5 Social Media Tips for Firearms Retailers

 

I’ve been at this copywriting game for several months and am starting to get a little frustrated. My niche market is the hunting and firearms retail industry. When I talk with owners about using social media for their business I get a knowing “uh huh”. But I still don’t think they get the importance of inbound marketing, which social media is, in the new normal firearms business. You have to be where your customers are, and increasingly that’s where consumers go to get information leading to a buying decision.

I owned a retail firearms business for eight years and used social media (Facebook, Twitter). I also published a monthly newsletter. Yea I made some mistakes along the way for sure and learned from them. I saw it’s effectiveness in engaging customers and kept at it. So how does a small business get 5,600 Facebook likes  and 2,400 Twitter Followers? Here are some things I have learned in my journey both as a retailer and now in my copywriting business.

  • KEEP POSTING – If you are not posting something relevant every day you will be ignored. People will forget about you. And if you don’t post, it won’t get shared or retweeted. That’s how you expand your base. Yeah, it’s work. As my Dad said, “If you are doing it, do it right.” But it’s not just about posting, it’s about posting relevant content. There’s that word relevant again. Which leads me to point two.

 

  • DON’T JUST SELL YOUR BUSINESS – This one really frustrates me. Yep, people know you are a business page. But too many companies use social media to only sell their product or service. And it’s not just local businesses that make this mistake. I follow a high quality shotgun manufacturer on Facebook and all they post are pictures of their guns and the owners shooting them. I sold their guns and they don’t have much name recognition. Hmmmmm. wonder why? If this is all you do, soon people will ignore you because you are in a rut & predictable. Which leads to the next point.

  • OFFER VARIETY – To engage people you must have VARIETY. Look for relevant business articles or videos and share them. Lead off with a comment. An article on overcoming wingshooting mistakes? Comment on how many you are guilty of and ask people which one they do the most! An instructional video about handgun concealed carry methods? Share it with a comment and oh by the way mention we provide concealed carry instruction. Don’t go off the edge though. Know your followers/customers and chose posts that you think they will find interesting. Our primary retail market was shotguns shooting sports. Our monthly newsletter only had 1- 2 items about what we had at the store. The other 4- 6 included shooting tips, conservation news, local events. We also had a > 50% open rate which is pretty good.

 

  • USE IMAGES & VIDEO – Yes the message is important. But to get them to read the message you first have to get their attention. For written word photos do that. Video is becoming more important to relaying a message. If you go the video route keep it short, 3-5 minutes. A short two minute video we did in-house about a Turkey Pattern pack (long story) got nearly 500 views and had the highest click rate on our e-newsletter. We also made up an initial run of 20 pattern packs, sold out, and had to restock.

 

  • IF IT WORKS IT’S NOT STUPID – All that said, don’t be afraid to experiment. I like humor so one Friday we posted a joke on our Facebook page. Boom! Over 700 viewed it, liked it, and some even commented. So we did it again and again until Friday humor became part of our page. In fact, we forgot to do it one week and several people messaged asking where it was! Were we selling a product? No. Was it always relevant to guns? No. But people enjoyed it, it increased our interaction with customers, so we used it.

 

So there you have my thoughts. I didn’t attend any classes. I did some online research and then got my boots dirty. The firearms industry typically lags behind others in change and innovation. Let’s face it, we are conservative and don’t like change. But adapting to a changing market is required and part of that change means going to where your customers are . . .and they ARE on social media. Get started because “you can’t steal 2nd base with your foot still on 1st.”

Segmenting Firearms Buyers – Abandon One Size Marketing

OK class, raise your hand if you’ve heard about the “new normal” in the firearms market. After the surprise election of Donald Trump many manufacturers and retailers are sitting on inventory they expected to fly out the door with the election of Hillary Clinton. Big box retailers like Gander Mountain are closing their doors. Even small retailers are struggling in the market against internet retailers. That said, NICS background checks remain constant or are trending higher. What’s happening? To meet these challenges, small business firearms retailers MUST relook how they do business, particularly in attracting customers. The days are gone where you sell it and they will come. The first lesson: there is no average customer.

The Changing Market

Let’s face it, the firearms industry is slow to change and follow market trends. Some estimate ten years behind other markets. It’s understandable and some say predictable. The industry is pretty conservative and traditional. Which means we don’t like change. But change we must. (See above Einstein quote.) And this is particularly true for the small business faced with competition from large and internet retailers. Enter market segmentation. So what is that? It’s defined as, “the process of dividing a market of potential customers into groups, or segments, based on different characteristics.” Recently the National Shooting Sports Foundation had Southwick Associates and The Brand Depot conduct a firearms consumer survey to develop a Needs-Based Market Segmentation.  They came up with eight different market segments based on their needs. You can see the report HERE (you must provide email to download the summary & infographic).

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Firearms Market Segmentation

I’ll spare you the details of each segment and simply provide their names: Hunter, Collector, Social Shooter, Skills Builder, Urban Recruits, Protector, Guardian Gary, and Debbie Defense. Even at first glance you can guess that each one of those market segments has different needs and expectations. The buyer could also be segmented by their knowledge of features and price (above infographic). For instance, the largest market segment is the Protector (top center), a family oriented professional of above average income. They know what they want when visiting a retailer. Meanwhile the Social Shooter (bottom left) is more likely a long gun shooter who wants versatility to enjoy shooting with friends. As you can see from the infographic, each of the eight segments has different needs and expectations. There is no “average” customer!

.What This Means for the Small Business

Let me answer that with a question. As a small retailer do you think you can appeal to ALL eight firearms market segments? You’ll probably answer with a resounding NO! You don’t have either the retail space or capital to invest in inventory to do that. Neither your sales area nor marketing efforts can fit all eight segments of the market. You are not alone. Look at small businesses in other retail markets and you will see something they learned long ago: You must develop a niche in the market. As the old saying goes, “Being a Jack-of-All-Trades means you are the Master-of-None.”

Developing a Niche

You are probably already headed this way but don’t know it. Think first about who your customers are. Ask them questions to determine their interest. What do you estimate is their typical age? Why are they interested in a firearm? What is their experience to date? Now think about your local area. Are you primarily an urban, suburban, or rural area? How many shooting ranges are there? What types of shooting do they offer? Is hunting popular? What types of game do most hunters pursue? This is just a sampling, but the types of questions you and your staff should be considering. Answering these questions will lead you to identifying your primary market segments, thus leading to inventory choices and methods to attract customers.

Marketing to Your Segment

This topic lends itself to a whole new blog. Suffice it to say each of the eight market segments may drive you to differing marketing techniques. Again, one size does not fit all! I will say this: within the general retail business the move is toward inbound/social media content marketing (website blogs, Facebook, Twitter) and away from outbound marketing (newspaper, magazine, TV, radio). Have you looked at the classified section of your local newspaper? That’s if they even have one anymore. There may be a place for outbound marketing, but it should be based on the market segment you are trying to appeal to. Inbound content marketing is also more effective, costing 62% less and generating three times the leads.

Takeaway

Go through a process of defining which of the above eight are your market segment(s) based on your own research. That will lead you to the inventory you primarily carry and also drive marketing efforts to attract those customers.