Author: Cassie Gasaway
By now, it’s obvious: Any business related to the outdoors likely had its best year in 2021, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. As consumers turned to nature and sports to get outside, retailers across the country welcomed new customers, dealt with supply chain issues, and juggled local and state mandates, all of which made it hard to focus on business.
Al Barton shared his story and how he plans to tackle the new year. Barton has owned Central Cascades Archery in Oregon for seven years, and he said the last two years didn’t even compare with the first five.
“2021 was very challenging because business was tremendous but getting product was difficult,” he said. “It was a mess and a half, but if we didn’t have great customers, it could have been really bad.”
Barton and the team at Central Cascades Archery often post about their new products whenever they receive a shipment. Photo credit: Central Cascades Archery
Barton said his sales increased almost 25% from where they were in 2020 and 30% from where they were in 2019. In fact, this year his sales passed last year’s total sales on Sept. 3. He said every month kept getting better. He was satisfied with the influx of new customers and sales, but he felt like his hands were tied when it came to selling products because so many things were out of stock, on back order or held up in shipping. He hated feeling stuck when customers would ask for things and manufacturers couldn’t supply them.
“Being the middleman was frustrating but many of our customers were understanding and patient,” he said. “We did our best to try to find stuff for them, and most of them hung with us.” Barton believes his honesty, transparency and focus on good customer service helped carry him through. Unfortunately, he doesn’t think 2022 will be any different. The industry is still facing inventory issues, and consumers are still interested in archery.
For many people, the new year signals a fresh start, but for businesses, the issues happening in December don’t just stop happening because someone flips a calendar page.
“This coming year could be our most unknown year,” Barton said. “We have seen enough new customers and think they’ll come back because we have good customer service, but nothing is guaranteed. Right this second things are good. A lot of factors could change that, so we’re prepared to saddle up, strap in and hang on for this next year because either way, it probably won’t be a regular, calm year.”
The shop is heavily involved in NASP programs. Photo Credit: Central Cascades Archery
His approach to the new year is to continue doing his best and to channel his energy into something productive, which for him is working with kids. Central Cascades Archery is heavily involved in the National Archery in the Schools Program and Barton is currently trying to get NASP sanctioned by the Oregon School Activities Association. OSAA is a nonprofit, board-governed organization dedicated to ensuring equitable competition for Oregon high school students. Barton wants to see archery become as mainstream as football and basketball for students in Oregon. He said kids are the future of archery, and they matter more than any of the political and supply chain issues he’s dealing with.
In his efforts with OSAA and through his work at Central Cascades Archery, Barton plans to use the following mantras to survive and sustain business in the upcoming year.
- Be Flexible: “You have to be careful not to get hooked on something that you can’t recover from, if it becomes unavailable,” he said. “If you don’t adjust your business as you go, you get stuck.” If a product is delayed, familiarize yourself with backup options so you can speak about or offer them in a pinch. Keep an open mind and don’t get hung up on logistics.
- Be Patient: Yes, your business must adapt, but you also shouldn’t make rash changes based on short-term happenings. For example, instead of hiring someone after a two-week rush because you think that’s the new normal, wait to see how things will trend long-term. Cautiously analyze a situation over time to make smart, levelheaded decisions. Barton said there’s a fine line between having too few and too many employees. If your business is growing, you must have the structure to support it, but you don’t want to waste your time hiring someone new only to let them go a month later. Barton hired one new employee in 2021 and plans to hire another person in spring if things keep trending at the current pace.
- Be Fair: Barton said retailers will always have a guy who’s 15th in line and mad they’re not first. If they leave, so be it. While it’s not ideal to lose customers, it’s important to focus on the 14 people who stayed in line and waited their turn. Stay true to your policies and procedures, and be fair to those who respect them.
- Be a Problem Solver: If a customer walks into your shop, they have a problem. Whether they need a product, want to learn a new skill or have an issue with their equipment, you must work to solve their dilemma. While that may be difficult in the current climate with limited resources, it must be done. Communicate with your customers and work to find a solution. Then, help them understand what they can expect from your shop throughout the process.
Barton’s Tip for 2022: Find a way to release your frustrations outside of work.
The year 2021 brought more supply chain issues than 2020 because of the perpetual backup in all sectors. Barton said it’s no one’s fault and it doesn’t pay to complain to manufacturers or vent about the issues to customers.
“One piece most people miss is having a place to blow off steam,” he said. “People lose focus and can’t keep their head straight. Make sure you have a punching bag to beat at home. Sharing internal work frustrations with customers isn’t helping anyone.”
Deal with your emotions and frustrations before coming to work. Work out, talk things over with an industry peer, or as Barton suggested, hit a punching bag. Then, go to work with a smile on your face and remember to be patient, flexible and fair. Each year is what you make of it and having the right attitude toward tackling whatever challenges come your way is key.