Sportsman's Loft - ammo - ammunition
Welcome to NSSF’s SHOT Show column, “Working the Show.” Designed to help retailers and range owners of all sizes realize the most from their time and money spent in Las Vegas every year at SHOT Show, “Working the Show” will share how various successful retailers across the country plan for SHOT Week and what they’re looking to accomplish while they’re at the show. After the show, the series examines how these retailers, along with manufacturers and media members, are maintaining contacts, responding to trends, changing their marketing based on their purchases and other follow-up tactics. Of course, a critical part of every plan while visiting SHOT Show should be to stop by the NSSF booth and learn more about your benefits and meet the NSSF team. We look forward to your visit!

—John McNamara, NSSF Senior Director, Retailer Services

Sportsman’s Loft in Minot, North Dakota, had an unusual beginning 20 years ago as an antiques dealer. It has since grown into a dedicated gun store that is now a perennial Top 10 seller on GunBroker.

“We were an antique store and received a catalog, kind of by mistake, that had optics,” explains store manager Tyler Burton, as he describes the store’s bold move and eventual transition. “Our antique shop was called The Attic, which is what our FFL is under. We had a loft area in the store, so we started carrying some of that stuff [optics] upstairs there, and then optics turned into a little more stuff and then some shooting stuff. We got an FFL and … we got our name Sportsman’s Loft because it was up in the loft.”

With antiques a thing of the past, the Loft’s 4,000 square-foot brick-and-mortar retail store keeps between 3,000 and 4,000 guns in stock, with 2,500 guns on the sales floor. It has seven full-time and two part-time employees. Hours are Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and, in stark contrast to conventional wisdom, this internet sales giant does not have a website.

“We just use Facebook and GunBroker,” says Burton, when explaining how the store may have only 5,534 Facebook followers, but ships 30 to 50 packages a day. “We’re shipping out of here every day. UPS picks up here at 4:00 every day, and we load the truck down.”

Sportsman's Loft - Rifles

A large part of that kind of success comes from the Loft’s post-SHOT Show strategy that Burton says begins pretty much as soon as they get back from the show and get the catalogs and brochures unpacked. Fellow employees are excited about the new products, and together they discuss what each other thinks, what they should order and how many units. Some products the Loft jumps on right away, while information on other, less immediate but still interesting items are stored in a special SHOT Show folder.

“We keep a file folder of the key things that we thought were neat there,” says Burton. “We jump on the [immediate] stuff, keep that [file] and we’ll flip back through that.”

Rather than wait until items are in stock to upload those product images to social media, the Loft uploads a couple hundred photos right away so customers can “see the cool stuff that’s coming out” and “what’s neat.” Though they blast out everything cool they saw at SHOT, Burton recognizes there are going to be some buzz-worthy products announced that won’t actually be available until the following year.

“I don’t know how many calls I get about the Hudson 9mm handgun,” laughs Burton about the striker-fired, 1911-like handgun everybody saw last year at SHOT but few have seen since. “We post new products and people will message us about it,” says Burton about how he uses social media to make sales. The Loft has a fairly quick, 100-percent response rate to Facebook users commenting in the store’s posts. “If they still have a question, we have them call us, or we’ll call them. Facebook has been pretty decent for us that way, as far as not having a website.”

“We don’t want to be a pest,” Burton told me, explaining why the Loft doesn’t also use newsletters or blogs to spread the word about what’s in stock. “Our social media does pretty well for us; our big following is on GunBroker. We have a lot of people who follow our site to see the new products there.”

Sportsman's Loft - SIG SAUER - Rifles

With new items coming in, Burton says The Loft isn’t shy about blowing out old inventory to make way for it. “If it’s a non-MAP item, we’ll move them out,” he says, cautioning that when he cuts prices really deeply, he limits it to in-store only, because he doesn’t want to kill the market online. “Our inventory is not a collection. We’re here to turn and burn. I have zero attachment to [inventory] at this point,” he says candidly. “If there’s new product coming, it’s time for the old to go.”

Some of the decisions regarding what new products to stock come from The Loft’s customers. Being a true gun store instead of a generic sporting goods establishment with lots of related lines on the side, Burton says his customers tend to be “gun guys” who are just as knowledgeable and often know more about what’s new than they do. With fairly high and regular store traffic, he adds that customers regularly share images of the newest and most interesting guns and accessories. The folks at The Loft also follow several gun-related social media sites to see what’s new and aren’t shy about spreading the word. “If we see something that’s neat, we’ll definitely share it,” says Burton.

Every year at SHOT is different for the Loft. Burton says some years they may spend as much as $600,000 on products, while other years it might be as little as $70,000. Regardless the amount, SHOT Show attendance always pays off.

“SHOT for us is more about contacts. You make the right contact, it pays for that whole trip,” says Burton, as he explains how he knows that no matter what, his team will meet at least one person who is going to make them money. “We keep SHOT Show always in the back of our minds,” he says of the biggest day-to-day take-away from the annual event.

About the Author
Warren Berg is a 25-year veteran of the shooting, hunting and outdoors industry. He has penned hundreds of articles under many names for such storied publications as American Rifleman and Field & Stream. He has produced award-winning television programs on personal-defense and has hunted extensively in North America, Europe
and Africa.