You’ve probably heard the grumbles from officers and other first responders. They need to come in for a uniform or pick up gear, but they’d rather be doing something else. Anything else.
That problem doesn’t exist for Michigan dealer Huron Valley Guns, a store where officers would go to even if they weren’t getting uniforms. The 39,000+ facility – yes, you read that right – is a place where the law enforcement community can shop, have lunch, purchase a firearm, practice shooting and even get a haircut, all while picking up or altering their uniform. Huron Valley Guns is open to the public too, and offers classes on self defense and fire arm usage. More than a uniform shop, Huron Valley Guns is a must-visit destination, a playground for adults, a Shangri-la for all who enter.
The uniform side of Huron Valley Guns is pretty special too. The store serves police and fire departments across Michigan, and is run by Erie Skoczylas, public safety specialist and uniform apparel manager. The Pulse recently caught up with Erie to learn a bit more about the business, and to see how it has fared during the pandemic. While some struggled during Covid, Erie notes that Huron Valley Guns actually increased uniform sales. How’d they do it? Read on to find out.
We’ve featured uniform stores with gun ranges before, but this is a bit different. What brought the concept to life?
The owner is an entrepreneur who’s involved in other business ventures, so this is not his main source of income; it’s more of a passion project. He first opened a little shop in a strip mall. It did well, so he decided to go big, and then he decided to expand the concept by including a public safety uniform shop.
Your website is certainly gun-focused; it’s almost as if the uniform side is an afterthought. Does that hinder the business or distract from selling uniforms?
It’s the opposite. Going to a uniform shop is more of a chore to many, but officers and firefighters actually like coming here. Plus, many agencies train here, and that helps enhance business.
Okay, let’s get back to basics. Tell me about the store.
We do complete programs for departments in Michigan. From undershirts, to uniforms to sweaters, to body armor to ammo, we carry everything a police department might need. We have three in-house seamstresses who provide alterations and embroidery. We also do heat transfers, but contract out screen printing. The staff on the uniform side totals five, and we share staff with the rest of the building for tasks such as accounts receivables and shipping and receiving
Noticing any new trends or must-haves in police wear?
The biggest trend I’ve seen is the moving of items up on the vest and away from the duty belt. But there’s push back from some older chiefs who often prefer a more traditional appearance. You’re less likely to see this with younger chiefs. And there’s a generational shift when it comes to suppliers too. Blauer and Elbeco are still the go-to suppliers, but body armor manufacturers are coming out with vests in styles not readily available in traditional brands, and those looks are often favored by younger officers.
What about the actual uniform. What are your customers telling you they want?
5.11 is always popular of course, but what’s really popular right now is Blauer’s FlexRS uniform. It’s lighter, stretchier and cost effective. It’s a hot item at the moment.
Has there been any shift away from a tactical appearance given the current political climate surrounding law enforcement?
No, if anything, it’s going in the opposite direction. Certain cities may opt for a less tactical appearance, but law enforcement leadership is pushing in the other direction precisely because of what is going on. The reasoning? You have to be prepared, protect the force. A harder look isn’t about the look; it’s about being prepared. There’s definitely more armor now, even for fire departments, and that is a trend that has gained steam over the last year.
We teased in the introduction that you have sold more uniform products during the pandemic. Tell us about it.
Yes, we actually sold more product because of the pandemic. Officers and fire departments are used to dealing with the public, so there wasn’t any hesitancy on their part. Concern over how the virus could be spread led to an increase in laundering of garments, and with all that cleaning going on, there was concern that the uniforms wouldn’t hold up. That resulted in some departments moving to items that were either more durable or less expensive. Fire departments decided to move into coveralls, for example. The rationale was that coveralls are easy to get on or off, and when this is over, they could just dispose of them. Departments found that what they needed before wasn’t what they needed now. And we were there to fill that void.
It’s no secret that some departments are having difficulty finding recruits. With all the turmoil surrounding the police these days, do you worry about how this will affect business?
There’s nothing I can do about the hiring process, but if funding decreases that would obviously be a concern. Some of the items we sell are discretionary; a new jacket or helmet at the end of the year with leftover funds, for example. Cuts would affect these types of sales.
How do you mitigate the risk?
Diversification. We’ve started to pursue the paramedics market, which is new for us; others might be on the table at some point. We also sell apparel-drive product to the general public. And we stock up on impulse-buy items. A department isn’t necessarily going to pay for every person to have a knife, but every officer has one or wants one. We started stocking some cool flash lights and other pocket items that the department wouldn’t necessarily supply either. Being able to offer something they might want to buy is another way to diversify the business.
Any final thoughts?
I’m proud to serve the public safety sector and to be part of the solution. The key to this business is to stay fresh, be nimble, and find out what the customer needs. You have to have your pulse on the industry.
You can learn more about Huron Valley Guns by visiting https://www.huronvalleyguns.com/
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