What We Know About Gun Shop Customers

Four basic types of shoppers come into your store. Here's how you sell to each one of them.

What We Know About Gun Shop Customers

Understanding the differences in customers can help you and your staff relate to them and their needs. Don't fall into the trap of thinking all customers are alike, because they are not. (Photo: NSSF)

Getting the right message to the right customers has been a challenge for retailers since the dawn of time. Today though, customers expect you to know them with an expectation that each message is personalized to their wants and needs. This requires an understanding of who a retailer’s customer are.

Most mid-sized or smaller retailers are not going to pay for the expensive customer marketing surveys contracted by large companies designed to precisely understand the buying habits of their customers, but there are plenty of options to understand who your customers are without that cost. Industry research data is one of the best places to start, is usually affordable and can help your marketing and sales teams really understand how and why customers buy the products you sell.

Many retailers would ask why bother? The reason is that customers all buy in different ways. If you are not marketing to customers in the way they will respond well to, your business is throwing away money on ineffective advertising. Over the years I developed a simple customer model that highlights four typical customer types who buy and respond to marketing differently. A retailer can pair these general customer types with industry data and see a great picture of who they should be marketing to and what type of offers they would respond to.

Cherry Picker

About half of all customers are typically referred to as Cherry Picker shoppers; buying very infrequently, are highly price sensitive, usually only purchase for replacement or replenishment and are not the type of customer to buy anything other than the one thing they were shopping for.

Unfortunately, these customers usually make up a very small percentage of margin but half of all retailers sales. Your revenue will be high from these shoppers, your margins low, they will not come in often but there is a market full of them.  These are the deer hunters who manage to stretch out a single box of clearance rifle ammo for 10 years and ask why they do not make that brand any more while they are buying their next single box of doorbuster-priced ammo.

Motivator — The hottest deals are the motivator when paired with a pressing need. You will probably see these folks lined up every Black Friday for the deals.

Planning Buyer

These customers know what they want, will wait for a good deal, plan for it and are usually loyalist to brands and stores. They also will cross purchase other products during the same sales cycle, will purchase higher end products, shop about twice as frequently as the Cherry Pickers and are by far your most loyal customers. Usually this customer does a lot of research before buying.

Motivator — Videos, patient sellers, education/how too and some type of loyalty program will help get the most from the Planning Buyer.

Package Buyer

These are the people who will buy the outfit on the rack, do little to no research, are not particularly price sensitive and just want an easy shopping experience. These are the customers who are impatient that the it takes five entire minutes to complete and ring up a FFL transfer, ear/eye protection kit, three boxes of ammo and the training package you were offering. They just want to get the thing(s) so they can go have the experience.

Motivator — Offer a lot of bundles and packages that represent good value and quality ranging from low to high tiers. Make it convenient to purchase easily or online with even a subscription replenishment plan. Bundle in services and make your store a one-stop-shop for everything they need.

Style Shopper

The Style Shopper notes they own 50 guns and has never shot 40 of them all while buying another one. They are typically attracted to anything new, the next best thing or coveted standards. They are constant and opportunistic shoppers who buy very frequently. These customers are consumers of reviews and social posts, and love to buy what the experts or celebrities own. This is the customer who upgrades to the latest gun only a few months after buying the older version on sale.

Motivator — Pushing what’s new, a lot of social content and what’s hot or just featured/reviewed will keep these customers at your doorstep.

The Next Step

Now that we understand the promotional expectations of each of the major customer shopping types, the next part of this marketing equation is add information on your target customers based on industry survey information.

The best source for firearms and hunting industry data is the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) comprised of more than 12,000 manufacturers, distributors, firearms retailers, shooting ranges, sportsmen’s organizations and publishers. The NSSF completes deep, substantial industry data surveys, reports, consumer studies and articles that can quickly help retailers create their marketing roadmaps.

A great example is looking at the “Target Shooter” profile infographic compiled by NSSF. According to this data, the Target Shooter segment is a thriving $10B market, with 35 percent handgun shooters, 36 percent rifle, who spend about 39 percent on firearms, 12 percent ammunition, 11 percent on instruction and 17 percent on accessories. If this is one of your target customers, you can see how Cherry Picker might be looking for a hottest deal on 9mm ammo, Planning Buyer for how to videos of your services and stock-up deals, Package Buyer for an entire product and service bundle and Style Shopper for the latest tech in each area.

What the products and services the customer buys are usually the same, it would just be the quality and frequency of purchases that will vary widely. The data also suggests that marketing promotions and packages really should be focused on more than just firearms and ammo, realizing that nearly 30 percent of the market spend is on instruction and accessories. The net results are that customers get a much more personalized and relevant marketing promotion than just guessing at what they might want. Industry research data and standard customer buying types give the marketer a roadmap for planning out promotions in a much more targeted way.

For the shooting sports industry, NSSF data and content help fill in the gaps for retailers to understand their customers. Tactical Retailer had an opportunity to talk with Bill Brassard Jr., Senior Director, Communications for NSSF, about what NSSF is doing and where they see the industry going.

TR — How would retailers typically use your data and content?

BB — We have a huge array of data, content and services available for the retailer. A retailer would usually use our services, data and content to support sales forecasting, customer demographic information, compliance, setup, operations and immediate ATF help. 

TR — Do you offer content for the non-member?

BB — Certainly. As the firearm industry’s trade association, we have a huge amount of free industry data, infographics and content throughout our site and that we share with industry, government, media and the general public. A few great examples of our free content would be our yearly Firearms and Ammunition Industry Economic Impact Report that outlines the positive impacts our industry has on the economy, our “Fact Sheets” and our huge library of infographic study summaries. It’s important to note that the more specialized and comprehensive detailed data reports and surveys we have that require purchasing are offered to members at a significant discount.

TR — I see the NSSF infographics widely publicized on the customer and retailer side.

BB — They are shared heavily, which is exactly what we want. In a time when there is a lot of misinformation regarding firearms, we consider these information-heavy Infographics a core tool for everyone in the industry to use. Share them in emails, websites and through social media or use them for initial research.

TR — Where do you see NSSF maturing to in five to 10 years?

BB — We want to continue to help retailers understand shifting customer demographics and stay compliant. Despite current challenges, we are optimistic about the future. NSSF studies show millions of Americans are interested in trying the shooting sports — this on top of the 40 million who already participate in shooting and hunting.

Surveys show people also have a strong interest in owning a firearm for personal and home protection, too. These and other indicators lead us to expect consistent growth. Our industry is seeing welcome changes, too. Our customers are increasingly multi-cultural, new shooting ranges are amazingly customer friendly and retailers are more sophisticated in meeting customers’ needs. Most importantly, at the core we all know that the shooting sports are fun, safe and social. Those qualities have attracted people to them for hundreds of years and will continue to do so. That’s is why we are positive about the future of our industry.

Tony Arnold is the Chief Marketing Officer for NFM. He is a nationally recognized marketing expert in digital and personalized marketing, was featured in Inc Magazine as an Internet Strategy Award winner and has designed the largest digital marketing system in the world, delivering more than 25 billion customer contacts yearly.


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