On approach to NASGW

No, it’s nothing to worry spouses of those of us who visit several industry gatherings per year.  But, there’s something special about NASGW.  I always used to say it’s the show they put on just for me, so I can meet with 100 clients in one practical venue, plus see other friends.  But something kept coming up in Pittsburgh last month when I was taking to friends at the show.  The serene hall, the lack of time pressure, and the smaller area meant there was more time to really connect.  This is the show where we can take the time to chew the fat, make real friends, and deepen productive relationships.  It’s not just about cutting the deal and keeping to schedule, but it’s about the luxury of spending time, hanging out, and getting-to-know each other.

Without naming names, one great example arose at my cocktail party for clients and friends.  One venerable industry stalwart at the head of a multi-generational family-owned icon was delighted to meet an impressive upstart who is achieving stunning success as his first product is selling like hotcakes.  There’s nothing more energizing that seeing new success, no matter the state of the economy.  And for the upstart, the chance just to shake hands of an icon is an honor – never mind the inestimable benefits spending the evening over dinner building a new mentoring relationship.  The two are probably more than 30 years apart, but they turned out to have more in common than I ever dreamed.

There’s probably no finer way to thank a client for all the good work they entrust to me than to introduce them to a new friend who can help them in business and provide another warm relationship in this family industry.  So, my proposal for NASGW is to rebrand its annual Expo “The Love Show.”  Less of a mouthful, and as snappy and memorable as SHOT Show.

Incidentally, it wasn’t that many years ago I had never even heard of the show.  It’s the annual expo of the National Association of Sporting Goods.  Which doesn’t sound like the “other” SHOT Show, but that’s about what it is.  For industry newcomers I can provide an overview:  It’s like the SHOT Show, but only 10% the size, but it seems like 80% of the right people are there.  The floor can be crossed in a 5-minute walk, and most people’s schedules are open and not booked.  A drop in or even a cold call will often find time from the boss who is probably in the booth, at least for one day of the two and a half days of the show.

For a start-up or a new inventor looking to make relationships, it’s ideal.  Once you’re patent pending, you can bring your prototype or video to have some “I wonder if you might be interested in this?” impromptu meetings.  (I might reframe that pitch to one that’s impossible to say anything but yes to: “Does your company try to keep an eye out for innovations that can make you more competitive?”)

There’s a modest annual membership and a small cost to attend.  The Expos are in late fall and in medium sized cities that are easier to deal with than Las Vegas, even at the last minute.  There’s inevitably a hotel across the street where you’ll find the industry having a beer in the bar in the evening.  Wednesday evening is my cocktail reception, Thursday evening is a NASGW hosted reception, and Friday noon you head home for the weekend.

It’s a LOVE-ly show and I consider it unmissable.

How’s the Economy?

With all the time for relaxed conversation I reaffirmed my observation that companies that innovate prosper in tough markets.  I actually found that OTHER people were telling me this!  Those who are struggling seem to be the ones who focus their questions on how the economy is going, and when do I think things will turn up.  The apparently reality is that things turn up when new products turn up in your catalogue.

Curiously Small?

Take Trailblazer Firearms.  First time exhibitor at NASGW.  Their Lifecard® pistol (which amazingly fits in an Altoid box) seems to be on everyone’s Christmas shopping list.  The gun that leaves a few traditional curmudgeons wondering “why?” leaves plenty of paying customers saying “I want!”  You don’t have to sell to everyone, because there are always enough buyers looking for something new.

One nice piece of wisdom I heard at the show was from a client that understood the two most reliable ways to make money:

Solve a problem that everybody has,
Improve a product everybody buys

One example of this I thought I saw was an unfamiliar company making night sights. They had a bold lifetime guarantee that attracted my notice.  I asked them about how they could violate the law of physics when Tritium decays without regard to marketing promises.  They explained that the sights were guaranteed, but the tritium wasn’t and there was a charge to replace them when they got too dim.  I really thought I had encountered some bold marketing genius, but I was disappointed.  I think there’s room for a company to offer true lifetime replacement of tritium sights.  Like a subscription.  One can charge a premium, and then consider what small percentage of original buyers will actually bother to send it in.  You can have a strict but fair requirement of pre-registration (mailing list builder – see more below on that) so that only registered owners can get the replacement.  Your design should make replacement fast and easy – but you’ll often end up just sending new sights – maybe that’s an option for a modest payment that covers your costs.  Not all innovations are patentable, but many innovations are profitable.

Speaking of Christmas Shopping…

As a Texan, I’m finding I now pay closer attention to the famed Nieman Marcus “The Christmas Book.”  At 276 pages, it’s almost as thick as my book.  And, it’s filled with some inspiring marketing lessons.

First, they nail the idea of free publicity.  With ridiculous offerings like a $7,000,000 solar yacht, they get media buzzing about them.  All the geniuses commenting on social media are decrying this excess, comforting themselves that they may not have a billion-dollar net worth, but at least they have common sense.  What are you doing to get free publicity?  Is your fear of a little controversy causing you to miss out on free publicity that would build your brand?  To some, an Altoid box on your trade-show booth might be goofy, but it captures attention and SELLS.

