Henry’s Many Options

Everyone always asks for specifics on how to grow their catalog business. So, let’s use Henry Repeating Rifles as an example.

Let’s get my gun credentials out of the way. I own two shotguns which belonged to my grandfather, and a .22 single-shot Ithaca rifle which my father bought for me 50 years ago, and which was at least 25 years old at the time. I fire the rifle about once a year, and don’t recall the last time I used either shotgun. Guns do not fascinate me the same way they do for others, but I appreciate how they can be very meaningful to some people.

This past fall, my wife, son and I hosted a high-school exchange student for two weeks from Austria. (My son will be making a reciprocal stay in Austria this spring). Prior to arriving in New Hampshire where we live, the one thing the Austrian student asked to do was visit a shooting range. There are plenty of shooting clubs and outdoor shooting ranges in our area, so we knew we could make arrangements to visit one once the student arrived. We wanted to know specifically what type of experience he was seeking.

It turned out that he had never fired a gun before. He had never even held one. In Austria, the only way to do that – after apparently a lengthy registration process – is to visit a shooting range. So, on his second day with us, I took him out in the backyard, set up some empty cans on a board, and we shot away for an hour with my old .22 rifle. He said later it was one of the highlights of his stay. (Note: one of the advantages of living in rural NH is that no one thinks it odd to hear gun fire coming from their neighbor’s yard).

His interest in my old rifle made me want to investigate a new option. I saw an ad somewhere (I don’t recall where, but it was in one of the magazines to which I subscribe) for a catalog from Henry Rifles, and requested one. They have a beautiful catalog (108 pages), which tells the history of the company (begun in 1860) and shows every rifle they make. But you cannot order from the catalog or online.  You must visit a local dealer, and the catalog I requested came with a list of all the local gun shops in our area that sold Henry rifles.


Now, they could just leave it there – that the only way you can purchase one of their rifles is through a local retailer. They could rely on those local dealers – most of whom are small mom & pop shops – to be their sales force. But, Henry wants to build demand. They want to drive response. So they have an elaborate consumer catalog that drives sales to those retailers, probably because many of these local retailers cannot afford to advertise on their own. But, there’s more.

Here are the other things that Henry is doing to drive response:

  • They have a half hour infomercial on TV (click here), one of which I landed on one night during the holidays while channel surfing, which prompted me to write this posting. It features the company President, and was actually very entertaining. I’m not sure I’d watch it again, but it was very well done, without looking like an over-the-top Hollywood production.
  • They appear at gun and sportsman shows (their show booth appears in the infomercial), giving their products wide exposure to different markets.
  • They send out great emails – but only about once a month. What makes them great is that they don’t sell. The rest of you send me 2 or 3 emails a day, which I delete. Yet, when I see one from them, I take the time to read it – and I’m not that interested in guns! I am interested in history, and most of their emails have a historical focus. They made it relevant for me.
  • They host numerous gun “events” around the nation, and they get a ton of PR as a result.
  • They have corporate sales, and special commemorative rifles for community organizations like the Masons, Eagles, VFW, and Boy Scouts. (Yes, these organizations still exist, and their members spend money.)
  • They keep creating new commemorative rifles for upcoming anniversaries of other historic events. (Note: these are NEW products).
  • Most important, they have several different lines of rifles – some for target shooting, big game, little game, etc. (Remember, it always comes down to product).

Here’s my point. They could just manufacture their rifles and sell them in retail outlets, like other gun manufactures. They could rely on the retailers to advertise their rifles in newspapers and FSIs.  But they have created a marketing machine to drive attention to their product, and to tell their story. They are doing a bunch of things to drive sales to those retailers, and gain consumer awareness. You know – “branding”.

What are you doing to drive sales for your products beyond having a catalog and a website?

I know what you are going to say – you are going to tell me there is no comparison between a manufacturer and what you do. You are going to tell me they have better margins that allow them to spend money on PR events and TV infomercials.

All of that may be true – but you could be doing so much more than you are. That’s the point. You think of your business only in terms of paper, postage, a website site, with a few emails thrown in. Your job is to sell whatever it is you sell, and make a profit. Don’t limit yourself to think it can only be done by catalogs and a website.

Did it make sense to stick to just a catalog ten years ago? Probably. But those days are gone. You have to look for new options and alternative options, or you will be swept away.  Don’t wait for the customer to come to you. Go to them with some relevant marketing beyond a torrent of daily emails and monthly catalogs. This is the new age of catalog survival. Do some selling!

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235