At first blush, selling clothing to deer hunters seems as easy as losing a knife in a gut pile. After all, there are thousands of whitetail hunters within an easy drive of most sports shops, and they all have to wear duds to the stand. Making the sale to such a clothes-hungry mob should be as easy as turning the shop lights on each morning, right?
Not so fast, warns Scott Shultz, president of Robinson Outdoors. Robinson, maker of the popular ScentBlocker line of scent elimination clothing, has been gaining favor with deer hunters by producing quality garments made with the serious hunter in mind. Such success is no accident, of course, and Shultz elaborated on his company’s keen attention to the modern whitetail hunter, and how retailers can succeed in this expanding market.
**SHOT Daily: **How do you feel your customer-the American deer hunter-has changed in recent years?
**Scott Shultz: **Hunters are simply getting more sophisticated with their needs in the field. As technology changes, so do our expectations for what we expect from the performance of a garment. Also, with the focus on the retail hunting market by the mass merchants and big-box stores, people know they can go anywhere and get a great selection as well as all the information on almost anything they need for the woods. We have a very educated customer, so your product better perform as claimed. It’s as simple as that.
SD: What are your customers telling you they want as they shop, and how is Robinson trying to capitalize on those market trends?
SS: Quality, function and value are all important. People want great value and they want their apparel to be well made. In the case of ScentBlocker, they are looking for extreme functionality in the specialized area of scent control. They want the latest camouflage patterns in the latest and greatest fabrics and finishes. They understand quality and attention to detail, immediately recognize it and appreciate it, too. They look for garments that are made to hunt. They want a good fit, so the garment moves with them, it needs to be “ergonomically correct.” When they raise their arms to shoot overhead, they don’t expect the whole jacket to go with them. The pants need to be cut to enable a leg lift to climb into a tree stand. Layering is important-it gives more options for just one garment. They want high-performance fabrics in each layer, from wicking and moisture transfer, antimicrobial treatments in the next-to-skin layer to clean lines and added insulation without added weight. Even phase-change technology, very high-tech stuff, is used in the thin inner layers.
Price is certainly a factor; people still have only a certain amount of disposable income that can be directed toward hobbies. We know how important it is to add value by building best-quality garments that fit, perform and last.
[pagebreak] **SD: **Well said, but what specific needs are important to the serious deer hunter?
SS: Layering is a significant, and practical change in our market. The days of the big, heavy, thick parka are nearly gone. People like the flexibility of being able to stay cool when they need to be cool, and add a layer or two to stay warm when the weather dictates it. Scent elimination has become a more and more predominant feature in deer hunter’s clothing. Since activated carbon is the best scent eliminator known to man, we continue to engineer apparel that accommodates this technology into thinner and thinner garments, allowing hunters the flexibility of layering without a thick or inhibiting garment.
SB: How do you help educate retailers-and therefore consumers-on new technologies and features offered in your clothing?
SS: Education is the key when you mention the word technology. Obviously, we run huge marketing campaigns on many of our products every year. This informs everyoone, our end-user consumer to the retail store associate. But the retail specialist needs more detailed info. So we put together training manuals that can be used one-on-one or in group meetings, so that all employees are speaking the same language and understand the technology and features correctly. Training is the key; without it, you do not give store associates a point of differentiation for your product. Every sale happens at the rack. I like to call this “the last three feet” of our marketing plan. You can utilize point-of-purchase materials, but they aren’t as effective as a friendly, enthusiastic, well-trained and well-informed human being that believes in the product. We encourage every retail associate to participate in our special employee-purchase plan. We help them to acquire our products. When they actually use our products, they better understand our products and they sell our products!
SD: You mentioned scent elimination, the dream of every deer hunter. What is Robinson doing to stay on top of this competitive field?
SS: Many consumers believe that all scent elimination garments are the same. They are not. Only activated carbon provides true scent elimination and in order for the consumer to know this, they have to be educated again and again. Antimicrobial garments-which only help reduce the formation of certain odors caused by bacterial action-are reemerging, with some outrageous performance claims, to compete at a similar price point. But this is a far cry from total scent elimination offered only by activated-carbon clothing. We try to stay in the minds of our customers through education with full-line advertising and marketing strategies, such as celebrity endorsements, television shows and commercials and magazine advertisements.