RETAILER PROFILE: The Shooters’ Sport Center places a premium on customer service — and a solid business plan
By Tom Mohrhauser
AT A GLANCE
OPENED: March 1986
It is said some of the best treasures are hidden in plain sight, right under your nose. I was reminded of this when I sought to upgrade my personal defense handgun last fall.
After receiving cogent advice from SHOT Business contributing editor Chris Christian, I headed over to the Shooters’ Sport Center, in Racine, Wisconsin. I had purchased firearms from co-owners Jim Schunk and Bernie Kupper many years before and expected to re-enter familiar territory.
However, I found myself completely unprepared for what lay inside. Gondolas full of top-of-the-line products and accessories dominated the center of the store. An extensive archery department stood at my right; to my left was a pro shop full of everything from law enforcement gear to reloading supplies. Things had definitely changed since my last visit.
|Offering a wide selection of firearms and archery equipment, Shooters’ Sport Center also maintains an extensive inventory of rental units for its range.|
The business was born in the late 1970s, when Schunk provided products out of his home to a primarily law enforcement clientele. He met Kupper while they were both officers on the Racine Police Department; Kupper was studying accounting to serve as a backup discipline to pursue in his retirement years. He began to work with Schunk on improving his bottom line in a practical application of his studies.
“As that process grew, so did the profits and eventually the volume,” Kupper says. “Then we began looking at business models, seeking management advice and eventually financing.” After a labyrinth of false starts and recasts, their plan caught the attention of a local banker. The result is a 50/50 partnership and a popular haunt that draws sportsmen from miles around.
Even with 10 lanes for shooters and four lanes set up exclusively for archers (one with a TechnoHunt video simulator), many customers elect to call ahead for reservations. Despite the shop’s low-profile facade, parking has had to be expanded dramatically to accommodate the growth in customer traffic. A range-side break area with vending machines serves as a place to wait, observe, or simply sit and discuss world events.
The retailer offers a full range of services, instruction, and competition programs that reflect the diverse shooting disciplines (PPC, IPDA, Bull’s-Eye, and Cowboy Action) favored by today’s shooting sportsmen. Shooters’ also offers an assortment of single- or multi-year membership options for individuals and families. A number of businesses have even partnered with the store for company-dedicated leagues.
A hallmark of the store’s business philosophy is detailed attention to each shooter’s individual needs, matching the tools and techniques to their intended purpose. This extends right down to educating customers about the effect that various ammo can have on different makes and styles of handgun.
Resident instructor Sam Beech’s extensive knowledge and rich competition history–paired with an irrepressibly positive personality that puts his students at ease as they become familiar with the different types of products, their operation, and maintenance–is another reason this retailer continues to build traffic and customer loyalty. Another key component is a generous inventory of rental units in popular calibers that allows customers to evaluate which is best for them. Even the area’s bigbox stores often suggest their customers visit Shooters’ to try a variety of choices before making a purchase. These referrals often result in a sale–for Shooters’.
|Shooters’ Sport Center provides detailed attention to each shooter’s individual needs.|
One of the trends affecting business in recent months is Wisconsin’s recent concealed-carry law. First-time customers, husbands and wives, as well as those who just need a refresher like I did, are taking the time to visit this retailer. Kupper estimates upward of 30 percent of their current customers are women, and he expects that number will continue to grow as product developments increasingly target that niche.
Gunsmithing services offer an uncommon, but very welcome, approach as well. “If the gun doesn’t shoot comfortably for you, we will tune it so that it does,” Schunk says. Tailoring springs, triggers, sights, or grips can greatly improve the shootability of any handgun. Much like an old-school mechanic’s ability to tune your car by ear, Schunk’s talent for interpreting what a shooter is experiencing is a truly rare gift. He’ll offer a menu of modifications to enhance a shooter’s comfort compatible with any budget.
My new Springfield XDM in hand, I was truly amazed at what Schunk and Kupper have accomplished. It made me wonder why I hadn’t visited this treasure more often.