Whether it’s because of Hollywood hits like The Hunger Games or various state wildlife agencies allowing younger hunters afield with archery or crossbow tackle, the archery industry continues to grow. In fact, USA Archery recently reported a 77 percent membership surge, and an Archery Trade Association survey found nearly 19 million people participated in archery and bowhunting in 2012 with another 10.4 million just toeing the target line.
The result of this influx: Pro shops and archery retail outlets are seeing more customers come through their doors, and they’re finding new ways to tap this fresh market. How? We went to the source. Here’s some sage advice on how some of the best retailers in the business are growing their profit margins.
Wayne Piersol has been in the archery business for 25 years and has witnessed a multitude of changes. Owner of Archery Only, a full-service pro shop located in the greater San Francisco Bay area, Piersol says diversity has been a key component in his retail store’s recent success. He sees three types of archery customers: the bowhunter, the target shooter and the recreational shooter. Although all three are important to increased sales and profitability, lately the recreational shooter is where he has seen his most significant growth.
“The recreational market is huge,” insists Piersol, “and although many pro shops build their business around the bowhunting customer, the younger recreational shooter has really helped increase our overall margins.” Last year Piersol sold more than 700 target recurve bows, and he’ll surpass that number this year if his projections are correct.
“There’s more to finding success in this recreational segment than just having a good supply of products to sell,” Piersol notes. “You have to back up your products by offering a solid classroom experience.”
Long before he ever focused on the recreational crowd, Piersol offered shooting lessons one night a week to an average of eight to 10 students. This past year he started offering classes three nights a week to more than 80 shooters. When you consider the low classroom-operations overhead, plus the fact that the average student pays $25 a lesson, you can understand why Piersol has been so driven by the recreationalist. As Piersol puts it, “The recreational shooter has created a year-round business within a business with very little overhead.” Currently, Piersol offers three classes totaling 13 sessions: a one-time beginner’s class, a six-session shooting 101 class and a six-session intermediate class.
For Piersol, the most effective marketing tools to this younger crowd have been daily deal sites, like Groupon and LivingSocial, and social media. According to him, this tech-savvy generation is naturally drawn to online marketing. Not only has online marketing increased Piersol’s overall Web traffic, but his retail store traffic has also seen significant jumps in all three segments of shooters.
Although he readily admits his San Francisco Bay market is extremely large at 8 million and counting, he feels the pro shop in the average community would see similar growth if it paid a little more attention to this popular, Hunger Games-inspired phenomenon. To enter or enhance one’s presence in this market, Piersol suggests checking out the Archery Trade Association Retail Archery Academy program (www.archerytrade.org).
Shannon Cooper of Cooper Trading Inc. has been in business for over a decade. Though he has seen growth virtually every year, he credits his recent boom to the high level of both high-end and mid-range inventory he carries on his shelves.
Cooper sees two types of customers visiting his store: those who desire the next best thing and those who stick with what has worked for them. He takes great pride in ensuring those needs are satisfied. As this Burnsville, North Carolina, pro shop owner sees it, “I have customers who routinely travel 150 miles to come to my shop, and I want to make sure we are stocked with anything and everything they may need, and that they get the service they deserve.”
Michael Blanton of Hunter’s Friend in Oil Springs, Kentucky, seconds Cooper’s sentiment and adds that fast order fulfillment is also critical.“Many of our sales are made, or lost, on time,” explains Blanton. “Because of our instant gratification culture, when customers want it, they want it right now. They simply don’t want to wait for special orders or distributor shipments to arrive. In fact, nearly all of our customer compliments and complaints will reference wait time.” To meet that demand, Blanton maintains ample stock levels and processes both online and walk-in orders as quickly as possible. “Customers are happier and it ultimately puts more funds in the cash register,” says Blanton.
Remembering The Youth
Another success story is unfolding in Hudson, Wisconsin’s A-1 Archery. Serving the greater Hudson community for nearly 25 years, co-owner and general manager Dan Ellyson has spent much time enhancing and expanding his youth department over the past few years, and it’s starting to pay off.
“I have to sell and service three to four youth bows to equal the return that one mid-range or high-end adult bow brings, and that was tough to accept initially,” he explains, “but now I’m seeing those same kids as repeat customers, and Mom and Dad are even getting into shooting.”
Another way Ellyson has enthusiastically incorporated more youth involvement in his successful business model has come through involvement in local community events. Often these events are geared to include the local youth, so finding a way to infuse archery is ideal. “Who doesn’t think shooting a bow is cool?” Ellyson asks. “When we attend these events, I go with the intention of not only engaging with the kids and showing them the fun and benefits of archery, but I include the parents with the intention of making them an archery ally. This grassroots approach will, no doubt, take many pro shop owners out of their comfort zone but can go a long way in not only introducing people to the sport, but also in developing a positive image for your business.”
Understanding the archery customer is essential when it comes to putting more greenbacks in the register, says Lancaster Archery’s showroom manager Chris Scott. “We are in a [want] business, not a [need] business,” says Scott, “so customers come to the shop willing to pay a little more if they feel the shop they are dealing with has confidence and knowledge of their products.”
