The digital age has ushered in an era of data collection and utilization that has significantly affected the firearms and shooting sports industry. When people think of data, seemingly endless excel spreadsheets and rows of numbers come to mind. The question is — how do you use it? Every business and every person collects and uses data in some way, but NASGW’s SCOPE has taken it to a new level, providing hard numbers on specific UPC’s, market trends, and more that allow retailers and distributors to make smarter decisions about how much and what to stock.
Interpreting Data Beyond the Numbers
Tom Hopper, Senior Data Analyst for SCOPE and NASGW, elaborated on the topic. “Data is more than just numbers. Data includes consumer perception, geography, political outlook, international events, social events, etc.… We are surrounded by things that influence consumer decisions. We are surrounded by data in all forms.” He explained the value of hard data comes from objectivity. “Hard data, shipments and sales, are facts that define the markets response to current events. Understanding what is driving current events helps drive understanding of why things are happening, how long it will last, severity of events, emerging/declining trends, legal impacts, government impact, etc.… All data is valuable in understanding the market.”
Data is also of significant importance to individual companies. Erin Neubauer, Sales Project Coordinator for Chattanooga Shooting Supplies, collects data from a variety of sources to help their business. These points include sales data, trends, probability, average order size, and more. “We collect and analyze marketing data to understand what strategies are working. We also look at customer segmentation and try to understand what kind of customers we are most successful with, or which customers have more opportunities for us to grow,” she said.
In other words, data can provide insight and direction. Hopper says to start by asking a specific business question. “What’s selling is not a specific question. More specifically, what are selling trends in semi-automatic handguns?” Also consider follow up questions, “What? So What? Now What?”
Data can also be dangerous when misused and misrepresented. Hopper cautions to “Let the data answer the question or confirm suspicions. Don’t spin the data in a direction it wouldn’t necessarily want to go.”
Neubauer confirms this, noting “The biggest misconception about analytics and data collection is that all data is good data. It’s important to collect granular pieces of data and then take a step back to find the crucial pieces that are the most important to the questions you are trying to answer. Not having the right pieces of data or a clear understanding of what you are trying to analyze, can create ambiguity and sometimes, wrong answers.”
Data Accuracy vs. Data Sample
Michael Starke, an analyst with Camfour Inc., has a slightly different perspective, looking at the role of data itself rather than accuracy. “There is a lot of differing opinions on what role data should play in an industry,” Starke said. “Some people see data as only an after the fact determination of results but feel that intuition is the only way to really make decisions on the future. On the other hand, some feel that data should be the absolute deciding factor when making decisions. In reality, data should be used as a tool to make informed decisions, data does not always tell the whole story but can assist in the decision-making process.”
For Camfour Inc., a top ten wholesaler in the industry, data may be most important when it comes to purchasing and distribution. “Understanding market trends as well as availability is essential to purchasing in an uncertain supply chain.,” Starke said. “When considering data in distribution, it is important to consider many aspects and tie everything together to create an understanding of costs as well as desirability to customers. Local shipping, parcel delivery and freight all require a different approach but require us to make all our options desirable to our customers.”
Also key is what items are selling well and how Camfour compares to the market. “The NASGW SCOPE database really provides the only current reference for the wholesale market as a whole.” Starke said. “We use Market data through SCOPE, NICS and Manufacturing data to compare our purchasing and sales trends to those of the whole market. This helps us determine what areas or vendors that we are strong in and where we can put our focus in order to accomplish our goals.”
Making Data Work for Your Business
Every business assigns different values to data. For Chattanooga Shooting Supplies, descriptive analytics on sales and product data is currently king. “We are now trying to use what customers have purchased in the past to anticipate their needs in the future,” Neubauer explained. “Our goal is to incorporate predictive analytics into our data to help our teams with suggested products or recommended products as part of the services we offer our customers.”
No matter how you use data, it is useless if not interpreted correctly and presented in a way everyone can understand. Chattanooga Shooting Supplies has taken active steps to ensure their sales team can understand and use the information. Neubauer further explained the challenge at hand. “Our goal is to make the data and analytics easy to understand and incorporate into our sales team’s regular applications to make them as efficient as possible in making data driven decisions. We encourage a [culture] within our sales team to be business partners with their customers, not just order takers. We want them to anticipate the dealers’ needs and suggest products or services that the customer may not be familiar with. To do this successfully, we need our sales team to be able to analyze key data points in a quick, casual conversation in a way that doesn’t interrupt normal business.” Starke of Camfour Inc. also sees data as an opportunity not only for prediction but prevention of mistakes.
While everyone collects data, not everyone has access to the same information. “NASGW recognized a void in data availability in the class of trade,” Hopper said of SCOPE. “Working with distribution partners, NASGW started collecting weekly shipments and inventory data, created an interface and shared data. In time, NASGW also partnered with several Retail POS data providers to add visibility of the Retail channel as well. Basically, on a weekly basis, NASGW updates both Distribution and Retail data, integrates their extensive item attributes to change raw data to consumable information.” While all of this information can be overwhelming, SCOPE uses an attribute table with standards developed by industry professionals to simplify things.
SCOPE offers valuable insight to a variety of businesses in the firearms space that allows them to better serve their customers and grow their markets. However you obtain your data, remember it is only as good as the interpretation and ability of all involved to understand and use.