8 Ways to Survive Box Store Competition

Don’t get trampled by the big dogs. Hold your own with these eight easy-to-follow steps.

8 Ways to Survive Box Store Competition

Having worn the archery-dealer shoes for 10 years of my life, I understand the challenges pro shops like yours face, competition being one of them. Box stores are high on the list. Retail giants have the buying power to stock shelves inexpensively and then turn around and sell the merchandise at lower prices than you can. Plus, they generally have more merchandise because they have the space to display it and the customer base to liquidate it. They will always have those irrefutable advantages over you.

This, of course, presents challenges for you, but I believe pro shops such as yours can rise to the call and create your own advantages. No, your bottom line probably won’t match that of the retail giants, but you can achieve your own level of success, and you’ll go to work every day feeling encouraged rather than discouraged. Plus, you’re making money doing what you love to do. Is that so bad?

Understand that it’s not all bliss. Continuing to be successful amidst box store competition isn’t easy. In other words, you can’t run on autopilot and expect to withstand competition. To that end, let’s review several steps you can take to keep your business in flight as the turbulence of competition shakes it.

1. Keep Competitive Pricing

“Yeah right!” you’re probably saying. Before you jump to conclusions, let me explain. Pricing competitively is all about buying correctly. The obvious way to do this is ordering at the ATA Show, but don’t overlook the benefits of joining a buying group like A.R.R.O. or NABA. Archery dealers across the country are reporting that these buying groups offer the best pricing on much of the merchandise they want to stock, and these groups are for pro shops only, not large box stores. It’s an advantage you can capitalize upon.

Marty Stubstad of Archery Headquarters is a huge advocate for A.R.R.O. “Through A.R.R.O., I increase my profit margin because I’m able to order at volume-distributor pricing,” he shared. “However, I can still order in small quantities. A.R.R.O. helps put money back into dealers’ hands, and it’s the only archery buying group that distributes dividends to its members.

“A.R.R.O. annually holds its Hot Show for two days prior to the ATA Show,” Stubstad continued. “About 150 to 160 manufacturers attend the Hot Show, and they offer A.R.R.O. dealer members show-exclusive pricing on given products. Orders can be programmed throughout the year. A.R.R.O. dealers save at least 10 percent on items by ordering at the Hot Show.”

Addressing a customer who found an item cheaper at another store is rocky soil, but Scott Aase of Dakota Archery welcomes them. “I want to be informed promptly if a customer knows a product is cheaper elsewhere,” he said. “I must stay on top of that, and I thank my customers who are forthright about it. Honestly, I probably don’t receive enough input and feedback from customers regarding pricing and competition. I like to hear it straight from them so I can try to solve their concerns before I lose their business.

“First, I consider whether or not I need to change my price,” he continued. “If not, I see if I have enough room to meet them at a price that works for both of us. I think on my feet and am prepared to handle each price objection individually. I do everything I can to resolve concerns and can usually negotiate and compromise.”

2. Sell Pro Shop Exclusive Products

Another definitive advantage you can harness is your ability to stock pro shop-only merchandise. Manufacturers prohibit box stores from purchasing and selling these items, which means consumers must travel to pro shops in order to buy them. Carrying these exclusive items also sets you apart; you have items the big stores don’t.

Some examples that come to mind are Mathews bows, Schaffer Performance Archery arrow rests and sights, and select arrows like Gold Tip’s new Black Label. Many other manufacturers offer at least some pro shop-exclusive products. It takes some effort to find them, but it’s effort well spent.

3. Provide Expert Service

Box stores are typically limited in terms of staff expertise. In other words, a greenhorn archer looking to obtain lots of valuable information along with a bow purchase won’t usually find it at a box store. In many cases, the folks working the sporting goods counter at these big outfits aren’t archers or bowhunters at all, and if they are, they likely don’t have the bow tuning knowledge and experience you do. This gives you the edge.

If you’re running a pro shop, I trust you’ve been involved with archery for many years and know your stuff. Not only can you answer virtually every question you’re asked, but you can set up and tune a bow head and shoulders above what a giant retailer can. As a result, you’ll equip your customers to shoot more accurately. They’ll value your expertise.

Jonathan Heath of Greenville Marine Outdoor Shop believes that above-and-beyond service is a small retailer’s greatest advantage. “We take great care of folks who purchase bows from us,” he said. “No bow leaves our store until it’s appropriately fitted to the customer, set up and tuned properly. The customer must be completely satisfied with everything. To boot, we handle simple fixes like serving separations or twisted peeps down the road free of charge as a value-add to those who purchase bows from us. We get lots of repeat business because of our expert customer service.”

Increase your customer satisfaction by providing friendly, above-and-beyond service.
Increase your customer satisfaction by providing friendly, above-and-beyond service.

4. Build Relationships with Your Customers

If you’re an owner, manager or regular employee of an archery pro shop, your customers see your face weekly. The more times they encounter you, the quicker you can foster solid business relationships with them and the faster you’ll earn their trust. Archery is an intimate and involved sport, and most customers prefer service from folks they know, not ones who are working one week and gone the next.

