Behind the Counter: Challenging Product Categories

We asked three veteran archery retailers: “Which product categories are most difficult for you to sell?” Here’s what they had to say.

Behind the Counter: Challenging Product Categories

Photo by John Hafner

Phaen Pittman

Performance Archery

San Diego, California

They are competition and target archery. Although we still sell a decent number of target bows — and all the accessories that go with them — that customer requires far more time and attention than the average bowhunting customer. The amount of SKUs needed to have everything someone might want is very challenging. For example, if you stock a 35mm scope, perhaps your customer wants a 36mm scope because he or she read somewhere online that it’s the only way to hit an X.

However, to sell difficult product categories, you must stock them. That’s by far the most important part of the equation on these sales. When it’s here in the store, the customer can touch and feel it. Then, if they still need to think about it or research more, we make sure to strategically tell them about our labor rates for installing parts not purchased here versus us installing this one for free right now. That usually works.

Sometimes you have to be patient with a product or category. We’ve had products that were difficult to sell at first but then eventually gained traction. The handheld-release category is an ideal example. The category has changed dramatically over the past 5 years. Our staff embraces it, we’ve significantly increased our inventory position, and we show them to customers more frequently. We went from selling dozens per year to hundreds.

When something just isn’t selling, we cancel any future programmed orders. Then, we announce it to the staff and make sure everyone is on the same page to move that product. Before discounting it to the customer, we’ll incentivize our staff with cash incentives. If we’re going to lose margin on the sale, hopefully it can go to our guys instead.


Marty Stubstad

Archery Headquarters

Rochester, Minnesota

High-end release aids. So many customers want to cut a corner and buy a cheap release. However, there are many merits to spending a little more money and getting a high-quality release. Customers usually come around with some coaxing. For those who need more convincing, I let them try out a better release so that they can feel the difference in smoothness and trigger travel. That usually gets them to commit. It’s so much more effective to let them try it than to show them a packaged release.

High-end targets once were challenging to sell. People didn’t want to spend the money on a good target. Now, they’re seeing the benefits, such as longer life and easier arrow removal, plus the flexibility to shoot with both field points and broadheads. In particular, we do very well with selling the Trio target from 365 Archery. Word is out that if you want a good target, this one is worth the extra money over the standard conventional foam targets — those have gotten many complaints on short life and arrows blowing right through. Our customers really like the Trio.

Occasionally, we’ll have a product that simply doesn’t move. We usually donate those items to clubs and organizations that come in looking for free stuff. Sometimes, we’ll mark stuff down, but we usually come out better by donating and getting the tax write-off than selling the product at or below cost.


Justin Steinke

Butch’s Archery

Clintonville, Wisconsin

The market has changed a lot over the past couple of years. This year, demand for $2,000-and-up crossbows has been very low. I believe there are two reasons: First, most people don’t have the extra money right now. Second, crossbows have been legal hunting equipment for licensed Wisconsin hunters long enough that I think most folks who need crossbows already have them.

Our strategy to keep selling expensive crossbows is to offer the fastest and most compact models so folks who’ve been shooting a less-expensive or older crossbow have reasons to upgrade. When customers test out these new crossbows, they can immediately tell that the crossbow hits harder than their existing one — in some cases, a new model might be more than 100 fps faster than what they’re shooting. That’s a huge difference.

Rangefinding bowsights are difficult, too. We don’t stock them. I get occasional inquiries on them, and I’ve special-ordered a few. I don’t push them because I personally don't believe in battery-powered accessories. Many people who’ve bought and tried them find that they don’t live up to the hype or solve problems they were looking to solve. So, I see a lot of them floating around in the used market. We do have some on crossbows, so we can show the compound user how they work, which helps them make a decision on whether they want to go that route.

I should mentioned hinge and thumb-activated releases, too. There are several manufacturers and a lot of good options, but they’re quite expensive at $200-$300 MSRP. There are so many different sizes and styles. It’s a great category to have, but it’s difficult, so I don’t buy a lot of inventory. It’s challenging to offer a good selection, especially in my store, because we don’t have a huge following with target archers. We rely on the few options on the shelf plus what employees shoot to steer customers in the right direction on what to order.


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