Small Retailers Can Survive . . . and Thrive

May 10, 2019

Editor’s Note: Today’s feature was written by NSSF President Joe Bartozzi in response to Jim Shepherd’s Monday feature ‘Tough Times Continue for Small Retailers”

In a recent article entitled Tough Times Continue for Small Retailers ( , Jim Shepherd discusses how large retailers are taking a toll on small, independent firearms retailers. Jim wonders how “there are anyindependent retailers left in the industry.” This concern can easily be articulated for any independent retailer, regardless of the industry. There remain, however, opportunities for independent retailers, despite the concerns raised in Jim’s article.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearm and ammunition industry, has been working with all our retail members to try and improve commerce and the retail experience. While the challenges facing all retailers are very real, we have observed some ways in which the independent retailers can not only survive, but they can thrive.

It is certainly true that customers shop differently than they did 20, 10 even five years ago. As such, we find that retailers that embrace this change in customer habits tend to perform better. For example, we encourage our retail members to work with other local businesses and groups in their area to help make their store a destination. I recently heard how one retailer, working with his local Chamber of Commerce, made his parking lot available for the start and finish of a running event in his city. This “outside the box” thinking and work with local groups not only made that store available as a destination, but undoubtedly allowed the retailer to be “discovered” by many potential customers.

Online sales, social media presence and digital marketing can create customized and personalized sales strategies, marketing and advertising campaigns and create social media communities that drive customer engagement. Although businesses must commit the time and energy (and budget) into these tools for them to work, for those that have embraced this way of communicating we see that it has provided them an edge.

Other areas that we see as ripe for growth potential is gunsmithing, repairs and customization. Our research indicates that independent business owners (both ranges and retailers) corner the market on these types of services. While a chain retailer may have a larger selection of “hard goods,” they tend not to take the next steps past selling a product to offer ongoing service and support. This could be an opportunity not only to drive traffic to your shop, but also to supplement your income opportunity through services, rather than just goods.

Additionally, we find that retailers that also offer indoor ranges provide a service that can’t be replicated at the larger chain retailers. Stand-alone retailers might also consider creating a type of “affinity program” with an outdoor range or local gun club, making it easier for customers to get their first actual experience of shooting. This type of arrangement might provide a boost to both the retailer and the range: as new shooters emerge from the initial retail and range experience, they will perhaps look to join the range as a member, or frequent guest.

One area that may be less obvious but speaks directly to the idea of a true “community partner” is the ability for retailers to participate in community outreach projects. Retailers and ranges can enhance their image in the community by engaging in, or sponsoring, food drives, litter clean ups, Little League teams, etc. Never underestimate the fact that local businesses can create an impact far beyond their square footage. Retailers that let the local community know they are invested in their community, and that they care about the people they serve, beyond seeing them as just customers, will go a long way to engendering respect and loyalty that can endure.

These suggestions are based upon our experience with thousands of retail and range members all over the country. And while there is no denying that the market is facing challenges, not only from a shifting retail environment, but also from political/legislative restrictions and “gun-shaming” stunts, there are still real opportunities out there. I encourage retailers to explore NSSF initiatives, such as the newly revamped First Shots program that provides a promotional toolkit to attract new customers and that also includes a $25 gift certificate, paid for by the NSSF, that customers can redeem in your store. If you have never attended the SHOT Show, you are missing out on the largest firearms industry event of the year, and an event that provides invaluable networking opportunities with not only with thousands of suppliers from all over the world, but tens of thousands of your peers and fellow business owners. NSSF also offers educational materials on how to assist with your regulatory compliance and physical security – all with an eye towards making your business as successful as it can be. Please check out all that NSSF has to offer at

— Joseph H. Bartozzi
National Shooting Sports Foundation