Whoever thought that handguns and camo jackets would help sell ellipticals and weight plates. Or vice versa.
But a complex of shops related to some kind of physical activity -- to the casual passerby perhaps appearing to be odd bed fellows -- has proved that retail partnerships of all levels can help those involved find customers and sales.
SNEWS® knows the current economic state is having huge impact on the specialty retail business. This is one look at different ways retailers are rethinking their retail strategy to become better at serving customers and keeping their bottomline intact. We will take a look at different retail concepts we find in a periodic and ongoing series of stories in SNEWS. This time around we focused on a seemingly unrelated cluster of businesses in Sacramento, Calif. – hunting, exercise equipment, dirt biking and snow sports – that are helping each other find customers and make sales. Stay tuned to SNEWS for more in-depth reporting on the current situation both economically and at retail as it develops and changes.
On the outskirts of Sacramento, Calif., beside the bustling 80 freeway connecting San Francisco via Sacramento to Lake Tahoe and all points east, is a nearly 100,000-square-foot building that once housed a sprawling furniture store. Today, it is home to Sacramento Exercise Equipment, Badger John's Huntin' Stuff and Cycle Gear, while Sierra Snowboard and Ski's huge building next door shares the same parking lot.
You bet they see customers going back and forth, owners of both the hunting shop and exercise equipment store told SNEWS®.
"It's amazing how much crossover business there is," said Huntin' Stuff's owner John Barritt, also the landlord for the exercise and cycle stores who sublet from him. "It can really surprise you."
Especially in today's economic times, working together can strengthen everybody's business involved, he explained.
"If smaller retailers are going to compete in this market, they better put themselves next to somebody who attracts the same clientele," he said, describing himself as definitely not a normal mall shopper type of guy. "If you have a series of interesting shops, I could go spend all day."
For Sacramento Exercise (www.sacramentoexercise.com), which joined the complex a year ago, the arrangement works particularly well since the store, owned by Victor and Kelly Novak, has windows and a double French door between it and the hunting shop.
"The fact that we're one big building with three different entrances and businesses works well for us," said Victor Novak, who founded the store nearly 28 years ago.
"Man mall" complex morphs
The process that ended up with this complex of businesses began in early 2007 when Barritt, who had operated his independent hunting retail shop (www.badgerjohnshuntinstuff.com) in a 4,500-square-foot space in the area since 2002, found he was busting at the seams. He envisioned what he at that time somewhat jokingly called a "man mall" -- a working moniker that has drawn some flak from locals. He didn't mean it would be for men only, but rather, he saw it as a collection of separate but related shops that men would be interested in but would also be for women.
Suddenly, everything coalesced seemingly on its own: Barritt's agent showed him the old furniture store, which at 100,000 square feet was bigger than he'd thought he'd start with, but then Novak called him about taking some of the space on a tip from another agent. A handshake sealed that deal and gave Novak about 10,000 square feet of fitness store showroom space and another 6,000 square feet for warehouse. Then, out of nowhere, Cycle Gear's head honcho also called Barritt; he wanted 40,000 square feet but Barritt held firm to the handshake deal he'd made with Novak, telling Cycle Gear (www.cyclegear.com), a national chain specializing in gear and accessories for on- and off-road motor bikes, that he had 26,000 square feet available.
Although he had envisioned more of an "antique mall" atmosphere with one main entrance and smaller shops inside, all the space was suddenly spoken for: "What I originally planned as a group of smaller boutique stores was pounced on by two larger tenants," he said.
County regulations a headache
The application to the county for his and Novak's store came as one, so the doors between the hunting and fitness store was approved. However, when Barritt wanted a pass-through to Cycle Gear from inside as well, the county declined due to some kind of fire regulation, he said.
And he's still working on the concept of stores-within-a-store or even additional space for smaller, related tenants, such as a bat and ball retailer, and representatives from boat, RV and paddle/kayak businesses have all approached him already.
"I've never pursued anybody," said Barritt.
He also had dreamed of a coffee kiosk to serve all the patrons, but the county apparently nixed that idea too -- at least for now.
Sacramento Exercise, with its huge leap in space to this freeway frontage building, has also reaped the rewards. The Novak's stock huge inventory of all kinds of accessories and gear such as mats, kettlebells (five brands and a "great profit center," Novak said), stability balls, rubber resistance, weight plates, bars and the like, so area clubs, studios and trainers can come in and get what they want without waiting.
He also believes in accessories in general to help boost his bottom line.
"When you can kick in an extra 15 percent to 20 percent in small items with a bigger margin, it adds up," he noted.
Crossover goes all ways
Novak said he can think of at least a dozen times that he specifically knows about where somebody came in through the door from the hunting shop and bought a large item in his fitness store. One woman, for example, he recalled saying, "Oh look, there's the elliptical I've wanted," and her husband said simply, "OK, get it."
Barritt said exercise equipment goes hand-in-hand with hunting, cycling and snowsports (www.sierrasnowboard.com), since you have to be in shape for it all. Plus, if one of the shoppers isn't into the one shop, he or she can go peruse another.
"There's no doubt" they feed off each other, he said. "I've had customers in my store where he was buying three shotguns and his wife came over and said, hey the exercise place is there and they have the elliptical I've looked at." Plus, he said if customers are in Sacramento Exercise, they may spy the racks of clothing on the other side of the door and one will wander in to take a look at it.
He also recalled sales to customers of the snowboard shop -- people who just saw his sign, walked in and bought a handgun or other gear.
Plus, Novak said they are planting seeds for the future: "People see us and wander in and look around and sometimes they buy something and sometimes they don't," he said, "but now they know we're here."
He also appreciates the varying seasons of the sports, so with fitness' busier season being about November to May, hunting being about August through late fall, snowsports being winter, and cycling being more spring and summer, all can help bring in traffic to the others during slower times.
To that end, Novak said they are looking at alternative products they might carry, although the lease specifies they can't compete with each other's products.
The future possibilities aren't lost on Barritt either. That includes other vendors, other shops and broadening the concept locally and in other areas.
"There's huge potential to replicate this," Barritt said, "and take it elsewhere."
SNEWS® View: Although the creation took on a life of its own that was perhaps somewhat unintended, the participants have seen the benefits of the retail crossover. What it means is that thinking outside the box about who your customer is and what else they or their families might do can help bring awareness to your store, traffic through the door and, ultimately, profits into your register.
SNEWS is looking at different ways retailers are rethinking how they do business in a periodic and ongoing series of stories. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any tips, comments or ideas on stories you'd like to see, questions you may have, or about any retailers – even yourself – that are taking at different look at how they approach the retail business.