Industry Expert Thoughts
John, Bradley’s is striving to give our audience inside information about the military retail industry. We want to help our readers become informed customers. Before we begin discussing issues surrounding our industry, please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is John Ottaviano, and I’m the Director of Sales & Marketing at Rothco. I’ve been at Rothco for 25 years as of last month, supplying retailers around the globe with military and outdoor clothing and accessories. Previous to working at Rothco, I spent a number of years as a district manager for a regional discount chain, so I know retail by both sides of the fence, and I have a pretty good understanding of the challenges today’s retailers face.
What are the biggest changes you have witnessed in the military retail industry? Tell me about the opportunities that exist in the military retail industry.
Many military retailers such as Bradley’s Military have the ability to involve themselves in government supply on the local or regional level. Whether it’s occasionally or on a regular basis, it’s a very positive way to expand sales opportunities. This includes sales to both government units and the military contractors the government is using to supplement existing troops.
Air Soft is another opportunity that has been an amazing development for military retailers. It’s taken kids playing military video games off the couches and into the tactical and military stores. These players are looking for military style and military quality vests, pouches, gloves, uniforms, etc., far more than the paintball player ever did. It also gives us the opportunity to develop new customers at a very young age.
The U.S. military’s use of a variety of patterns has created demand for many different products in many different patterns. It means the retailer has to stock numerous patterns to appease demand, but this also creates more sales opportunities. Many camo fans have numerous patterns in their collections both in clothing and gear.
The prepper phenomenon has brought many new customers to the military stores, though this has cooled in 2013. Ironically, this is a trend that does better when the economy is its poorest. Economic concern, not blight or natural disaster, is the greatest driver of this trend, so it has softened as the economy has improved.
As of the current moment, camo and military-inspired clothing is highly fashionable making the Army Navy store a go-to place for locals looking to add a little authentic military zing to their wardrobes at reasonable prices.
Finally, the internet gives local retailers the opportunity to expand their sales beyond their local area at a relatively low entry cost. Ecommerce offers a great opportunity for many military retailers.
Over the years, what are some of the biggest challenges you have witnessed in the military retail industry?
The demise of the surplus military market has meant that dozens of manufacturers are making after-market items in a variety that would not have been available in the surplus market alone. Again, the Air Soft players are helping drive the demand for this variety of products. The demise of the surplus market also means that a great source of high quality, low-cost merchandise is no longer available outside of ammo cans and canteen covers and such. These products also created a certain atmosphere in the retail stores. (*Note: Despite a decline in the military surplus industry, Bradley’s still offers one of the widest selections of new and used genuine issued uniforms and equipment. The market may have seen better days, but Bradley’s still has the ability to take care of your surplus needs.)
The rise of the internet also expands competition for local retailers. This means it is very important that potential customers find your store on the internet on places like Face Book, yelp and a page devoted to highlighting your store’s offerings, even if it’s not ecommerce enabled. When folks look for local retailers, the internet is the place they go, especially on their smart phones. This also means that the retailer has to offer services or an experience that buyers can’t get online, and stay in front of their existing customers with email marketing, etc.
The increased presence of the box stores is not all that new, and it really hurts the military retailer less than most. It mainly means that Army Navy stores are less able to sell jeans and work wear and need to focus on the unique products that are their specialty, especially in big and tall sizes that the box stores don’t carry.
Finally, decreased traffic in many downtown neighborhoods has hurt retailers in these neighborhoods. This can be combated by creating a destination store and properly promoting both online and off.
As one of the industry’s largest suppliers of commercial military items how has Rothco responded to these changes?
Our most significant response has been the 60,000 sq ft addition to our headquarters on Long Island putting us at over 200,000 sq ft total and a corresponding increase in staff. This allows us to maintain a 98% in stock rate on nearly 4,000 products. That appeals to all the various types of customers – Air Soft players, preppers, fashion wear enthusiasts such as, military, law enforcement, outdoorsmen, etc. At the same time this gives retailers the ability to try new items without making an inventory commitment and finding the merchandise variety that best appeals to their customer base and, in turn, increase their customer base at the same time. This is great for both brick and mortar and online dealers to offer.
