Targeting Firearm Enthusiasts in Military Surplus Stores
By Kiernan Manion
Due to the increase of gun stores and tactical supply shops subscribing to Surplus Today, our featured article highlights the potentially profitable connection between the military surplus and firearms industries. The many product lines both industries offer can provide new business opportunities and customers for Army Navy surplus, gun and tactical supply retailers. Here is a more in-depth list of products that would attract the firearm enthusiast.
Tactical/MOLLE Vests & Holsters
Surplus Today interviewed Neal Felstein, resident tactical and survival expert at Woodville Surplus in Toledo, Ohio. Here are some of his insights: “Surplus stores [can be] a shooter’s or survivalist’s paradise. Big box stores don’t attempt to carry MOLLE gear, survival equipment and firearms. The surplus industry has carved out a niche market for itself in regards to tactical and survival gear, which reaches gun enthusiasts as well.”
The popularity of tactical and MOLLE equipment can be traced back to high exposure in the media and popular culture. When asked about this phenomenon, Felstein said: “I would attribute a lot of this to the prevalence of video games like “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield.” Movies like Act of Valor and Zero Dark Thirty have helped business as well.”
Tactical vests come in a wide variety of combinations: number of pockets or pouches, zippers, and load capacities, to name a few. Many of these vests and related accessories come in a variety of colors, particularly camo, desert camo, olive drab, and black, influenced by their military and hunting uses. Quite a few surplus and outdoor stores also carry a number of tactical cases for electronic devices, wallets, food and water and other useful supplies like ammo and other gun-related equipment like scopes and stabilizers.
To Felstein, this is an important revenue producer for surplus stores: “At Woodville Surplus, we’ve devoted an entire department to tactical and MOLLE gear and we strategically placed it close to our guns and ammo. These days everyone wants to look tactical. [GI Joes and Janes] want to look like they just dropped into the Korangal Valley and they want to kick some ass!”
While many of these products tend to be pricier and take up more shelf and display room, tactical vests, belts and other load-carrying products, these items can bring a larger profit margin for surplus stores, due in part to the stores’ availability, location, versatility, convenience and “cool” factor. Holsters and related items are cornerstone products to the gun community so having a selection in-store is sure to draw in business from this group.
Ammunition and Firearm Storage
Speaking of holsters and vests, gun owners need a place to store their stockpiles of firearms, ammunition and military and law enforcement products. Surplus stores have a good track record for being a reliable and affordable means of keeping their arsenals organized, protected and secure.
Ammo cans come in every shape and size to fit a large number of ammunition for files, shotguns, pistols, and even explosives. Similarly, gun cases and gun racks are of interest to this population with their practicality and sometimes, visual appeal in the form of display cases.
Airsoft & Paintball
Gun and combat-inspired competition games like airsoft and paintball can attract a number of gun enthusiasts to surplus stores which provide knowledgeable personnel and a variety of products. The attractive price-to-quality ratio for tactical gear makes this another product line to draw in customers.
Gun sports and marksmanship games, such as skeet and trap shooting (See related article at Surplus Today Online) also attract gun owners, so collaborations with gun ranges and stores that carry clay pigeons, shotgun shells, targets and protective eye and ear products can be a profitable move.
With the autumn season change, comes a wave of hunters looking for deals on the best outdoor clothing, outdoor supplies, ammunition and gun products. Many hunters are always on the lookout for top-quality outerwear, especially in northern states during fall and winter seasons. When there is a selection of options for useful products available as hunters browse surplus stores, the chances of repeat business with avid hunters goes up drastically. For hunters, gun cases, ammo storage options, hiking boots, warm jackets and socks, archery supplies, gear bags and pouches are all in-demand items that can connect surplus stores and firearm establishments.
Michael Hewitt, owner and founder of outdoor and survival store Renegade River in Spring Lake, MI, stocks a selection of hunting firearms and other products to supplement this arsenal: “I’ve found that hunters, outdoor sport enthusiasts and survivalists aren’t all that different. It seems to me that many shopkeepers are afraid or holdback from one group or the other out of fear. I’ve taken a more direct approach, even with our tag line, Renegade River…Your Hunting, Camping and Survival Store!”
For hunters, gun cases, ammo storage options, hiking boots, warm jackets and socks, archery supplies, gear bags and pouches are all in-demand items that can connect surplus stores and firearm establishments.
Hewitt makes a point to establish a buyer for each product: “Here’s a simple but specific example: Red Rock Outdoor Gear back packs and large duffels sell well to hunters, shooting enthusiasts, hikers and survivalists, whereas a range bag is only going to be sold to a range shooter. It’s important to think about who your customers are and what they like to buy.”
How to further expand your customer base (if you have not already done this)
Current and retired military personnel and their families comprise another target market for surplus stores, gun stores and tactical supply shops. There’s a historic, almost nostalgic connection to the armed forces for many sons, daughters, and other family members of soldiers. Members of this demographic are frequent shoppers at surplus stores. Some items that could appeal to the armed forces and their kin are medals, patches, uniforms, clothing, related military gear, firearms and other items mentioned in this article.
How surplus stores, gun stores, and tactical shops can interrelate
When asked about how Woodville Surplus stocks gun related products, Neal Felstein talked about how their store stocks inventory for these products: “We’ve done a really nice business with Magpul Industries. Their magazines sell incredibly well and their various attachments are easy sells if you have someone running the department that knows how to sell an assault rifle. Slings, flip-up sights, foregrips, rail systems, flashlights, rail covers…and the possibilities are endless when it comes to AR accessories. When guys go out to the range, a lot of them like to come in and pick up a shooter’s bag with MOLLE compatibility so they can customize their loadouts.”
As the owner of a hunting, outdoor and survival store, Michael Hewitt gave us some insights on how surplus and gun stores can relate to each other: “When I first opened Renegade River I thought of it more as a gun shop than anything else, but my customers have guided me to see that we’re actually an outdoor gear and accessories store that sells firearms,” said Hewitt, “We’ve tried to look at our inventory in the same fashion a restaurant might; how can we have more items on our menu, while carrying less inventory. What items can we sell that will be well-received by our entire customer base? For us, the bottom line has been to not assume ourselves out of any market segment.
With the clear connection between the products that surplus lines provide and the consistent growth of the firearms industry, surplus stores, gun stores and tactical supply shops can find new opportunities and business relationships by carrying ancillary products that complement firearms.
As many of our readers know, many surplus stores across the country would not be in business without finding creative ways to attract new customers. Surplus Today hopes we have provided you with some additional ways to continue to do what works…market to new customers and keep the loyal ones.