Predators & Small Game
How to Sell Your Hunting Product
The hunting business is thriving, but it takes more than a great product idea to be successful. Check out these tips on how to sell your hunting product from outdoor industry entrepreneurs who started from scratch
Have you developed a climbing stand that you know is better than any other on the market? Does your custom turkey call hit that perfect pitch? Do you feel certain that hunting backpack you’ve designed is going to be the next big thing? If your dream is to launch a business selling your product in the hunting industry, you’re not alone. Just like in any industry, new hunting-related businesses are constantly popping up, but only a handful of them make it. The odds might seem stacked against you, but you can succeed if you have a variety of elements working in your favor. Money, drive, connections, wisdom and a realistic outlook, among other factors (including a little luck) all play a vital role in business success.
Most entrepreneurs will tell you developing the product is the easy part. Building the business is much tougher. Most young businesses fail because the entrepreneurs lack the knowledge and experience required for navigating the challenges of a startup business. Many people dive into it thinking the passion for their product or purpose is all they need. They’re wrong. According the United States Small Business Administration (SBA), approximately 90 percent of all small enterprises fail within the first two years of operation.
This fact doesn’t surprise Paul Ruedinger, owner of EZ Access Gear, who has developed a series of hunting lanyards and optic systems. He’s been in business for approximately four years and can testify to the fact that starting a new business is an uphill battle.
“Building a business from the ground up is extremely tough,” Ruedinger says. “You have to be realistic. You might have a great product, but it takes a lot more than that to succeed in the business world.”
Ruedinger’s lanyards came about from his own desire to get organized.
“I got sick of fumbling around in my pockets and packs in search of my gear during my hunts,” Ruedinger says. “So, I developed a lanyard for deer hunting that can hold everything from a rangefinder to a GPS to a grunt call.”
Ruedinger is picky when it comes to quality, so he wanted the lanyard he built for himself to be top-notch. When he finished the construction of his lanyard, he realized he had a useful product others would appreciate as well. He tried to sell his lanyards to sporting goods stores, but quickly learned that getting a product picked up is just not that easy.
“Selling your product is tough,” Ruedinger says. “The hunting industry is saturated with great products, which makes getting yours noticed a lot harder. People get numb to marketing ploys. They’ve heard it all already. Success comes down to survival. You have to be able to survive for at least five years without making a dime in order to have a shot at this business. To have a fighting chance, you need to strategize your survival.”
LEARN TO ADAPT
Ruedinger also learned that a willingness to adapt is key to survival and eventual success. Early in the process he realized in order to get picked up by big-box stores, he needed more than one product to sell.
“The sporting goods chains will not talk to you if you only have one product,” Ruedinger says. “So, I adapted and developed several additional lanyards, including ones for predators, turkey and waterfowl, and I have more exciting new product lines about to hit the market.”
Ruedinger is still struggling to turn his business into a success, but he is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“More and more stores are beginning to pick up our products, and the word is spreading,” he says. “I’ve learned that endurance is essential. Those who can hold on and keep pushing and fighting are the ones who are more likely to reach their goals.”
DON'T GET DISCOURAGED
Kirstie Pike, owner and founder of Prois Hunting Apparel for women, says Prois was born out of necessity.
“I’m an avid hunter, but couldn’t find any worthwhile camo clothing for women,” Pike says. “The only women’s camo on the market at the time was capri pants and T-shirts. Other sporting industries recognized the need for quality gear for women, but the hunting market just did not.”
Pike wanted women’s camo that featured compressed fabric, Windstopper and other features that are ideal for extreme hunting. When she couldn’t find what she wanted, she designed her own, starting off with the Pro Edition Jacket. She then went on to develop an entire layering system.
“Once I finally got the fabric and the pattern right, I realized I might have something,” Pike says. “I just knew other female hunters who would appreciate this clothing. So, my husband, Steve, and I decided to create a women’s camo business. Although some doors slammed in our faces, others opened up. After attending our first SHOT Show in 2008, we felt like the industry was going to accept us.”
