Earlier this year, we asked dealers to tell us what equipment is most popular with their hunting enthusiast customers.

We got a lot of responses, and it wasn’t surprising to see food plot seeders, compact tractors and utility vehicles mentioned. But one answer caught my eye.

Tim Berman of Big Red’s Equipment Sales & Rentals in Granbury, Texas, said his dealership sells electric-powered UTVs and travel trailers to hunters. Hunters like the electric UTVs because they’re quiet and pollution-free, and the trailers make any hunting trip a little more comfortable.

Hunters also use deer blinds, corn and guns, which Berman doesn’t sell. But he suggested a dealership could take a page from the Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountains of the world and consider selling some of those items. “That would be an interesting model for a rural lifestyle dealer to study,” he says.

So, what retail model should dealers study? Can they — or should they — get beyond selling T-shirts and mugs with their supplier’s logo on them?

Some dealerships have expanded in this direction and are very good at it. Rainbow Ag, which has 3 locations in northern California, sells not only John Deere tractors and Stihl and Husqvarna outdoor power equipment, but also pet, livestock and horse supplies, clothing and gifts.

President Jim Mayfield estimates that 65% of his store’s combined sales revenue comes from retails items like animal products or clothing. The equipment business is roughly one-third of sales.

“The industry talks a lot about absorption rates, and we’ve taken that philosophy to stocking livestock feed and pet food, clothes, you name it.”

He attributes his success to having store managers who are experts in core areas like parts and service, feed or equipment. He treats all of the product categories like profit centers and watches profit/loss numbers very closely. Based on what the market dictates, he doesn’t offer the same mix of products at every store.

Mayfield is no stranger to Tractor Supply Co., a national “mid-box” retailer that sells similar products to rural homeowners. “Their crosshair is on our customer,” he says.

“But we can provide the products our market actually wants,” rather than driving a pre-determined set of products to the market.

“I think it’s more about being market driven. The psyche must shift to where you say, ‘I’m here to serve the market with my products. I’m not here to just sell what the manufacturer decides I’m going to sell.’ ”

Should a dealer decide to start stocking retail items, Mayfield’s advice is to find out where the closest retail competitors are. Then, along the way, measure what the cost of adding this new business is, and what the returns are.

“You can’t dabble in it, because you are competing with box stores,” he says. “But what you can do is provide service and expertise. And don’t be afraid to throw something out that doesn’t work and try something else.”

Rural lifestyle dealers may never think of themselves in the same vain as shiny retail outlets in affluent suburbs. But remember that many people moving to rural areas, or vacationing in those areas, are used to having retail items within easy reach.

If there’s little or no retail development nearby, perhaps a dealer should think about offering more retail items. Dealers who know what their customers are passionate about have shown this can work. And, if nothing else, it will show customers that you’re trying to connect with them.

Whether it’s duck blinds, horse feed, clothing or hunting rifles, it’s something to think about.