Since we have expanded our warehouse, we have lots of space for increased inventory, and we can carry many more new products. Each year we add hundreds of new items for our dealers to offer consumers, and we also have a large enough inventory on hand to allow our dealers to supply government and contracting organizations large quantities of product at a moment’s notice. Besides variety of products, we offer numerous sizes as large as 8XL and as small as 3 months, something not available at the big box stores. Our 165+ member team processed nearly 140,000 wholesale orders to dealers around the world last year, most of them within 24 hours, putting the products our customers need in their hands immediately.
Our website at www.Rothco.com offers a number of tools for both consumers and dealers to find the best Rothco products for their needs. We also offer exclusive tools to dealers to create digital catalogs that they can customize for their own sites and many other devices for managing their business with Rothco. Our site also generates a large volume of traffic which we send to our retailers (such as Bradley’s) via our dealer locator, and all purchases made on our site are fulfilled to the consumer by local dealers through a back-end program. This enables dealers not selling on the internet to benefit from this type of online traffic. This, in conjunction with an aggressive social media campaign on Face Book, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and Blogger with a total of over 55,000 fans on these platforms and campaigns to engage these military fans and pass their passionate desire for products onto our dealers.
With the availability of product on the internet comes the inclination for prices to spiral down to unsustainable levels. That means retailers cannot compete and those who sell the product cannot properly support it. Rothco has worked with these dealers to ensure pricing structures that offer value to the consumer and viability to its dealers.
Have you witnessed increased demand from new sources of customers?
Absolutely, please see my notations above regarding Air Soft, preppers, and fashion-oriented consumers as well as military customers. I would be remiss not to mention the growth of law enforcement and public safety users to our dealers, another area where we have aggressively added product as they consistently seek military-quality products for use in their work in the field. With the increase in private security and EMS staffing our country, this has been another growth area for Rothco and its dealers.
Also, with the heightened military activity over the past 13 years, military pride items are as popular as they have ever have been and Rothco offers items geared towards the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard on our website.
Within the last several years there was a huge rush for military paracord and related accessories to make bracelets, necklaces, key chains, etc. It has been one of the most intense product demands we have ever seen. Thought it has peaked, we still are selling paracord in the millions of feet per month.
What advice would you give a customer before purchasing any military items?
Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a big fan of consumers supporting their local retailers. I think there is a service and expertise available that one just can’t find online, and they also keep money in their local economy this way. We are often contacted by consumers who have made purchases online and then expect the type of service they would get from a local dealer, only to find that this is not always the case. And while local dealers may not always have the same selection on hand that you find online, a local Rothco dealer can have any of our 4000 items on hand in just days as we are happy to provide this service to our dealers. Even when purchasing at brick and mortar stores, it can be helpful to do your research ahead of time online. To help consumers do this, you can create a printable shopping list at www.Rothco.com that you can then bring to your local Rothco dealer.
While the best thing is to get a gift based on a person’s interests, military canvas bags, especially Rothco’s Vintage Canvas Bags. We make everything from traditional duffle bags and cargo bags, to vintage shoulder bags designed for laptops and tablets. We also have an extensive line of canvas backpacks that are great for students and small canvas accessory bags that are perfect for women and travelers. Prices range from $10 to $70. The canvas bags appeal to everyone from old-school military veterans to fashion-conscious teenagers and all ages and sexes. We have an extensive selection on our site at under Rothco Canvas Bags and most of our dealers stock an excellent selection.
I wish to thank John for his candid information. I also wish to express that Bradley’s is an Official Rothco Dealer, and we have a wide selection of their products in our store or on our web page. In the future, I will try to find other industry experts in the military manufacturing and wholesaling industry that are willing to share their insights. Until then, I encourage you to gather information, and feel free to contact our knowledgeable staff at Bradley’s. We will be happy to provide you with the information you need and point you in the right direction.
William G. McKinney
Bradley’s Military Enterprises