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Jay’s Blog: Business or Pleasure?

Archery retailers’ ability to provide excellent customer service, instruction, and archery and bowhunting expertise is increasingly important in growing participation.
Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo

Author: Jay McAninch

Why did you get into the archery business? What made you decide THIS was the industry worthy of your heart, soul and hard-earned cash?

Many people entered the archery business fueled by a passion for shooting bows and arrows. Some were consumed by bowhunting while a few enjoyed target archery. Whether they were manufacturers, retailers, product distributers or communicators, our industry’s rank and file shared a commitment to archery and bowhunting that was — and remains — deeply personal. In the 20th century’s final decades, our industry resembled a club or fraternity where few members were as familiar with business data as they were with their equipment’s technical specifics or their bowhunting heroes’ achievements.

Unfortunately, the good ol’ days of a small industry where competitors routinely talked and shared a love of bowhunting are almost gone. Many manufacturers have been transformed into being parts of a larger aggregation of archery, bowhunting or outdoor-recreation enterprises. Passion and bowhunting experience have become secondary to marketing, cost-effectiveness and operating efficiencies.

Today, our industry includes increasing numbers of investors owning what were once family-owned companies. Many of these ownership groups are led by businessmen with well-established credentials who might not bowhunt or shoot archery. In fact, hunting and shooting topics often don’t come up in my conversations with many of these leaders. With some individuals, those subjects even seem out of place. With each passing year many ask, “What’s happening to our industry?”

Manufacturing

Many entrepreneurs bring great inventions to the Innovation Zone at the annual ATA Trade Show. However, new companies are uncommon, except as ones emerge with financing from new investors who build a portfolio of archery companies for the purpose of maximizing their ROI.

Some think our industry is simply following a natural progression. They believe we’re just another business area that matured and grew to become a segment of the American economy. As industries grow and expand their markets, competition becomes more fierce; not only between companies within the industry, but between an industry and closely allied industries. In our case, many longtime archery and bowhunting companies know the business and understand they’re competing for market share. New companies are uncommon, except as ones emerge with financing from new investors who build a portfolio of archery companies for the purpose of maximizing their ROI.

Many entrepreneurs who bring great inventions to the Innovation Zone at the ATA Trade Show are less likely to succeed on their own than to be gobbled up by other manufacturers expanding their stable of profitable products. Not many years ago, small companies were the norm at the ATA Trade Show. Some didn’t make it, but Sims Vibration Labs, Mathews, Carolina Archery Products (Whisker Biscuit), Muzzy, Black Gold and several others became great success stories and famous brand names.

Retail

On the retail side, the archery and bowhunting industry has grown from providing friends and fellow bowhunters the best equipment and service possible to selling product in the most efficient and cost-effective ways possible.

On the retail side, our industry grew from providing friends and fellow bowhunters the best equipment and service possible to selling product in the most efficient and cost-effective ways possible. Some, like the Cabela’s brothers or John Morris and his friends at Bass Pro, were more ambitious. They grew not only community-based businesses, but far beyond through catalogue- and internet-based sales to garner customers nationwide. Meanwhile, most of our independent brick-and-mortar retailers maintained the status quo they built by keeping their customers happy for years, or they inserted doses of business savvy into their archery expertise to build profitable ventures with enough sales to become an asset. Those passionate, longtime retailers are having trouble finding heirs to take over their businesses. After all, retail hours appeal only to those with a strong work ethic. Many of them don’t find buyers once they can’t find friends or family who want the business. Sadly, many are trapped without the resources to improve and grow their business.

The bright spot among independent retailers who built their business into an enterprise with a cadre of longtime customers – mostly baby boomers or older GenX’ers – is that they’ve been agile enough to appeal to each emerging customer group. These stores attract millennials, women, kids and families, bowhunters and target archers. That’s why they remain profitable and have futures in our industry.

The bottom line? Our industry is showing the signs of a market in which easy profits are gone and each gain is hard-won. Internal competition, influxes of profit-margin investors, and competition from other recreational and sporting activities have changed the game. Retailing is already a tougher game than before, but the advent of online retailers, led by Amazon, make it crucial for retailers to understand that stores focused solely on selling product face even rougher sledding ahead.

If you’re a retailer, you might be frustrated – and even discouraged – by that competition. Don’t be. Opportunities abound.

The ability to provide excellent customer service, instruction, and archery and bowhunting expertise is increasingly important. In fact, it will be the core reason for future customers to visit brick-and-mortar stores. Retailers who develop their business into an archery shooting center rather than maintaining the look and feel of a pro shop will improve their potential for reaching new markets. Archery stores must appeal to newcomers and families, not just experienced bowhunters and/or target archers.

The ATA is focused on creating and sharing programs like the Retail Growth Initiative for retailers – and recruitment tools like Archery 360, Bowhunting 360, and Explore Bowhunting – to help strengthen our industry.

We’re here to help. Please explore the resources our team has put together for your business. The ATA is focused on creating and sharing programs like the Retail Growth Initiative for retailers – and recruitment tools like Archery 360 and Bowhunting 360. We’re doing all we can to create customers and drive them to your store while equipping you with tools you need to service every customer you meet.

Despite the trends and challenges ahead, I remain optimistic. Our industry’s most successful people will be those avid archers and bowhunters who also have sound business skills and instincts. I believe many professionals in our industry have an archery/bowhunting passion that compels them to acquire the business savvy to live the dream. What better job could you have than to work with archery and bowhunting equipment all day, and then play with that equipment with family and friends on the weekend? I’d say it’s pretty good work if you can get it.

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