Kirstie says the first year was tough, and she and Steve often felt discouraged.
“Starting a business in this industry is not easy,” Kirstie says. “There’s no book to tell you how to do it. We had to learn on the fly. Every time something negative happened, we learned how to turn it around to make something positive out of it."
MAKE CONNECTIONS, GROW SLOWLY
Pike says one of the best things she did as a new business owner was make connections in the outdoor industry by joining writers’ organizations, such as the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) and attending their conferences. She also displayed her products at various trade shows, such as the ATA and SHOT shows.
“I got to know a lot of freelance writers and magazine editors who liked our products and wrote about them in in their publications,” Pike says. “This exposure did wonders for our business. It didn’t cost us a dime, but it made all of the difference in the world.”
As their exposure grew, so did the demand for Prois clothing. Orders grew in size and they eventually began getting big orders they knew they couldn’t fill in a timely manner.
“One of the easiest mistakes a new company can make, and one that will quickly lead to its demise, is taking on more than it can handle,” Pike says. “As you get more and more recognition, you’ll get bigger orders. Although it’s tempting, don’t take an order you can’t fill. The money might be hard to turn down, but once you take an order you can’t fill, you burn that bridge, and word quickly spreads. I’ve seen numerous companies go under because of that mistake.
GUARD YOUR CASH FLOW
For many, the biggest obstacle to a successful company is cash flow and how to spend available cash. Starting a new company with limited cash flow can be challenging. You must become adept at forecasting your orders so you don’t have too much inventory at any given time, and you must spend advertising and marketing dollars wisely. Make sure you get a larger return for your money.
Many business owners say if they could do it over again, they would do it differently when it comes to how they spent their money.
“You’ve heard the saying, ‘It takes money to make money,’” Pike says. “Well that’s true, but you also need wisdom on how to best spend your money. We made some mistakes at the beginning with our advertising dollars. We ended up wasting a lot of money that I wish we could get back.”
Pike says before spending money on marketing and advertising your product or service, make sure you have a strong grasp on your image and your target. Pike learned from experience not to “shotgun spray” advertising dollars. You’ll experience more success by keeping your focus narrow.
“You’ve got to get your image and branding out there, but don’t give in to every salesperson that calls,” Pike says. “Know your audience and know your targets. Be selective when it comes to print or TV advertising, because a lot of it just simply doesn’t pay off. Dare to think outside of the box and don’t feel pressured to spend your money in a way you don’t feel comfortable.”
Jimmy Conner, owner of the Darkwoods Blind, agrees with Pike. “When I first got started in the business, everyone kept telling me I should spend thousands of dollars on TV spots, magazine ads and sponsorships. I was overwhelmed with advice, but I decided to follow my gut instinct instead. I started slowly by sending out press releases to various media outlets and utilizing the relationships I had nurtured with Realtree and others in the industry to help garner exposure.”
Conner’s patience and discretion have paid off as his business is thriving. The Darkwoods Blind has a reputation of being among the best blinds in the market.
Conner experienced one of those rare stories of success where everything seemed to just fall into place. With a determination to build a high-quality blind designed around his own preferences, he spent a year and a half building his first blind for his personal use.
“My landlord at the time saw the blind and wanted me to build one for him,” Conner says. “I told him ‘no’ at first because it took me so long to build mine. But he just wouldn’t leave it alone. He ended up offering me more money than I could turn down. It was then that I saw the possibility and began my business as a hunting blind manufacturer.”
Each of Conner’s blinds is custom made from the finest materials. Conner also produces blinds for disabled hunters.
“If I had to give any advice, I’d say don’t compromise, and don’t go for the cheapest route,” Conner says. “People appreciate quality. If you sell fewer items at first because they’re more expensive, that’s OK. If the people like the product and believe it’s well made and of good quality, then they’ll spread the word and you’ll get more business."
Conner says if you have to remember anything, remember that what’s good for one business owner isn’t necessarily good for you.
“Remain true to yourself and don’t compromise your principles,” Conner says. “Give back to those who help you along the way and most of all have fun.”
Submitted on June 28, 2012