To say Brownells is well known among those who build, customize and repair firearms is an understatement. Bob Brownell established his iconic, namesake company in 1939, and the supplier of gun parts, gunsmithing tools and shooting supplies has served countless customers around the world since.
But oddly enough, to a retail customer of production firearms and accessories, Brownells is perceived as a newcomer. “It’s nice to finally have brand recognition within our own state,” chuckles Ryan Repp, Director of Content and Communications at Brownells.
How so? In May of 2016, Brownells expanded its gunsmith-focused business by adding a 7,000 square-feet retail store to its Grinnell, Iowa warehouse. The location is nestled between Des Moines and Iowa City off I-80. Traditionally a mail-order and e-commerce business with little foot traffic, the quiet company effectively introduced itself to its neighbors generations after Brownells first began operations. Ryan offers as an analogy, “We’ve always been the NAPA, we’ve never been the car dealership. We always sold the parts, but not the car.” Ryan continues the comparison, laughing, “Although we sold enough parts to where you could make a car!”
The new retail dealership offers around 1,500 production firearms, with a full complement of ammunition and accessories. To celebrate their one-year anniversary, Brownells will host a giant tent sale event on May 20, from 8am to 6pm US CST. We’re thrilled to attend as an exhibitor!
A Unique Opportunity for Passionate Customers
Brownells hosted a popular tent sale event in its first year, with 400 people already in line when doors opened, and 4,000 attendees browsing the wares of 25 vendors. Like last year, this year’s event promises to have a tradeshow-like atmosphere. “You can come out and talk with a Doug Turnbull,” Ryan enthuses. “Or you can come out and get facetime with a Sig rep or an Apex rep, or other people who are in the industry.” Brownells’ passionate customer base really enjoys this direct access to industry pros. “The May tent sale will really be customer’s only opportunity to do that,” Ryan says, encouraging customers to take advantage of the special access.
As gun restorers, upgraders and repairers, we’ve been Brownells customers from the start. That’s just one of the reasons why we’re excited to attend this celebration. Doug will be on-hand to answer your questions, and as we do at all tradeshows we attend, we’ll take requests for gun restoration quotes. This outdoor event is the perfect opportunity for customers to bring their guns to receive an on-the-spot restoration quote.
Retail Innovation by Preserving the Customer-First Philosophy
In addition to the outdoor event, customers will enjoy browsing the host’s welcoming, modern and interactive retail space. One of the things that customers really like is the fact they can shoulder any of the guns for sale at Brownells. They’re on cables and have trigger locks for safety, but are otherwise completely accessible to try on for size. “One of the compliments that we get is that people are able to interact with the firearms, and really get a feel for what they’re like,” explains Ryan.
Another interesting thing about the store is that customers can order from its traditional warehouse inventory. Ryan reports, “It’s one of the only, if not the only gun stores in the world where you can buy a firearm, and nearly any part imaginable to customize it.”
The store’s modern infrastructure makes this possible. Customers order parts from a bank of digital kiosks. Large video screens display the real-time status of each order in process, and the completed order is delivered by a track/tote system to the front of the store for customer pickup. While waiting, customers enjoy taking in Brownells impressive History Wall.
“It’s a very progressive space,” Ryan states. “We’re a very progressive-feeling company in a traditionally conservative industry.” This forward-thinking environment is staffed with veterans of the firearms retailing industry. “We get lots of compliments on how knowledgeable the staff is,” Ryan reports. With the bar set so high by the traditional Brownells business, equal levels of retail expertise are crucial. “It’s a simple idea,” says Ryan, “but not always achievable.” Therefore Brownells opts for those professionals that are the most connected with the products they sell.
Continuing to Make History
The Brownells retail staff is excited to drive the customer experience to even greater heights in year two and beyond. “The store is outpacing what we expected it to do,” says Ryan. But there’s always room to enhance. Processes, staffing levels and hours of operation are all things that Brownells looks to optimize in the coming year.
The Brownells retail store – a natural addition to the iconic gunsmithing supply company – is a secret no more! We wish our friends all the success in their second year of retailing, and beyond.