Building on the Customers You Have

Written by National Shooting Sports Foundation. Posted in NSSF

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One of the most important questions that retailers should ask themselves is, “Who are my customers?” If that sounds like a pretty general question, well, it is. But what I’m getting at is that there are all different types of buyers walking into your store every day. Learning to recognize those types and what, how and why they buy can improve your profitability and expand your customer base.

The variables to conducting and analyzing customer research are almost endless. You can consider sex, personal and professional status (married, college education, income level, children, dwelling type, distance from store, etc.), race, age, personality types and more. Really, the list goes on and on, and the cross-references and combinations can boggle the mind.

An easy way to collect this data is to take full advantage of NSSF’s industry research experts by ordering a Customized Market Report (CMR). NSSF’s CMRs are designed specifically for your region based on a study radius you choose (see the “Did You Know?” section following the end of this post).

There’s one other place you should examine when it comes to learning how to improve your store’s inventory and expand your customer base. That place is your store floor and the customers who are already coming through the door.

Generally, most customers fall into four basic categories.

Commodity buyers are those who routinely search for the best prices and deals they can find. They take value to the extreme and have no brand or store loyalty. They’ve identified what they want, have done their research, know what the going rate is and are determined to save every penny they can. These customers will tell you they can get something for less at the shop on the other side of town or have a catalog and expect you to pony up and match your competitor’s price.

While such customers can be demanding and even seem un-pleasable at times, there is merchandise that most will be willing to spend full boat on because those items are important to them. How will you know what those items are? Ask them. You know these customers. They frequent your shop with regularity, looking for any and all thing they consider “bargains.” Uncovering what really matters to them can take no more than a few minutes of casual chit-chat as they paw through your markdown bin. When you hear, “What I’m really looking for …” you have the opening you need to make that discovery and sell something at a profit margin that makes a difference to your bottom line.

The next category of buyers in your store is that of the middle market customer. They are price and value conscious, but open to suggestions on alternative products and generally appreciate the advice of a knowledgeable sales associate. While they may have a budget, they can be influenced—not manipulated—to change price points.

Middle market customers most likely constitute the majority of your clientele and offer you the highest growth potential. They are also known as “acolytes,” which means they embrace your store. It is your job to reinforce their loyalty to your establishment by delivering excellent service, while at the same time working to increase ticket size and purchase frequency.

Your top tier customers are those who want to own the latest and greatest and will invest in quality. They are not shy about spending money and have a pride of ownership. These are the customers who just have to have that new bolt-action to add to their collection or the newly introduced and pricy shotgun to show off to friends at the shooting club. Or maybe it’s the hottest new “just got to have it” caliber. These customers have been around the block, know their stuff, spend a lot of money and make wonderful store ambassadors.

These three customer types comprise the majority of your daily foot traffic, but there’s a fourth category, the new customer. These are the people who have jut walked into your store for the first time. These customers need special attention, thoughtful and considerate education, encouragement, understanding and purchase reinforcement. Your goal is to get them excited about the shooting sports, the things they’re about to buy from you and, most importantly, your store. These are your growth customers, the ones who will become your commodity, market and top tier buyers if you treat them right. Bottom line, put these customers—really all your customers—ahead of everything. Keep them happy and keep them coming back and telling their friends about you so that those friends become your next new customers who grow into loyal customers and perpetuate your store’s growth. Such a dedication to customer investment will produce rewards year after year, ensuring your business’ long-term viability.

Did You Know?

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NSSF’s Customized Market Reports are available to both members and non-members, but NSSF members receive a substantial discount. NSSF’s expert researchers create each CMR. Each report is designed to provide crucial demographic information on populations based on an area radius around your store that you specify (up to 35 miles). Our CMR’s include:

  • Estimated population by age and sex, with demographic breakdowns for ethnicity, ancestry, language spoken, and educational attainment.
  • Multiple program recommendations to enhance customer participation at your store.
  • An executive summary breaking down population dynamics such as household numbers and income, area employment and projected household buying incomes.
  • Potential number of recreational shooters in your area.
  • Listings and maps of nearby competing and complementary shooting facilities and FFL holders.
  • Plus much, much more.

NSSF’s Customer Market Reports are available to our members for $625. Non-members may also order CMRs for $6,250. View a sample CMR here. For more information, contact NSSF Research at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or click here.

About the AuthorWilliam F. Kendy is a well-known firearms industry writer, speaker and marketing, advertising, sales and customer service consultant. He has written for SHOT Business, Range Report, Shooting Sports Retailer, Fishing Tackle Retailer, Advertising Age, among other publications.  He also works closely with the NSSF on presentations at SHOT Show University and SHOT Show Retail Seminars, and he’s also hosted a number of videos and webinars on the NSSF website.

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