Scott feels many shops have a big misconception believing that customers who buy a mid-range bow are willing to buy only midrange accessories. However, that is not true for most. Customers largely lean on a pro shop’s advice, Scott says, and once they see and understand how a particular sight, rest or quiver will help them hit the target more consistently, they tend to step up to the next level. Scott adds that selling lower-end products can lead to product failure in the field. This not only puts a bad taste in the customer’s mouth about archery overall, but it also reflects badly on the initial shop experience.
Don’t be discouraged or shy away from customers who purchase a bow from a big-box store, either, Scott insists. Embrace them instead. “These are potential lifetime customers,” he explains, “and they come to us to help fix a problem that the original store couldn’t. And some are just simply not happy with the accessories that came on the bow.” These are great opportunities to help the customer learn a great deal about their bow and its different accessory options. “You’re not going to get all of them to come back,” he says, “but most of them will.”
Make An Investment
Whether it’s in our personal finances or business finances, making an investment can be one of the most difficult decisions we make — but according to Anthony Schmidt, owner of LaCrosse Archery in Onalaska, Wisconsin, it’s one of the most effective ways to grow.
Schmidt has a dedicated investment in his employees, and it has been one of the best business decisions he has made. “Having quality employees not only adds value to your brand,” he explains, “but it also brings a level of consistency and service customers appreciate and ultimately come back for.” Because employees have brought such value and growth to LaCrosse Archery, Schmidt was able to open a second location in 2012. Currently, he has 16 full- and part-time employees.
Having employees also provides Schmidt the time he needs to market his business. Schmidt, who holds a marketing degree, says the key to successful marketing is understanding your customers and knowing how to reach them. He takes several unique approaches. Being in Wisconsin, arguably in one of the best states for bowhunting whitetails, his annual Game Camera Contest is extremely popular. Customers submit photos via Facebook and receive prizes at a pro shop event following the hunting season. This creates an opportunity for Schmidt to interact with his customer base in a positive way and directly involve them in his business. It also drives tons of website and Facebook traffic to the LaCrosse Archery brand.
“Text clubs” are also effective. Basically, text clubs, like www.clubtexting.com, allow retailers to send a mass text message to customers offering discounts on products and services. These can be good opportunities to reduce overstock or promote distributor products you have received at a discounted rate. For example, a message might read, “20 percent off on in-stock strings and cables this week if you show this message at the time of purchase.”
Schmidt says this develops another point of positive contact with your customers, and it generates foot traffic that would not have been there otherwise. “More times than not, customers purchase other things while taking advantage of the text club saving, which is a win-win for both of us,” he says. Needless to say, this low-cost marketing requires collecting your customers’ cell and email addresses.
Expansion has proven to be one Dustin Burdine’s most effective profit boosters during his 10 years at the helm of Broken Rack Archery. To draw more business to his Batavia, Ohio, shop, Burdine recently moved to a larger, more accommodating location, and it’s paying off in a big way. The idea wasn’t just to add square feet, but, as Burdine explains, “I felt it was important to provide customers a fun and interactive shopping experience where they could spend time learning about the gear we sell and learning about the sport in general.”
Burdine notes that his customers have limited discretionary time, and because he is competing with other archery and sporting goods businesses, Internet-related businesses and just interactive forms of entertainment in general, his goal was to design the space to match the customer experience he thought was ideal. His business’ growth over the last 12 months and the loyal customers Broken Rack has gained have validated this approach.
For any business to have sustained long-term growth, Evan Williams of Bill Pellegrino’s Archery Hut says, “Quality, high-end service is a must, and that’s what we strive to achieve at the Hut.” He feels this is one of the key ingredients to the shop’s continued success.
“Service, however, goes far beyond installing a peep sight correctly or tuning a bow,” Williams continues. “Great service also encompasses a good overall knowledge of the retail business. Whether it’s a bowhunting customer or one that just likes to shoot targets, they come to a pro shop seeking sound advice, and they strongly value your opinion.”
Williams insists that having a staff who is knowledgeable about every piece of gear on the shelves will not only give new customers confidence that they came to the right place, but it will also turn them into repeat customers when they leave knowing they’ve received the best service and knowledge base available.
Reach out to these retailers to discuss these ideas and more
| LaCrosse Archery
1231 Oak Forest Dr.
Onalaska, WI 54650
| Broken Rack Archery
4287 Armstrong Blvd.
Batavia, OH 45103
| Bill Pellegrino’s Archery Hut
6325 E. Platte Ave.
Colorado Springs, CO 80915
| Archery Only
37300 Cedar Blvd.
Newark, CA 94560
| Cooper Trading Inc.
1995 W. US Highway 19E
Burnsville, NC 28714
| Forks of the River Archery
30 Stockholm Rd.
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259
| A-1 Archery
587 Lenertz Rd.
Hudson, WI 54061
| Hunter’s Friend
340 Low Gap Fork
Oil Springs, KY 41238
| Lancaster Archery
2195-A Old Philadelphia Pike
Lancaster, PA 17602