Second, their catalog itself has perceived value.  I hope that the legal information in my own book has even more, but with all the buzz, the N-M Christmas catalog doesn’t get tossed out as fast as other catalogs.  The curiosity about “what will they come up with next?” means the Book ends up on the coffee table and might even end up with a few corners turned for gift ideas.  These days, print media is a dead dinosaur, right?  Why waste money on postage and printing?  Oops! I just remember that most of y’all are reading this in print.  Emphasis on READING, and not clicking “delete” while trying to control your email in box.  So, can you think of a way to make your catalog an event?  Dillon’s Blue Press found a way.  Calendars are another way to have your customers put your own ad on their walls.

This takes me on another marketing tangent.  My 2-year-old son Leo loves construction trucks, both the real thing and toy-sized for play.  I fell in love with the Bruder brand of replica trucks that are fully licensed and branded equipment like Cat and Mercedes, made in Germany.  Father and son each get a lot from playtime.  But they miss a marketing opportunity.  Each toy comes with a tiny catalog with thumbnail sized images of their offerings.  But it’s really not enough to help dreaming about the next item for the collection.  I’m actually tempted to grab the best images from the website and print them in color on cardstock to create “trading cards” for Leo and I to drool over (him, literally). If I were in charge, I’d include a response device in every toy that offered a free set of trading cards (advertisements) that kids can mail in to get.  That captures the enthusiastic family’s address to be able to send catalogs, new releases, and other opportunities like membership clubs that get access to special editions and new releases.  Maybe those trading cards are three-hole punched and fit in a binder that begs to be filled with all the other cards.  Buy another truck in hopes of getting the missing card.  Or send in $10 and get the set you need.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking here for a gun business?  Does your “candy bar” come with a Golden Ticket?  I can tell you that I’ve never bought a gun that came with a compelling reason for me to share my address with the maker.  Send in the postcard and get our glossy catalog, or a collectible challenge coin, or a holster for the cost of shipping.  I don’t trust contests, but you can test that, too.  But, it’s insane to miss a chance to know who your customer is and to be able to market to him.

I’m not advocating selling your mailing list to any spammer, but you can monetize your relationships in other ways.  Offer your gun customers a good holster at a good price, and you can earn the retail markup.  How about threaded barrel and co-branded suppressors (maybe after the HPA passes)?  The point is that old media should not be ignored just because new media is nifty (though there’s nothing wrong with offering enticements to share an email address that Mark Zuckerberg can’t bill you for reaching).

Back to Nieman Marcus for a third principle of marketing.  I love to look at the prices.  The $7,000,000 yacht gets you to open the magazine.  The $300,000 candy package is absurd, until you see that it’s a luxury trip to the candy factory in Italy for four.  But it’s still there just to make you shake your head and to recalibrate your pricing sensors.  There are seven gold watches on one page.  All are in the $13,000-17,000 range – they cleverly hypnotize you into not even thinking about price because they are so similar.  But even that’s not what they’re selling.  Not the $10,000 handbags or $2000 crystal paperweights.  On the page with the $6000 suitcase no one would dare entrust to commercial aviation are a bunch of sweaters that cost more than my first business suit out of law school.  THAT’s what they’re selling.  The same imported factory clothing stuff that everyone else sells.  Maybe with a bit more silk or cashmere in the blend, but at 10x what it might cost to a frugal shopper.  An $80 makeup product that sells for $10 at Target feels like a self-indulgence in the glow of the luxury lifestyle.  $250 for costume jewelry made of glass (Swarovski crystal) and silver-plated metal.  It’s the same junk they sell in mall kiosks.

Now, your products aren’t junk.  But if the venerable Dallas retailer can sell mall junk at impressive price multiplers, simply by creating an experience of luxury, how can you add value to your products and to the buying experience?  I like watching Hornady hunting videos because they’re authentic reflections of guys I know having great experiences with families and friends.  Good bullets and everything goes bang reliably, but I’ll pick Hornady for a hunt primary because of my relationship built by contacts like these.  Maybe your catalog for hunting rifles should offer a $250,000 dream hunt with the company founder – $300,000 if you leave the Founder behind. No one might ever buy that item, but many customers may be inspired to buy a rifle you’re always trying differentiate from the perfectly good competing rifles.

Marketing to the affluent might not be exactly right for your segment, but don’t rule it out.  Other angles might focus on possibly unrealistic but aspirational offerings and images of danger, extreme adventure, or heroism.

SHOT Show Bingo?

Along with the usual reminder that time is already short for SHOT, and to be sure to contact me about getting new product patent applications filed, and proposed new brand names searched and applied for, I’d like your help with some fun.

It’s called SHOT Show Bingo.  I’d like your suggestions for funny or exasperating clichés and sights we can expect to see at the show.  Toes getting run over by milk crate carts?  Tactical attire that’s oddly out of place?  Well-behaved husbands politely averting their eyes from the booth bunnies autographing posters?  Send me your favorite ones and I’ll include the best of them in a special Bingo card.

Meanwhile, give a call if you’ll need help getting new product protection squared away before the show.

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About the Author: Ben Langlotz

Ben Langlotz is the nation’s leading firearms patent and trademark attorney, and the author of Bulletproof Firearms Business: The Legal Guide to Success Under Fire. He is trusted by more firearms industry companies than any other lawyer or law firm in the nation, and is consistently ranked at the top of all attorneys in securing gun patents and gun trademarks.