In any industry, complacency can injure a business. It halts your ability to expand and become increasingly successful with the changing times. Thus, it helps to step back and consider the past, present and future. In other words, where did you start, where are you now and where are you going? Those questions will likely stir a desire to more thoroughly evaluate your business to identify areas needing improvement.
For this article, I interviewed successful, well-established dealers from across the United States to discuss their mistakes and strengths, and to learn which product categories they anticipate will sell strongly this year. These are dealers that have weathered the storms and that don’t rest on their successes. Let’s review their responses.
When I started out, I made mistakes with pricing and inventory control. In fact, I didn’t change prices for a few years. Of course, 2 percent becomes 5 percent, and 5 percent becomes 10 percent. Before I knew it, I wasn’t making enough of money to operate on. I learned that concept the hard way.
This year, I’m really excited about some of the smaller add-on products like lighted nocks and broadheads. Besides bows, these items sell well at the pro shops, and they bring people through the doors.
We stay current with manufacturer price changes. We also focus on labor charges, making sure we get paid for our time. And we provide the complete archery experience through lessons, leagues and events to equip our customers for success.
Jeff and Theresa Greer
Our most prevalent deficiency was using Microsoft Excel to track sales, inventory and taxes. We spent hours transferring sales from our register and purchase orders onto our spreadsheet. Reviewing purchases for customers was slow and extremely difficult. Upgrading to the ePro point-of-sale system through the ATA has simplified our lives, and our reporting has become more accurate.
We’re excited about the expanded color options manufacturers are offering for competition and recreation archery. As tournament archery continues to grow, it’s nice to see more options in competition bows. Also, the new bows have expanded adjustability in draw length and draw weight to fit archers as they develop. These features allow the competitive archer to customize their bow and fine-tune it for precision performance.
Music City Archery focuses on customer service, teaching archery and developing community. Our retail space is colorful and provides equipment for beginner, intermediate and advanced archers. This approach distinguishes us, and it resulted in outgrowing our original space with eight lanes to our current space with 18 lanes.
Currently, our range is at capacity several days of the week. In addition to our individual classes, we have USA Archery, Junior Olympic Archery, S3DA, 4H clubs, school teams and homeschool groups receiving coaching at our facility. Our strong focus on customer service and archery development has put our footprint for coaching and equipment sales beyond local demographics, reaching far into neighboring cities and states.
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I started out was price structuring, or lack thereof. Other than that, it’s difficult to remember other mistakes because it’s been so long since I started. And we’ve had to reinvent ourselves so much in the last 5 years due to all the industry changes. Our focus has really been on adapting and recalibrating to stay current and relevant.
The TenPoint crossbow line really took us by surprise. Those crossbows are going to be big players this year. In terms of customer interest, the Gearhead bows which we just recently brought into the store, are quite popular. Customers are constantly stopping to see and shoot them. Muzzy also launched some new bowfishing products that caught our eyes.
What sets us apart most are our custom-built arrows and crossbow bolts. We build arrows for extreme front of center, plus we do several other things that make them perform better. We also concentrate of the fastest-growing market segments, which are crossbows and bowfishing. That has helped us tremendously in the last year.
Having the right inventory was a struggle we faced when we first opened for business. We had too many target bows in stock. It took us awhile to understand our customer base, and then to make sure that we have the right equipment that they want and will buy from us.
The new 2018 bow lines are great. They’ve generated a lot of traffic. In fact, it’s the best response we’ve seen in a few years. Our customers are test-shooting the new Hoyt, Mathews, Prime and PSE bows. We’re also excited to get the new SurroundView 360° blind from Primos. And, we picked up Rambo Bikes this year. Customers enjoy test-driving it.
We have a large range that helps us drive traffic. 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.
Customer service is our chief goal. We have a loyal customer base that sets us apart from the big-box competition.
Phenix City, Alabama
In the beginning, I didn’t have the capital to bring in a lot of inventory. At just 16 years old, I was so young. I couldn’t walk into the bank and borrow a bunch of money. Starting that young had its challenges, and progress was slow.
Another challenge was finding products. We didn’t have the Internet back then. I really had to rely on magazines for new-product info. They were all I had to go by. Our Alabama location was also a challenge. Michigan and Pennsylvania are the areas where bowhunting first became popular, and many of the manufacturers were located there. Our store was so secluded, if you will, from bowhunting’s limelight.
We’re really excited about the better, cleaner and faster crossbow designs this year. This is big news for us, as we sell 400 crossbows or more annually. The new Garmin sight also has us excited. It was time for this technology to be launched. I call it a “real good mousetrap.” Beyond that, the new PSE carbon bow and Victory XTORSION arrow with the stainless-steel mesh wrap are other standout items. I ordered as many as I could.
Our kid programs, customer service and big facility (30,000 square feet) with nice ranges set us apart. We introduce people to archery who never imagined they’d ever try it. And folks come from all over.
When someone purchases a bow from us, we offer free lifetime labor with that bow. I look at them as my lifetime customer and a new friend. If I take care of them, I know we’ll have a longtime relationship.
In the beginning, we ordered the wrong merchandise. So we had lots of overstock and products collecting dust on the shelves. We eventually had to discount the merchandise and lose money on it just to move it out.
Another learning curve was employment. We hired some employees for the wrong reasons. It’s easy to hire friends or customers who spend a lot of time in the shop, but that’s usually a poor approach. We learned that we need folks who strengthen our team and who share our passion for all things archery.
