The Keys to Conducting Business Research

Information on your business, your competitors, your environment and your customers will help you better manage your store.

The Keys to Conducting Business Research

Business research is a key to discovering many factors in the business you operate — and in the tactical market you serve, or wish to serve. From insight into competitors, to finding numbers of potential customers, to discovering trends and making key decisions, research helps you make many informed and better decisions. Want to find better ways to do things or implement new programs, such as a more stringent or lenient return policy? Research could lead you to where you want to be. Research also helps you evaluate the marketplace, discover where your business fits in, and recognize specific problems, and it can give clues to guide you to where you want to be in the future.

While many retailers feel overwhelmed about what to ask, what to do with what they learn, and other details in the business research and analysis process, this business essential is as important as counting dollars at the end of the day. Research discovers ideas and zeroes in on better processes and details beyond numbers. When and how often to do research depends upon you, your business, and the customers you serve.


Where to Conduct Research

Some basic research begins with your customers. You can conduct quick polls at the counter or via contacting everyone in your email address book, or possibly asking for input on your Facebook or social media pages.

Next, look for information on the local level, such as CCW permits issued or applied for. You can also attend events such as range product test days—these events are growing everywhere—or even public hearings about proposed new gun laws or possibly the ribbon-cutting opening of a new range. Look at the number of attendees and comments heard, and make notes.

You can also poll or ask law enforcement officers, range officers, and others in the related field that you interact with regularly, or know, to help gather information on certain topics. When you hear comments that provide insight, write down the source and the information in case you want to follow up in the future. A word of caution is that comments can be personal opinions versus facts. There is a difference.


Research to Find Your Fit

A standard business operating fact is that no business can stock and sell every item in the tactical market place — period. The tactical market is growing bigger every year, and the space and products hitting the SHOT Show floor bear proof to this. So, what do you sell, or what should you sell? What trends are coming and what products or categories are being displaced or discontinued? Research can help find answers.

First, take a close look in your tactical retail center. Take note of what product is on your shelves and peg boards, what are the top movers, and what are customers asking for or talking about. This is important information that cannot be ignored, and you might think you already know it, but it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations and forget to take time to note these things. Next, take note of what your competitors offer.

To get better organized and to take a closer look at the big picture, consider putting the facts on a piece of paper or in your operations notebook. To better analyze, put two columns on a piece of paper beside the noted areas you see as needing attention. In the first column goes the Pros, and in the other column goes the Cons — the negative part of this product category or that can be costly for your business. Be honest as you evaluate what you see in each area. Lay your analysis aside and wait about a week, then pick it up and re-evaluate what you wrote and the notes on categories. These written comparisons are a form of basic research but can provide very valuable information.

You should start to see an area or product category where you excel. Maybe it’s stocking and moving the most AR rifles, you serve the most SWAT teams in your region, or you have the state’s largest selection of tactical clothing and fall-out gear. A possible reason for the category you lead the market in is because you have done a great job promoting the products in the category, have served your customers well, and the customers recognize your business as the leader and the place to shop. Your location could also be in the center of a big market for one of the categories. Look for the key details, and take notes.

Do take note, however, that your customers do not represent your total regional market, but rather, they represent the market segment you currently attract through your doors. Many of their comments could be used to confirm what you know or suspect, but any comments about items sought, or shopping at a competitor, can provide valuable insight. If they mention a specific product or article they read about, take the time to look up details on the product or to read the article yourself.

Listen also for customer comments about what they have read, any numbers they mention, and such in the tactical market arena and make note and do follow-up investigation to confirm. Unfortunately, many local libraries and big box stores do not stock firearms and shooting sports magazines, so look online, because many publishers now put articles on their websites — or sometimes the author posts details on a Facebook page.

Magazine articles and websites can also be great sources of up-and-coming products or growing market segments, because industry leaders and top-tier manufacturers often let media know about product launches.



Ask Up

Another source of valuable research data and information could be your suppliers, especially the channels that deliver firearms, gear, ammunition and other must-have items to your store. They can provide numbers and may have such information that can help you make better-informed decisions. While they might not be specific in what your across-town competitor is ordering (and you would not want them telling your plans and orders to your competitors), these suppliers do have information they can share and that can help you make decisions. Suppliers can also point toward product lines that are moving well in other regions of America or manufacturers that are generating a lot of buzz in the industry. Again, take notes, or you will be so overwhelmed with information that you’ll begin to forget important details.

Online research can also provide useful insight into many tactical products and services. Look at the source, however, because it is true you cannot believe everything you see online. Some online information is nothing more than an advertisement trying to sell you something, but do look at what the ads are reporting. There are several sources that regularly provide insight and numbers about what’s selling, what’s popular or trending and such. Add any discovered numbers and data into your research details, and remember to include the date, source and other details in case you need to go back later and clarify anything. When possible, cut the pages out of a magazine and add these to your research file.

In your research, look closely at competitors and consider what their strengths and weaknesses are. Do you know what your competitors’ customer bases are and the biggest product category they sell? Be honest in your evaluations. Their strengths could be areas you wish to downplay in your product lines, but any discovered weakness should be seen as an opportunity for you to possibly offer more products or services and get ahead of the competition. When possible put numbers to the details you discover so you can see how those numbers could result in dollars in your cash register.

As you conduct research, keep any eye open to spot emerging trends. An example, red-dot sights are the top sellers today, but a few years back, these products were difficult to move because so many pistols would not accept them. Manufacturers made adjustments, and now these products are much in demand everywhere. Are you serving this segment?


Getting the Numbers Crunched

There are also great industry resources that can help you find accurate market segment numbers.  One top source, the NSSF Reports, provides great information and could have details about what you are interested in or a topic you are researching.

Some tactical retail and shooting industry publishing companies do frequent or annual reader surveys to determine top brands (including this publication). This can be valuable information. Another place to conduct research is walking about at gun shows and seeing what is popular, or selling the most, or drawing crowds of buyers.

Some research can be as simple as attending nonprofit fundraising banquets and watching the bidding and auctions on firearms and tactical gear. Look for crowd reactions when items come up for bid — and listen to comments by bidders and attendees. What you see, hear, and learn could be useful research information.

Research is important. It takes time to wade through the data, but the information collected and processed can help you discover what to offer or stock next, where there could be opportunities, and trends to get ahead of. Research can help you develop a plan of action to increase sales, profits and your customer base.


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