Brauer.
At A-1 Archery, each staff member has been in the store a minimum of five years, and most sales are followed to the tech bench by the same person who sold the bow. “We can’t always follow the sale through the bench when it’s a madhouse, but everyone in our shop is highly capable. We usually can move a bow through in about 30 minutes,” said Volkert.
None of the shops that participated in the survey give away any “free” goods with a sale—except for possibly a hat. A-1 offers a 10-percent discount on any goods purchased with the bow (see sidebar), while Two Bears and Brian’s walk the customers through the accessory displays while their sales staff makes recommendations. Then they deliver the bow and a bag of accessories to the tech room.
Mark’s takes a completely different approach. They use an “accessories form” that lists every possible option that could potentially be sold with a bow—from a release to a case.
“Our staff focuses the customer’s attention on the sheet, and in most circumstances, is more successful adding extra accessories without the customer even seeing them. When they’re spending $800 on a bow, most of the shooters want the cutting-edge-newest gear, and the salesman’s recommendations are rarely rejected. Getting the customer to open his wallet is the hard part. Once it’s open, it’s free range spending,” said Whitlock.
The accessories form dramatically reduces the total time the salesman spends with the customer. It creates a definitive paper trail that goes to the tech bench, while the customer service manager—not the salesman—fills the order. It also reduces the chance of any mistakes, or misunderstandings about an accessory.
All the stores surveyed took their tuning very seriously. But again, the approaches varied greatly.
Two Bears was the only shop in the survey that makes every effort to service the new bow the same day that it is sold, usually sending it home with the customer.
“We really like pushing the bow through the tech bench in less than a half-hour. All of our guys have been through the George Chapman Tech School, and no one touches a bow until they’ve worked in the store for at least two years. Part-timers start out fletching arrows and move up from there,” said Brauer.
The other three shops acknowledged that if the customer was from out of the area, they would complete the sale within one day.
However, at Brian’s Archery, tuning is not only an obsession…it’s a profit center. “We collect all the accessories and send them to the bench. Usually, there’s a two-day turnaround when the customer comes back and checks out the bow on the range. Our preference is to get them back into the store quickly, and they almost always buy additional gear. When the bow is ready, it’s tagged with a ‘tuning spec sheet’ that the customer will take home after the sale is complete.
“After a few months, when they come in, the goal is to upgrade them to a ‘fine-tuning package’ at a cost of $70. The bow is paper tuned, and all the specs are permanently stored in a database. If they experience a problem, we just check the specifications on file in the computer. We can usually do the adjustment in just a few minutes and the customer is thrilled,” said Brochu.
Mark’s approach to the “tech room” is more like a car dealership than an archery shop. The room is not within view of the customer, and the techs are assigned all their work by a customer service manager who traffics every job in the room. Customers are not allowed in the tech area.
“Our tech person rarely has contact with the customer. That’s the customer service person’s role. We’ve found that this system is efficient, and allows the tech room to generate far more work, moving most bows through the room in an average of 20 minutes,” said Whitlock. He noted the Archery Business time sheets proved just how well the system is working at their store.
A-1 wants their customers to go home for two days while their bows are run through the tech room and the salesman (who is a qualified tech) completes the tuning on the bow. The system is designed to give the customer time to look over catalogs and think about what they can add to get their 10-percent discount with bow purchase. “We have found that if we give them one day they don’t spend as much as if we give them two,” said Volkert.
Spending time with customers at the target is where some shops supervise intensely, while others leave the customers on their own. All the shops made sure the bow was shooting within the expected performance range and initially supervised the first few minutes of shooting.
At Mark’s, the customer service manager supervises the first firing and communicates any issues, if necessary, back to the shop were the techs service the bow immediately. Once the customer has found his “zone,” the manager allows him to shoot on his own until he is ready to check out. A salesman will check on the customer to make sure the bow functions properly and to determine if they need any other gear.
A-1 walks customers to the lanes and stays with them until the bow is shooting where it should be. The salesman is the one who makes any adjustments, if necessary. Then the customer is asked about any other accessories they may need, and the sale is completely closed out at the register.
With Two Bears, the person who sold the bow usually supervises the final shooting. Once the customer feels good about the product, the bill is closed out. Customers are encouraged to shoot as long as they like, while being advised that they have 5 days of free range time to use as they want.
At Brian’s, the range time lasted longer, and there were more “fine-tuning” adjustments made to the bow. In most cases, they averaged 45 minutes of time spent with a new bow sale at the shooting lanes.
Although the shops approached the sale differently, there were some very consistent findings.
All the shops had employees who hunt, are good listeners, and enjoy their jobs. Mark’s Outdoors and Two Bears took advantage of corporate dealer training, while Brian’s and A-1 generally didn’t. Most of the shops’ tech room employees had been there an average of four years. Many stores had salespeople who had been at the counter for well over a decade.
“Your counter people don’t know what you’re looking for unless you tell them. We’ve learned that if we make the shop a great place to work, we can have our pick of passionate bowhunters who we foster into great salesmen. Everyone understands that closing the sale is the goal. We have utilized dealer school training from PSE, and every month or so we remind the staff that they share in the joint responsibility to keep the doors open,” said Brauer.
Every shop also knew and understood the critical need for the product to perform, ensuring the best result possible at the end of every sale. Time on the range—or at the tuning bench—was never questioned, although some of the shops made more of an effort than others to streamline the process. No one wanted a customer to return in a week with a problem.
All the shops were also committed to trading their customer base up to a premium-priced bow, with the explicit understanding that some customers can take over a decade, while others just took two seasons. Two Bears remarked that one of the sales they tracked was a younger shooter who had saved his pennies to upgrade to his “dream bow” that left the door at over a $1,400 price point. “That’s such a rewarding sale to see a kid who is so dedicated to the sport and his shooting skill,” said Brauer.