Successful Gun Shops are Different, Competitive & Customer Centric

Successful Gun Shops are Different, Competitive & Customer Centric

Frank Brownell
Frank Brownell -

Des Moines, Iowa – -( Competition is a good thing. It always raises an interest in an area.

The traditional way to think of competition is there is only one winner at the end of the run. But that’s not how the marketplace really works.

To understand your market and how to reach it, we’ve come up with three ways of looking at competing in a competitive market place.

First, you must “Differentiate” yourself. Your offering of products and services should fill the basic needs of customers with the added twist of something greater or better than they can get from all those other folks out there trying to sell to the same customer.

As a Gunsmith or Gun Shop, you’ll compete with “big box” stores that have overlapping items at possibly better prices than yours. Then there are the “trunk of his car” guys who can deliver products right now to be used in the field – but their primary warehouse is what they’re carrying with them to sell to some of the shooters at the range, or other competitors at a match.

Obviously, if you have a bricks-and-mortar location, you will fall somewhere between these two in size and floor space. All three types of businesses bring great value to the outdoor market. But, to succeed, you need to do something with your store or your staff that takes you out of the background noise and gets people thinking about you as the place to go.

Examples of effective differentiation could be making your shop the local Three Gun Shop or catering to Western shooters or being the big Custom rifle/pistol/shotgun shop in your area. Or have the best selection of optics and service ’em all, offer the best custom ammo loads, post all the local match scores on the wall, have a wonderful layaway program, or . . . So you’re going to have to do your homework. Spend some time wandering through other stores for some ideas. Read their newspaper ads and local channel TV and radio ads. Learn what they’re doing, but don’t copy it. Come up with something that will cause the customers out there to recognize that you’re different, you’ll treat them better, or offer a unique service the other guys don’t have.

OK – so think outside the box; come up with a neat, recognizable, marketable way to make you stand out from the crowd.

Second, try “Clustering”. Try to get a group of “Like-hobby” suppliers and services to open up shops in the same neighborhood or strip mall or area. Think about it. If you’re a gunsmith, why not open up close to a full-line sporting goods store? Then the customer can buy some of their stuff over there and bring it to you to put together or mount or adjust to fit or whatever. Carry the idea further . . . using the concept of “Coopetiton”, you link up with all kinds of folks and shops serving the same customers, but each of you has something unique to differentiate your shop, as we discussed above. You can link up with shooting ranges, taxidermists, guides/guide services, archery shops, or reloading shops. The whole idea is to be cooperating and competing together. The key to “coopetition” is to specialize but be in the same marketplace.

Third, Understand Your Customer. Really finding out what your customers want and what their future needs will be is a tricky business. You can find out by asking them, doing a survey, or by just checking the sales slips copies and making a chart. You’ll soon know – and then you can use that knowledge to do a better job of differentiating, of knowing which product areas have growth potential for your shop.

For instance, Iowa is a shotgun-only state for deer – except for 2 rows of counties on our Iowa/Missouri border where rifles can be used. Therefore, your customer analysis and common sense will tell you not to load up on centerfire rifle ammo or rifles for deer season. However, figuring out the deer slugs in all of their permutations and finding out which your customers like to shoot would definitely be a step in the right direction. And could easily lead to that necessary differentiation I talked about earlier.

Today’s competition requires you to meet a minimum threshold of competency in your gunsmithing or your outdoor retailing, with the added twist of a specialization – say in competition rifles, three gun, concealed carry, or range experience – tagged onto your retail store. Having the same products and going head to head with more established large retailers is a recipe for disaster. Nobody wants that.

So, think about the above guidelines. Figure out how to make your shop unique, how to hook up with customer-connected specialty shops, and really understand your customers. All basic requirements for your shop to succeed.

Well, yes, it might be tough. But thinking outside your comfort zone, your “box” as it were, might just be the place to start!

At Brownells Everything is Guaranteed period! Forever, 100%, with no restocking fees. Brownells is the world’s largest supplier of firearm parts, gunsmithing tools, ammunition, reloading equipment and accessories. Stocking more than 50,000 items, the company supplies armorers, gunsmiths, and shooters worldwide. All of their products are backed by a 100% satisfaction, unconditional, lifetime guarantee. For more information, or to place an order, call 800-741-0015 or visit

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Luke Winstead
Luke Winstead
4 years ago

Thank you for the article, I want to own a gun store and am completely new to it so this is very helpful.