Fully Loaded
Jan 19–22, 2021
Sands Expo Center + Caesars Forum
Las Vegas, NV

Working the Show — Watson Chambers Defense Institute, Columbus, Indiana

Welcome to NSSF’s 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.

—John McNamara, NSSF Senior Director, Retailer Services

Watson Chambers Defense Institute – Columbus, Indiana

Watson Chambers Defense - Employees - Working the Show - SHOT ShowWatson Chambers Defense Institute (WCDI) is a firearms training and retail store committed to serving customers through in-depth education and the latest and greatest products. The 12,000 square-foot facility is staffed by eight employees, four of whom are firearms instructors who teach classes ranging from basic to advanced and also provide corporate training. An indoor shooting range has three lanes rated for use up to .308-caliber rifles.

WCDI is a Class III dealer offering price-matching, 30-day full refunds as in-store credits, and free FFL transfers with any other purchase. Because WCDI is primarily an educational institute, it does not maintain a large inventory of firearms and instead offers to have any gun ordered through them in stock within two days. WCDI is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Finding Out What's Fresh

Watson Chambers Defense - Employees - Working the Show - SHOT ShowAttending SHOT Show is an important function for WCDI, according to company president Aaron Watson. There, he educates himself on product changes so that what he does stock is the freshest available.

“I’m really there to see all of the new stuff and get ahead of it so I know what is going to be old soon, what I need to get out of my inventory because the new models are coming out and what I need to hold off on [buying] because new models are coming out,” he says. “It’s a chance for me to make sure what’s in my store is up to date.”

Being up to date is important because WCDI is very active on social media, where real-time discussions on the newest products are the norm.

The Importance of Social Media

“Facebook really runs our whole business,” says Watson who specifically designates time for making Facebook posts during SHOT Week. “We’ll also cross-post from Instagram to Facebook. The larger reviews I take home with me, and I do all of the editing after I get back a week later, and then we post them.”

Social media isn’t just a primary strategy for connecting with his customers, it’s also a resource for Watson.

“What normally happens is I see a vendor on Instagram, and [the post] says ‘Here’s my booth number,’ and I can search the booth number within the SHOT Show Mobile App and it will lead me right to it.”

Start Planning Early

Watson Chambers Defense - Working the Show - SHOT ShowWatson begins planning for the show well in advance, even scheduling dinners with distributors and key accounts as early as December. “Those are the important deals I need to get done,” he says. As for routine business partners, Watson prefers to pop in at booths rather than schedule appointments, though he tries to time those visits so they’re on the days his dealer reps are there. “Most of my reps I see only once a year. They are states away and I usually only talk to them over the phone, so it’s nice to pop in and say ‘Hey,’ but I try to have as much scheduled as far in advance as I can.”

To make his route through the show as efficient as possible, Watson says he uses every resource NSSF makes available.

“I use the SHOT Show Mobile App, and the digital map they have is very useful. I’ll also use the SHOT Show itinerary because normally I stay and attend some of their conferences and seminars,” he says.

Watson Chambers Defense - Working the Show - SHOT ShowPre-show planning begins with making a list of everyone Watson knows he needs to see, dividing the show into sections, and then mapping out where he needs to go. “There are days I don’t even go on another floor or another section because I’m so focused on one section at a time,” he says of the show’s intensity.

For those dealers coming to SHOT Show without a strategy, Watson warns that’s a very bad idea and says that they’re wasting their time.

“I guess if you just want to go there and write off the first one [SHOT Show] as a learning experience, great,” he laughs, adding that it’s extremely important for dealers to show up and know where everybody is going to be. If there are any big personalities to see or conferences or presentations you want to go to, you should have those paid for, scheduled and ready to go. “Have your full itinerary set for the entire duration you’re there, including just being in Vegas and doing things after SHOT Show. Vegas alone needs a schedule,” he said.

Enjoy Your Time

Watson Chambers Defense - Working the Show - SHOT ShowDespite his emphasis on scheduling, Watson does rely on free time to walk the floor to discover new products and follow up on things he saw only briefly earlier in the show.

“What I try and do is have that free time on the last day,” he says. “[F]ill in anything you missed or get to the new stuff that you had no idea was even there.”

In addition to finding out what’s new, Watson uses his time at SHOT Show to establish new relationships with distributors and manufacturers. He also holds back cash to set up new accounts.

“[I]t’s really about who has some nice new stuff that they can sell me on. If I get there and it’s old stuff, then I’m really not interested in it,” he says regarding what he looks for when considering new accounts.

One final thought from Watson is to bring an extra duffle bag to SHOT Show.

“I’ll probably be returning with more stuff than I came with. Will all the brochures we get, I need the extra bag to bring it home.”

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

JAN 19–22, 2021 LAS VEGAS