Last year was a big one for Trop Gun Shop.
For one thing, revenues for 2013 were up some 500 percent over what they had been two-and-a-half years previously, when Dave and Tara Dunn took over the business.
For another, the company relocated its retail, gunsmithing and armory operations to 910 N. Hanover St. in Mount Joy Township, roughly doubling its size. Then it added a constellation of new features: A warehouse, a 12-lane indoor shooting range, an Internet sales platform with a rewards card program, a firearm manufacturing line, and a club with an espresso bar and gym. According to its website, a free quarterly digital magazine about the shooting lifestyle is in the works.
The company's goal for the bold move? According to marketing director Luis Bermudez, it was to become more than a gun shop and start functioning as a lifestyle portal. And firearms are just part of that package.
"Everything that we have going on here, it's all about the lifestyle, making sure that customers have the additional products they need to enjoy shooting, whether that's target, whether that's hunting," says Bermudez.
"Firearms are, in the end, just a tool," he said. "What is it that you want this tool for? People come in because they want to feel more secure in their home. Well, that has a certain amount of items you may need. I can sell you a hammer and screwdriver, that doesn't make you a carpenter. Just selling you a firearm doesn't make you safer in the home. You need to have the training, you need to have the understanding. That's a huge part of why we put the range in."
James Diehl, the store manager, says 2013 was an economic bubble, because so many people wanted to get arms and ammunition before a potential legislative change. That said, he believes Trop has found a niche where it will experience continuing growth: novices, particularly women.
Industry research supports that conclusion. According to a recent National Shooting Sports Foundation survey, 20 percent of all U.S. target shooters began participating in the sport between 2008 and 2012, and those new shooters are markedly younger, more urban and more female.
"You look at the overall market for firearms, it's slowly ticking up," says Tom Hallowell, Trop's CFO and chief operating officer. "When you look at hunting, there's a little bit of a tick down. When you look at the military and police, that's relatively flat. What's growing inside that is the target and personal protection part of the industry."
That environment, Hallowell and Bermudez say, calls for creating an accessible, open, welcoming environment; for offering clear, comprehensive training at every level of the sport; and for stressing safety.
The emphasis also shows up in their workforce, which nearly doubled in the past year to about 80 and includes a lot more women than it used to, and in their retail offerings that now have more products targeted to women.
In the range, Bermudez touts the state-of-the-art setup that filters air, reduces noise and allows each shooter to adjust and retrieve targets via an automated system. But perhaps most unusual, he says, is that Trop will require all users of the range to complete a safety briefing yearly and that there will be three range officers assisting people and keeping things safe.
"Having a range officer at all — let alone three of them— is not standard," Bermudez says. "Generally, you'd be lucky just to have someone in the range office."
Because of their extensive experience with firearms, he notes, Trop has found former members of the military a great fit for its range officer positions, as well as other parts of its workforce.
Steadiness of service
Experienced shooters also get lots of attention at Trop. Bermudez says being able to serve customers who moved out of the area but still want the specialized items from Trop is one big reason behind the online effort.
And, he says, high-end and big-bore guns — "safari stuff" — is a large part of Trop's business. It sells the ammunition for those guns, which can be hard to find, and with three recent acquisitions forming its Legendary Arms Works brand, it's going to start manufacturing firearms of those descriptions as well.
Finally, Hallowell says, no matter how experienced the shooter is, it's having the people trained in helping customers select the right equipment that is vital to Trop's success.
"Our turnover in terms of employees is under 5 percent annually," he says. "You can come in today and talk to a salesperson and have confidence that when you come back in six months, you'll find that same salesperson. When you come back in a year, that same salesperson will be here. It differentiates us from a big-box retailer."