Bobby Webb, who quit school in the eighth grade, built a sporting goods store in DeWitt that annually attracts hunters from about 40 states.
The DeWitt native, who later earned his GED diploma, opened Webb’s Sporting Goods about eight years ago after first running a combination pawn shop and used car dealership he started in 2006.
He switched to sporting goods, though, after noticing how the bottles of deer scents he put on the shelves sold out quickly.
“Then we starting dabbling in hunting apparel, and it just went crazy from there,” said Webb, who co-owns the store with his wife, Alicia.
Webb’s decision to focus on sporting goods paid off.
Webb, 47, said sales have jumped 50 percent every year for the past five years. He declined to release sales figures but said this this year’s sales are expected to be 50 percent higher than in 2017.
One of the reasons for the anticipated growth is that Webb partnered with Havoc Calls of Ethel (Arkansas County) in January. Havoc is scheduled to open a shop inside the sporting goods store by the end of August.
“People will be able to walk inside a sporting goods store and actually watch calls being made,” said Havoc Calls co-owner Jeremy Powell.
To make room for Havoc, Webb’s is adding 1,000 SF to its building with 12,000 SF of floor space.
Sales are expected to continue to climb next year when Webb’s launches a retail website.
Meanwhile, customers continue to flock to the store.
“Last year, the first two days of duck season, I had [customers from] 23 different states buying hunting licenses from me,” Webb said.
Where The Ducks Are
On paper, it doesn’t seem that the store would survive. It’s in a town with a population of about 3,300 at a time when brick and mortar retailers are struggling or closing. It’s popular, however, because it’s 15 minutes from both the Arkansas River and Mississippi River, as well as the White River National Wildlife Refuge.
“What better place to have a sporting goods store than in the middle of where everybody comes to duck hunt,” Powell said.
“So we’re sitting right in the heart of the flyway,” he said. “That’s what built my business.”
The store’s best sellers during duck hunting season are decoys and shells, followed by waders and clothes.
“I’ve had guys come through here and spend $4,000-$5,000 on one whack on a credit card,” Webb said.
But it hasn’t been easy.
Webb and Alicia put in about 12 to 14 hours a day “to keep things running,” he said. “Most people don’t understand what it takes to keep a 12,000-SF store fully stocked.”
Burgers To Business
When Webb dropped out of school as an eighth-grader, it was so he could work flipping hamburgers at a restaurant in DeWitt.
“I just wanted to go to work,” he said.
After that, Webb landed a job as a deckhand on a riverboat, and later was an officer for the Arkansas County Sheriff’s Department.
But Webb had always been interested in pawn shops and decided to give it a shot. He didn’t quit the sheriff’s department immediately “because it’s so hard to make a living out of a small business when you first start.”
Webb said for about 7 or 8 months he split time between the sheriff’s department and the store, which was called A&B Pawn Shop.
“I worked 16, 18 hours a day, if not more, for a long time,” Webb said.
After the hunting gear proved to be a big seller, Webb moved the business from a 1,000-SF building to one that’s 4,000 SF. It’s continued to grow to 12,000 SF.
Keen On Customers
Webb said another reason for the store’s success is the customer service its nine employees provide.
“It’s our rule of thumb that if you come in our store, every employee better speak to you,” he said. “It goes back to being that hometown atmosphere that we treat everybody equal.”
Powell agreed the the customer service is key to Webb’s success.
“Bobby’s going to talk to you and he doesn’t care whether you’ve got 5 cents or $5 million,” Powell said.
Webb also said he’s been able to keep prices competitive because he’s a member of Sports Inc., a nationwide buying group for independent sporting goods retailers. He joined that group about four years ago.
“I don’t care how bad the economy is, people are still going to hunt and fish,” he said.
Still, operating a retail shop is difficult in a time when brick and mortar stores are losing customers to online shoppers.
“It’s been a tough battle,” Webb said. “Any retail is brutal.”
He’s motivated by the challenge of the business, and is constantly thinking of ways to improve it.
“I quit thinking about the business when I go to sleep,” Webb said.