There has probably never been a more challenging time to be an archery retailer than right now. Online retailers like Amazon are taking more and more market share. Not as many kids are getting into outdoor sports as they did 30 or 40 years ago, and it doesn’t seem like the archery consumers out there are very interested in spending the amount of money on new gear they once did. It’s enough to have many archery retailers singing the blues.
How can an archery retailer stand out in the current retail environment and drive people to their store when many people would rather shop online? Archery pro shops need to become purple cows. What does that mean? Business whiz Seth Godin wrote a book called Purple Cow. In the book, he explains that in order for a business to succeed in today’s marketplace, it needs to find a way to stand out, to become the purple cow in a field of black-and-white Holsteins.
How can an archery pro shop stand out? One of the easiest ways is by providing top-notch customer service. Too many businesses today aren’t very friendly, don’t offer good customer service and don’t have enough product in stock. Few people know this as well as Kevin Strong does. Strong is a territory sales representative at Outdoor Specialist Group. He walks into countless pro shops every month.
“The sad thing is many retailers don’t give consumers a good reason to stop by,” he said. “If a pro shop has to order the product the customer wants or if the service isn’t very good, there isn’t much reason the customer shouldn’t sit at their computer and buy the products they want. The retailers I work with who are really selling a lot of product — even when the guy down the road isn’t — are extraordinary at making sure the customers are taken care of. Retailers need to create a welcoming environment that makes customers want to stop by and spend their money with them. Be friendly, be outgoing and answer questions. Don’t just sit on a stool and talk to your buddies. A simple hello can go a long way.”
An archery retailer complain that everything they sell can be purchased for less online or at a box store, so it is difficult to compete. In some cases this might be true, but one thing online retailers and most box stores can’t do is provide amazing service.
“Most box stores and the majority of online retailers don’t service what they sell,” Strong noted. “This gives the small shop a huge opportunity to gain new customers and sell them strings, cables and other accessories that the big store doesn’t bother with. Many pro shops believe the majority of their income should come from selling product. I believe that is backwards. The strength of a pro shop is in its ability to provide service and charge money for it. I think over half of the income from an archery shop should come from selling product. It doesn’t matter if a guy bought his bow from a box store when he brings it in because it needs a new string. Make money putting a new string on the bow and sell him a few other accessories. The shops that do this make a good living, even when bow sales aren’t very good.”
Strong says pro shops should hire and train the best archery techs they can find that are good at what they do and extremely friendly. Customers who bring a box store bow into a pro shop to be serviced are often new to the sport of bowhunting. If a pro shop treats them right, that shop will have a customer for life.
Standout Product Selection
Another way to be different from other archery retailers is to stock products that other retailers don’t. “To be the purple cow retailer and stand out, a store has to dare to be different,” Strong explained. “When I owned a sporting goods business, I visited the large retailers and took note of which products they sold. I made sure I stocked some products they didn’t. There are so many cool companies out there who make great products that aren’t sold in a box store. I loved selling products you couldn’t buy online or at a box store.”
John Schaffer from Schaffer Performance Archery echoed what Strong said. “We are a pro shop, so we carry higher-end products and sell many custom products that keep our customers coming back,” he said. “For example, every arrow that leaves my shop is fletched here. We don’t sell pre-fletched arrows. Our arrows have a custom look and feel to them that our customers like. It sets us apart from the box store.”
Schaffer also builds and sells his own sights and rests. His XV arrow rest isn’t available in box stores, which helps his business. “We sell our rests in pro shops across the country. Many dealers like the rest because it is different and something that isn’t available at a box store.”
Andy Whitcomb from Whitcomb Whitetails in Princeton, Minn., sells Mathews and Mission bows for the same reason. “I don’t want to compete with the box store,” he explained. “I focus on selling products others don’t. Mathews bows aren’t available at box stores or online retailers, and that has really helped us succeed. A pro shop needs to be different. We also give archery lessons to kids, which keeps people walking through the door.”
Strong also suggests that retailers sell products from companies who enforce MAP pricing. It is difficult for a small archery retailer to compete with a box store on popular products if the box store and other retailers don’t honor MAP pricing. “I always think it is a good idea for an archery retailer to work with companies that enforce their MAP pricing so everyone is on the same playing field. If a small retailer is selling products for more money than the box store, it is difficult to compete,” he said.
Schaffer believes one of the things that holds an archery retailer back is not branding their store enough. “We do our best to stand apart from the crowd,” he said. “We advertise locally and do many little things that set us apart from the competition. We charge good money for our products and our services. We aren’t afraid to charge for our time. The flip side is when someone comes in here to buy a bow or get a new bow set up, we take as much time as that customer needs to feel comfortable with their bow setup. In many cases, a new customer spends well over an hour getting a new bow set up. This kind of service keeps people coming back.
“Another thing we do is give away Schaffer Performance Archery stickers, hats and shirts. All of these little things separate us from the crowd. We sell soft-sided bow cases with our logo on them. We sell dozens of these cases. Every time that customer shoots with their buddies or goes to a tournament and pulls out their bow, people will see our green logo. These little things add up and leave an impression on people.”
Archery retailers can take a play out of the Starbucks coffee playbook. Starbucks is certainly a purple cow. It stands out in a sea of coffee shops. How has it done this? How is it able to sell coffee for a premium price when the coffee shop down the street sells coffee for a dollar a cup with free refills all day long? Starbucks turns a cup of coffee into an experience that people can’t get enough of. It is the smell of the coffee beans, the friendly atmosphere and the good-looking decor. People aren’t rude. Everywhere you turn there is a smiling face and someone who is glad to be there. Archery retailers who succeed in good times and in bad have learned they are not selling bows and arrows; they are selling a dream.
“Pro shops need to be neat and clean, they need to have that rustic appeal hunters long for,” Strong said. “It doesn’t need to look like Cabela’s, but it should look like a pro shop. The shelves should be stocked, and customers should be interacting with employees.”
Schaffer says he hears hundreds of hunting stories a year, which is great. “People are proud of the animals they have on the wall and they love showing us those pictures. Taking the time to listen to stories and build relationships is what keeps people coming back. Many bowhunters only hunt a few times a year. They are as in love with talking about archery and bowhunting as they are with hunting. When they enter a store, the archery retailer should be all about helping them live the dream as much as they can.”
A box store isn’t going to do that. A consumer shopping online won’t talk to the web store about the buck they killed last year. A purple cow archery retailer realizes the shortcomings that a box store and online retailers have and makes sure their shop stands out, providing the service and customer experience that consumers can’t get elsewhere.
Choose to be the Purple Cow
Over the years, I have interviewed dozens of archery shops for trade publications. One thing I have noticed is that the same archery retailers do well every year. They don’t all have banner years every year, but it is the same shops that repeatedly succeed. Instead of singing the blues when times are tough, they choose to rise above the rest and be extraordinary. They choose to be the purple cow.
Featured photo: If a customer can’t find what they’re looking for on your shelves, they may find it easier just to go home and order what they want online. Keep your shelves stocked with quality products from trusted brands.