Having been in this “industry” longer than I care to admit (makes me seem old) it always seems to surprise most people when I give them a glimpse “behind the curtain” so to speak about the hunting “industry”.
I can recall a time early on when I was giving trail camera seminars at trade shows, there was still some loyalty left in the industry. The big name guys were also at these same shows giving seminars and meeting with the crowds. At that time in the industry they stood behind a product because they believed in it not because they were being paid. There was almost a pride in their opinion and it mattered to them that they believed in a product before they would even think about being associated with the product. The industry strives to get acceptance from these experienced industry experts by producing a superior product, not by writing bigger checks. “Buying” opinions wasn’t an option in those days. Guys stayed with the same product for years, because they truly believed in the product, not just because they were getting paid. The irony is the standards were set by those that truly knew industry and it felt almost like they were obligated to tell the rest of us if the product was worthy or not. Did it meet their standards? If it did, why? It was a great time for the industry, because it was an honest shake on the products being produced.
Not so much now. Hunting industry “stars” come and go now pretty regularly, this happens about every 2 years. I have often joked that I could get just about anyone in the industry to sponsor my new “AIJ” (Air In a Jar) product line if the check I wrote them was big enough.
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Hunting TV and Cable Shows
The last couple of decades I have spent my fair share of “marketing” money on hunting shows. In the beginning we started off locally with a very small but talented group of videographers. They were like us, small but motivated and very eager to show their wares so to speak. What they produced was entertaining and well produced. It had a small town “real to life” charm and was humorous without trying to be funny. At the time we couldn’t afford to go “big time” and get our own, show so we stayed with producing hunting videos.
The videos didn’t do bad and we did finally get to the point where we were able to start sponsoring shows, but it seemed like the times were changing. I can’t really say if the marketing money helped us get there or was it just our shear will to survive, but we did manage to keep our head above water in an ocean full of sharks.
At the height of our “TV marketing” efforts we had our own show plus major sponsorships on 2 others at the same time. We were spending A LOT of money to “advertise” but what struck me most was the more we spent on TV shows the more we were being approached by others wanting us to sponsor their shows. It seemed as though the only real bump we got of all the marketing was offers to spend more money on marketing.
The Hunting show industry was full of people trying to make a name for themselves by, well, making a name for themselves. It’s an ocean full of sharks trying to get famous for being on a hunting show… This is what everyone with a product to sell in the industry thought you had to do to make it, you had to sponsor a hunting show. It’s simply not true. Not then and certainly not now. The outdoor/hunting channels used to have limits on how much “Advertising” you could do during the show. The reason, which I agreed with, was because they were trying to make sure the shows actually had content, versus ending up just being an 30 minute infomercial. Since that time, it seems that the channels no longer have any limits to advertising during the shows. It is not surprising to have 27 minutes of advertising (soft and hard) during a 30 minute show. It seems that content has taken the back seat to advertising, which probably explains the extreme decline in the amount of hunting related shows and channels now available. The channels that used to have a 1 year waiting list now are running old westerns to fill the spots. It’s sad to see the decline, as it used to be very entertaining.
Retail’s Race to the Bottom
At the same time the big online retailers “box shops” were just starting to gain momentum. There were still small “Mom and Pop” shops around, but their extinction was all but a certainty at that point. For a new manufacturer in the world of up and coming box shops the goal, as I understood it, was if you wanted to make it in the hunting industry you had to get in with the box shops. So off we went to get in with the box shops. After years of trying we finally made it! We finally made it in to a couple of the bigger box shops. Product was now officially in the “made it” column right?
Not so fast there… Let’s back up a bit.
See to get in the big box shops you have to pay a fairly large percentage. That understandable right? Sure it is, you set up your terms, agree to percentages, agree to give them a little bit extra percentage if they pay at 30 days versus their standard 60 day term (side note here, they will take the early pay percentage and still pay you late…welcome to world of “made it”)
Then you agree to give them a little bit extra to be in their catalog, even more to be on their shelves and even more to be in the prime locations on their shelves (you will also be required to buy out all the current inventory on the shelf).
Ok so once you get past all that – you’re in…. You’re in the catalog and your product has finally made it right? Well you get paid very late, give away huge percentages and the next thing you are hit with is one of two choices….
One is they contact you saying the competition is coming out with a similar product and they are giving better percentages and/or they are cheaper so you need to give up more to stay in the game.
The other is they decide that they are just going to make a similar product and brand label their name on it and no longer need you, thanks for playing.
All the time you are lead to believe that this is your only way to make it in the industry. Increase your percentages to them and reduce your price only for the end game to get bumped out by the big box shop. So basically you could be signing up for the end of your product line by going with a box shop.
There is always an absolute base cost model for any product. There are ways to cut costs but you do get to a point on any product where the base is and no matter how much you’d like to make them cheaper it’s just not possible.
So early on I realized that this was a race that I did not want to be any part of – The Race to the Bottom as a I call it. Basically, it’s ‘who can go out of business first trying to do business in the box shop industry’ is not really a business model I want to be a participant.
Maybe you have noticed this pattern, maybe not, but the next time you get a catalog or are on their online shop, look to see how many actual brand name products are there. Then notice how many brand name products have been replaced by their own label over the years.
Magazines, Editors picks and Top 10 Best
Maybe it doesn’t come to you as a surprise but it certainly did to us. Along the same time as we were cutting our teeth on box shops and hunting shows, we started getting inundated with requests from writers and magazine editors who wanted to write about our products.
Really?? Just out of the blue they wanted to write about us? Awesome, we have made it big time now for sure……full stop.
What I was about to discover was this part of the industry had many unspoken rules…. Want an article written? Just give the writer loads of product then send them what you want written. Don’t expect to ever get that equipment back by the way….
Want to make Editor’s pick or the Top 10 List? Buy a big ad in the magazine. You are not going to make that or any list without paying for it.
Want to be featured in their magazine? You better be buying a huge amount of ads to substantiate the “amount of coverage you will receive”….
It really all came as a surprise to me that the inner workings of that industry had some really deeply concerning “practices” that shed an entirely new light on all those editor picks and top 10s I had read over the years. I didn’t expect any favors or special treatment but I certainly didn’t expect it to be a pay to play either for what was suppose to be an unbiased ranking … unfortunately it was.
Don’t get me wrong, there used to be a time when writers in the hunting industry were extremely well versed, knowledgeable and respected. These are not the guys I’m referring to. By the time we got into the industry the great writers were enjoying their retirement with grand kids and had gotten out of the industry.
‘Tip of the Hat’ to many of these greats I consider great friends and still legends of their time.
Probably nothing that hasn’t been covered hundreds of times over with people in the industry, but I have found more than once people seemed to be amazed at just how it all works (and in some cases, doesn’t work at)…….
So, if you are just up and coming into the industry, be cautiously suspicious of the industry.
Know that you can make it without having to fall prey to the industry pitfalls.