The Shrewd Optum scope takes versatility to the next level. It has a dot for shooting indoors, but you can add a pin when the application calls for it. Of course, it accepts different powered lenses, too. We’re also excited about Shrewd’s REX Recurve Extender. It lets the user quickly and easily set up and adjust a V-bar. Since it locks down, positioning is repeatable, even if the V-bar is removed.
We’re also excited to bring in the Elite line of bows this year. They’ve had great success as a bow company. We feel the Elite line will complement the other bow lines we carry.
Customer service is our top priority, and we’ve created a family-friendly atmosphere. We have a waiting room situated adjacent to our shooting range. We call it the “Corner Café.” We also have a cabinet with toys for children who aren’t shooting. Our atmosphere is designed to invite entire families.
We’re also very open-minded. We don’t focus solely on target archery or bowhunting. We cater to every archer.
St. Albans, Vermont
At first, we thought we had to be everything to everyone. We gave away labor, service, inventory, etc. It took quite a while to learn that the “good-old-boy” mentality doesn’t keep you in business.
We’re an archery-only pro shop. That’s our focus. We offer quality service and expert knowledge. There’s great value in that. Staying true to our archery roots continually serves us well. Don’t get me wrong — we stay current with industry news, equipment and knowledge, but we cannot and must not try to stock everything. We specifically work with manufacturers who share our beliefs and standards.
This year’s bows — the Hoyt RX-1, Mathews TRIAX, Bowtech Realm and Prime Logic — are outstanding. We’re also excited about the HHA Tetra, IQ Define and Garmin Xero sights.
Beyond our strong customer service — we use the Golden Rule — without a doubt, our youth programs, camps and after-school programs fortify our business. Bowhunters drive our business, but our youth programs keep our lights on during the offseason, add clientele from the non-hunting public and increase our community exposure.
To boot, many non-archery parents soon try archery because their children are doing it. After experiencing our family culture, parents oftentimes jump all in. In fact, we recently held our annual Adult/Youth Tournament where the child teams with an adult. Many parents who aren’t archers used rental equipment for the day so they could participate. This is great for the families and for us!
In the beginning, we didn’t have a true business plan. I simply inherited the home business and just made it work. I wouldn’t exactly call our early challenges mistakes. More like growing pains. Our early days involved constant learning and development. Overcoming those challenges made us the trusted specialty archery shop we are today.
It’s hard to contain our excitement for the new bows this year. Bows have advanced tremendously from a technological standpoint, and each year, even subtle changes in design seem to produce better performance. Compound bow sights and arrow rests have come a long way, too, eliminating grief and guesswork.
We always thank our customers for their patronage over the last nearly 30 years. And now, our loyal customers thank us for still being in business. It has come full circle. We excel at providing quality service and multi-tasking. Beyond that, we introduce and educate newer archers, we promote our business and participate in the community. This garnishes lots of repeat customers. Our passion for archery keeps our doors open, and we always take time to listen to every archer’s story. We love to view their success videos and photos!
Kent and Deb Colgrove
Early on, we felt pressure to compete price-wise with every garage shop, box store and website, but soon realized it was futile. Our solution was to determine the margin we needed in order to be profitable and survive in the marketplace while maintaining a relatively aggressive pricing structure.
We’ve worked diligently over the years to acquire the expertise to justify our pricing, and we’ve watched many competitors come and go over our 22-plus years in business. The attention to MAP we’re now seeing from manufacturers should help to provide a livable margin to the retailer without devaluing their products.
This year, I’m most excited about the Mathews TRIAX. Mathews continually sets the bar in terms of comfort, accuracy, quietness and vibration reduction. New Archery Products has two new items generating interest as well — the Mantis blind and Swingfire broadhead. Both are innovative and answer some of the problems in their respective lines.
Our experience and expertise as a pro shop has been acquired with hard work and many years of hands-on learning. We see this well-rounded knowledge base becoming decreasingly common in the marketplace. Weekly, we see bows acquired from other sources coming in that aren’t fitted properly or are set up poorly. An archery shop that produces poor work cannot have long-term success and won’t be in business long.
We’ve also made the effort to expand our knowledge of teaching and coaching proper archery by becoming certified instructors with some of the national entities like USA Archery, NFAA and NBEF, for example. Teaching new and current archers in our range is a weekly occurrence.
A love for people, a passion for archery, placing well in archery tournaments, successfully harvesting game, having a unique facility in which to open an archery business — I had a lot going well 23 years ago. However, retail business was the tricky part. I didn’t have a business degree. I also never envisioned myself as a retail salesperson.
Quite frankly, my business likely wouldn’t have survived for more than two decades had I not owned the property with an existing 6,000-square-foot building. It was/is a platform to learn the trade and know the products so I could/can educate my customers and sell them quality products. Even today, knowing what and how much product to order each year with the ever-changing marketplace is quite challenging.
The products that really intrigue us this year are the Double Bull SurroundView blind, Carter Evolution Too release, SIG Kilo 2200MR rangefinder, Black Gold Ascent Verdict Assault sight and Scott Ascent back-tension release. We’re also excited about the new hunting and target bows from PSE, Elite, Hoyt and Prime. The new Garmin digital sight is amazing, too, but unfortunately illegal here in Montana.
Buffalo Jump Archery is successful largely due to an outstanding technical service department. The continual advances in bow engineering require a staff that can comfortably tune them and help customers achieve optimum performance from their equipment. We also offer shooting lessons with certified archery instructors.
Although online sales challenge us, consumers soon realize they need our services. And we put a value on it. The days of the “good-old-boy” free service had to cease. Service fees are essential to boosting our bottom line.
Feature images by John Hafner