The demands of competition keep one retailer on his toes
Patrick Hayden, owner of the Kentucky Gun Company in Bardstown, Kentucky, saw firsthand what Walmart and Kroger did to the financial health of a general store that had been around since 1946. He was the owner of that store. But rather than close the doors, he diversified by filling it with guns. The tactic was so successful that he abandoned the general store concept, and 15 years ago renamed the enterprise Kentucky Gun Company.
But he didn’t stop there. Hayden continues to think about the changing nature of retail and how to attract customers to the 32,000-square-foot facility, located in the heart of Bourbon Country, USA.
Here are four ways Hayden has changed the footprint of his gun store in order to remain competitive. Each is food for thought for any retailer challenged by a fast-evolving retail landscape.
At the time of my visit to Hayden’s store, he was running a combo package deal that paired a T/C Compass rifle with a Vortex riflescope. “We go directly to the manufacturer to get a good price point,” Hayden says. “Most centerfire rifles don’t come with optics, so we wanted to put together an attractive package with reliable products at a decent price point. It had to be a package deal, so that the consumer couldn’t go on the open market and buy that scope at a better price.”
Hayden notes that consumers who opt for his combo will save “hundreds of dollars on that package.” He continues to search for other exclusive deals that benefit him and his customers. The search is ongoing, he says, because some deals are seasonal, while others are special opportunities from particular manufacturers.
The Bourbon Factor
Bardstown is about 40 miles south of Louisville, the epicenter of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a winding tour of the state’s famous distilleries. The tour has attracted nearly 2.5 million visitors over the past five years, generating more than $125 million in tax revenue per year. Hayden appreciates the busloads of tourists who stop by to see American guns while in Kentucky for the tour, and he takes full advantage of this opportunity by offering firearms-themed T-shirts and hats along with an inventory of thousands of firearms. Visitors also get to see a beautiful collection of full-body trophy mounts, purchased by Hayden when a local wildlife museum shut its doors a few years ago.
“The Bourbon Trail provides employment for thousands of people in our area,” Hayden says. He notes that those jobs also provide the people who live in the area with disposable income.
“I have a store that’s full of wants, not needs,” he says. “It’s not like I’m selling bread, milk, or other essentials. Anytime you have more disposable income, you’re going to have customers who will support a store like mine.”
As any firearms retailer knows, politics (on national, state, and local levels) can have a profound effect on sales. When Hayden pondered this issue, he determined to diversify yet again, this time pivoting to something that would complement what he was already offering.
“In my region, there’s a 96 percent chance that an ATV owner is also a firearms owner,” he says. So when the local Honda Powersports dealership came up for sale, Hayden didn’t think twice.
“It was a good time to jump in with Honda,” he says. “It’s been advantageous and has diversified us. The gun market is so politically driven. The powersports market is more stable.”
Hayden also notes that while summer is historically the slowest time for gun sales, it’s the busiest time for powersports sales. He added a service bay for maintenance and repairs of not only the Hondas he sells, but for any other type of powersports vehicle. He also offers a gunsmith shop on the premises.
“We don’t want to just sell you the product,” he says. “If you offer service, it gives customers another reason to walk through the door.”
Thursday night is “Date Night” at the store’s indoor range. Your date shoots for free. “It’s really a buy-one, get-one-free option,” says Hayden.
The eight-lane range, which uses a state-of-the-art ventilation system, can accommodate guests who want to shoot pistols, shotguns, rifles, or even machine guns. In fact, they rent machine guns, as well as other popular guns. “We have 15 NRA-certified range-safety officers on staff, and people can try before they buy in a safe setting,” he says. “It’s been a great tool to make sales.”
Finally, Hayden says none of the above could have been accomplished without “the dedication and hard work of our employees. We have a good team.”
Hayden says he doesn’t want his store to “have a factory atmosphere.” I saw evidence of that on my visit when I stopped by the employee lounge and saw a notice on a whiteboard for a company barbecue. There was also a note about farm-fresh eggs for sale. That’s not just a team; that’s family.
For an operation so very modern in how it approaches business challenges, it has retained an old-fashioned touch with its employees. And that’s the best of both worlds.
—Photos: Barbara Baird