It’s safe to say most consumers seek consistency. That’s something you can offer that costs nothing. Consider car dealerships. If you have a positive experience with friendly service at a given dealership, you’ll probably return to that same dealership next time you’re in the market for a vehicle. Archery customers often share that tendency.

To truly establish good business relationships with your customers, you must portray an interested posture and use down-to-earth manners and language. Be slow to tell your customers what you’ve accomplished and be quick in welcoming them to talk about their needs, their family, their accomplishments or their new dog. Whatever they have to say, tune your ear in their direction.

Not all customers open up right away — some never do — and building relationships with them can be a bit more difficult, but still doable. When you meet a customer who does open up, you’ve found someone you can get to know quickly. Develop a relationship with as many folks as possible and you’ll likely win customers for life.

5. Sell Your Range

Not literally. I’m talking about the fact that you have one, and most box stores don’t — leverage that advantage. Say a customer is calling around to different stores to price-check a new bow. Sure, your price might be higher, but you could include a week pass to your range or even offer a free shooting lesson with the bow purchase. It’s an incentive for them to buy from you and it costs you virtually nothing.

In time, a clean, well-lit shooting range complete with fun targets will virtually sell itself, and folks will shop at your store because you have one. “We have a large range that helps us drive customer traffic,” Blake Nowak of Diamond Archery in Wichita, Kansas, said. “We run a beginner’s class twice weekly, and it averages 20 and up to 40 participants on any given night. Archery Combat (archery tag) is another great way to generate extra income. We offer this for birthday parties and company group-building activities. Our range brings in folks who wouldn’t otherwise come in.”

A clean, well-lit archery range, staffed by an archery pro, can be a step-up from what the box stores are able to provide.
A clean, well-lit archery range, staffed by an archery pro, can be a step-up from what the box stores are able to provide.

6. Reward Loyalty

Do you have a rewards card or equivalent that gives your archery customers incentive to continue buying from you? Do you have a punch card for your shooting range that gives the 10th or 12th visit free? These and other sorts of rewards programs will help build loyalty. If you’re not harnessing their power, you’re missing out on building customer loyalty.

7. Optimize Your Website’s Search-Engine Appearance

When someone Google searches archery shops in your city, is your store on top of the list? For that matter, does it come up at all? If you had your website professionally built, odds are you come up fairly high on the list, if not on the top. On the other hand, if you built the website yourself and have limited or no knowledge of SEO (search engine optimization), the back end of your website probably could use SEO help.

Website builders such as Wix are extremely user-friendly in walking you through the steps to optimize your website’s search-engine results. For example, I’m an amateur web designer, but I’ve built websites for several businesses using Wix. Not long after launching them, they became extremely easy to find on Google. But, if you don’t have the time to work on these things or simply lack the knowhow, it’s probably best to hire a pro, if you can afford it.

How does SEO relate to competing with box stores? Well, because if a customer searching for archery equipment on Google sees box store A and box store B ahead of your store in the results, they might go to those instead of your shop. That’s especially true if they’re a newer archer who doesn’t understand the value of buying from an archery expert. So, let me ask: Are you willing to lose a customer because they couldn’t find you on Google? Sounds risky to me.

Rob Morgan of Superior Archery in Billings, Montana, said his website helps leverage out-of-town traffic. “We have a pretty nice website, and I’m hoping it helps our business a lot,” he said. “We do get a lot of out-of-town customers because of it. They come rolling through town looking for an archery shop, and they jump on Google and find us. Our website definitely serves as a platform to get more people into our store.”

Go out of the way to build a rapport with other archery-, hunting- or outdoor-focused retailers in your community.
Go out of the way to build a rapport with other archery-, hunting- or outdoor-focused retailers in your community.

8. Befriend Them

That’s right, go to box stores in your area and get to know the folks working behind the archery and hunting counters. Why in the world would you want to befriend your direct competition? For two reasons.

First, if you present yourself as a respectable individual who’s a professional at working with archery equipment, they can’t truthfully say bad things about you to their customers. And if they do, those negative comments won’t stick because they’re invalid. Most likely they’ll say positive things because you approached them as friend rather than enemy.

Of course, the other benefit of befriending your box store competitors is that you offer things they don’t, and they offer things you don’t. This can work as a two-way street. When a customer comes to you seeking ground blinds that you don’t sell, you can send them to your large retailer friends. On the flip side, when they get a customer who’s looking for shooting lessons or some expert bow tuning work, they can send the customer your way.

Diamond Archery uses this approach. “There’s a giant retailer a short distance away from our store that offers the full gamut of deer hunting supplies,” Nowak shared. “We can’t really compete with what they offer, so we don’t try to.”

Of course, that would seem like a negative aspect to most retailers, but Diamond Archery embraces it. “That giant retailer, believe it or not, actually helps us,” Nowak said. “We make a lot of money on labor from folks who buy stuff from that store, plus we have a shooting range. We keep a good relationship with that big store. We send them folks who need hunting gear, and they send us folks who need specialized tuning help or who want to shoot at a range.”


There you have it: Eight ways to rise up and become the David among giants in the archery retail world. If you aren’t doing all of these steps now, wait no longer. Rather than cuss about the competition-related struggles you face, discover your advantages and capitalize on them. You’ll be surprised at how well you can hold your ground.


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