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When it comes to SHOT Show for this retailer, it’s about family and familiarity.

Welcome to NSSF’s newest SHOT Show column, “Working the Show.” Designed to help retailers and range owners of all sizes realize the most from their time and money spent in Las Vegas every year at SHOT Show, “Working the Show” will share how various successful retailers across the country plan for SHOT Week and what they’re looking to accomplish while they’re at the show. After the show, we’ll continue the series and examine how these retailers, along with manufacturers and media members, are maintaining contacts, responding to trends, changing their marketing based on their purchases and other follow-up tactics. Of course, a critical part of every plan while visiting SHOT Show should be to stop by the NSSF booth and learn more about your benefits and meet the NSSF team. We look forward to your visit!

—John McNamara, NSSF Senior Director, Retailer Services

Ace Sporting Goods is a third-generation, family-run store about 45 minutes south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that opened in 1947. Though originally an auto parts and general/hardware store, Ace eventually moved to concentrate on hunting and fishing until the early 1980s, when the product line was then geared exclusively to the shooting sports. The 6,500 square-foot showroom has 15 full-time and five part-time employees and stocks about 4,000 guns. Ace specializes in firearms, optics, reloading and black powder, and is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday and from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sundays.Working the Show - ACE owner

With now 70 years of gun selling and buying under the company’s belt, Ben Romanoff, general manager at Ace, along with his father, George, take a unique approach to SHOT Show. For them, it’s not so much real-time buying as it is browsing and making and solidifying relationships.

“What we’re trying to do is get the pulse on the industry,” says Romanoff, “but I’m gathering that information on a daily basis, too. In terms of buying, it’s never been really a buying show, it’s always been more of an information show.

“We walk up and down every aisle,” Romanoff tells me of the mileage he puts on over the course of the show. “Do we buy? Sometimes. We look at each other and ask ourselves if we think this will work in our market, or do we think this will not work in our market.”

When Romanoff does buy at SHOT Show, it’s usually distributor deals and SHOT Show exclusives. For new products, Romanoff tells me the first things he asks a manufacturer are where they’re advertising and who knows about their product. A few thousand followers on social media “doesn’t fly,” he says. “You could have the greatest product here, but if you’re not advertising … if you’re not really in these mainstream magazines for the industry, if you’re not getting noticed that way, it’s going to be tougher for me to sell,” he explains. “I can try to advertise myself, and we’ve done that, we’ve tried some new manufacturers and my guys talk it up, but if people aren’t familiar, they’re going to go back [to familiar brands].”

To help notify customers of new products and gauge their response, Romanoff tells me that when he sees something at SHOT that he likes, he snaps a picture and sends it back to the store.Working the show - ACE counter

“We’ve got a guy who handles our Facebook. We’ll send it [the picture] back and say, for example, ‘Kel-Tec just came out with this.’”

But SHOT Show isn’t as simplistic as the duo wandering around and posting pictures on social media. Romanoff cautions those who are going to try and wing it that it’s going to be pretty difficult, because of the number of people and exhibitors there.

“What we do is, we have a pretty good idea of who is going to be there and who isn’t going to be there, so my dad and I sit down with our list of who’s going to be there and we map it out. Make sure you see the people you really want to see,” he says. “Take the time with those manufacturers, but don’t take too much time. You know you can really get sucked in.”

While Romanoff does schedule appointments, mostly with his reps, sometimes he will pop into a booth for a conversation with the manufacturer.

“Ask, ‘Hey, is this a good time to sit down and talk?’” He focuses on the big manufacturers first, because sometimes it can be tough to get close enough to ask your questions. “Come up with a game plan,” he stresses.

Something Romanoff does during these conversations is talk about promotions he wants to run—for example, Ruger Days, Glock Days and Smith & Wesson Days. Later, he follows up with what guns he would like to have.

“You just rolled out these guns. If it’s possible, we’d like to get a stock of them in so whenever one of our customers comes to our promotional weekend, they’re going to get the latest and greatest gun,” Romanoff says as an example of his follow-up.

The Romanoffs report back to the store on the Saturday morning after the show to give a breakdown of what they saw, what they liked and didn’t like, and what they decided to purchase. Similarly, the store staff reports what they’re hearing from customers and from the channels they’re monitoring.

“We take all of that information together and kind of roll it out to our guys and let them know what to expect,” says Romanoff. Follow-up continues throughout the year with weekly manager meetings and notifications to customers.

Another thing the younger Romanoff has focused on since coming into the business eight years ago is meeting people at SHOT and solidifying existing relationships.

“My dad has been doing this a long time, but I want the manufacturers to be comfortable so that, once George is not here anymore, they know Ben’s going to run the store the same way he was and nothing’s going to change.”Working the Show - ACE rifles

Prior to the show, Romanoff says he gets a lot of his planning information directly from NSSF through communications and the website.

“I don’t necessarily look at [manufacturer’s] flyers because we’re going to hit them all,” he says. “We get the NSSF magazine as well, and that gives you a lot of heads up, so I would say that is primarily it — looking at the NSSF magazine [SHOT Business] that says ‘Look for this and look for this’ [at SHOT].”

With his well-thought-out game plan, Romanoff tells me there’s not much about SHOT Show that surprises him, other than the diversity of people.

“You got your military guys decked out in their tactical gear, you’ve got your guys in suits and your guys in jeans and cut-off sleeves and all that stuff,” he quips. But western Pennsylvania is Romanoff’s world when it comes to the shooting sports, and the SHOT Show is the only place where he gets a true appreciation for how large and worldwide our industry is.

“[I]t kind of puts it more in perspective. There are people from all over, and that’s something that surprises me about it, and how professional we are and what NSSF does — how professional the Show is and how well it runs,” he adds.

About the Author

Warren Berg is a 25-year veteran of the shooting, hunting and outdoors industry. He has penned hundreds of articles under many names for such storied publications as American Rifleman and Field & Stream. He has produced award-winning television programs on personal-defense and has hunted extensively in North America, Europe and Africa.