Local Advertising Still Has Value for Your Firearms Business

In the days of SEO and social media, you can still benefit from hyper-local marketing that has been used for generations.

Local Advertising Still Has Value for Your Firearms Business

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Way back when, I had a summer job selling newspaper advertising over the phone. I think we had push-button phones on our desks, so at least I wasn’t wearing out my index finger using a rotary dial. For any of you under 40 years old, early telephones had a round disk with holes for each number and you had to spin … oh, forget about it. It was the Stone Age, and this is information you don’t need to know. 

Anyway, my ad sales job went like this: 

Open up the daily newspaper’s classified advertising section and peruse several pages of small-print advertising. Hmm, more useless information for younger readers. But yes, folks got the paper delivered every day and searched long columns of two-line alphabetically ordered ads when they wanted to buy a used car, look for employment or find an apartment.

Then I’d go down the list of ads in every category and call the seller, employer or landlord. When they picked up the phone (there was no caller ID in the Stone Age), I would ask if they would like to insert their ad in the series of local weekly newspapers I was working for. Then I would review with them the cost of placing the ad once, twice or three times to better reach their customers. 

Believe it or not, with constant dialing and no option of letting the phone go to voicemail, I would sell about a dozen ads over a seven-hour shift. As I recall from distant memory, people were by and large cordial and patient, and they would listen to my offer and respond before we exchanged polite goodbyes. 

Somehow, I just don’t think this marketing model would work today. We’ve all lost patience and politeness on the phone. We view talking to random callers as a most unpleasant activity. Also, the internet has made it far too easy to search for a needed product or service, even if you’re simply looking for a local product or service. 


Golden Oldies

But is there still room for some antiquated — or maybe call them quaint — forms of advertising for small, local businesses like your sporting goods store? Or is your marketing plan all about SEO, your Google listing placement, or the broad reach of social media including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? 

Recently, something prompted me to ponder the possibilities of seemingly obsolete marketing concepts for small business. I was browsing at a thrift store when I came upon the book Getting the Most From Your Yellow Pages Advertising – Maximum Profits at Minimum Costs by Barry Maher. I had to chuckle at how the passage of time has rendered this journal positively useless. Who would buy a book promising to explain how to advertise in the Yellow Pages — and how not to?

I mean, retailers were cursing the highway robbery costs of Yellow Pages advertising 20 years ago. Even more than they’re now complaining about Google advertising. And in a hot selling environment, many retailers might be able to avoid expanding their advertising budget. 

But they don’t want to give up on marketing completely. There might be good reason for maintaining the old-fashioned, hyperlocal approaches to keeping the company name in front of the public. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t think retailers will be flocking back to the Yellow Pages. But I still hear from retailers who spend little amounts of money to keep in touch with their core customers. They stick with some of the old advertising approaches, even though they don’t always have a really good way of tracking their effectiveness. 


Tried and True

How much of your advertising budget do you still dedicate to marketing approaches that go back to the days of the rotary-dial telephone? 

Hometown Shoppers: Many communities still have a shopper publication delivered to paper boxes and front stoops across town. They remain popular in many areas and provide an inexpensive way to blanket your territory with regular invitations to stop by and shop or shoot. Through a small ad, you can offer coupons, run your business logo and include your contact information. You can’t track shopper readership through mouse clicks, but there is still a percentage of the population accustomed to using this print medium more than reaching for an iPad.

Postcards: It’s not the same as virtual target marketing, but postcard mailers are a tangible reminder you can schedule for delivery by the ZIP code. The price keeps going up for postage, but mailers can still be quite effective and, if you’re lucky, recipients will keep them as a handy reminder of the next time they want to shop or need gunsmithing service, particularly if you include a coupon.

Refrigerator Magnets: How will the postcards be saved? Perhaps fixed to the refrigerator by a magnet. Though decidedly old-fashioned, many retailers still purchase refrigerator magnets crafted in the shape of a gun, carrying valuable service messages and contact information. You can include a web address or a UPC symbol on the graphics, giving customers more modern ways to reach out when they need you. And not many marketing tools beat a refrigerator magnet for longevity. Look at your own fridge and see how many magnets have been sending you subliminal messages for years.

Restaurant Placemats: Your customers all have something in common: They eat, and they often like to gather at local cafes and supper clubs (that’s what we call nicer dinner spots here in Wisconsin) for a meal. Many independent restaurants generate a small revenue stream by selling ads to very localized businesses to appear on paper placemats set in front of every diner. Sometimes they also include a quiz or word game, or something for the kids to draw or color. Lots of eyeballs focus on the placemat before the food arrives.  

Church Bulletins: What better captive audience for your advertising pitch than fellow members of your congregation sitting in the pews for an hour every week? If the Rev. Jones’ sermon is rambling, you might notice some folks starting to look over the bulletin to stay awake. And what if one of them has a revelation that they could use an upgrade on their carry gun? I would call that a prayer answered. Supporting your church and reaching your customers is a win-win.

Community Bulletin Boards: At my local True Value hardware store, many contractors still crowd the corkboard with their business cards. It’s free, sure, but I assume they keep doing it because it works on some level. I know I glance over at the board every time I stop in for a nut or bolt. And what if that DIY gunsmithing project morphs into something I can no longer handle on my own? Well, I know where to find some help.

Sponsoring Youth Sports Teams: You might break even on the uniforms and team ice cream runs if a pee-wee or Little League parent becomes a regular customer. Sponsoring a local sports team is more about creating goodwill for your company’s brand than it is about gaining direct results for your advertising dollar. I don’t know any retailers who regret helping the community in this way, and serving youth is a source of great pride for small businesses. If you’re not into sports, there are many other ways to help out, such as sponsoring the high school marching band, robotics team or giving to the local Boys & Girls Club.


Final Word

Some of these advertising ideas would be shunned by modern marketing professionals, who may argue they don’t have great reach and results are not trackable in any way. But the old ways of local advertising have stood the test of time for many small businesses that wouldn’t think of giving them up. 



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