When US Cavalry Store opened its first location 38 years ago, it did so with one goal: to fill a gap. Prior to the store’s opening, military members had two venues to purchase what they needed: government clothing and sales stores and pawnshops. The government stores were often out of stock, and pawnshops provide only secondhand goods.
With the creation of US Cavalry Store, soldiers now had a way to get what they needed when they needed it and also an opportunity to upgrade the equipment they were issued. Brian Howell, director of e-commerce and marketing at US Cavalry Store, says often the lowest bidder on the government contract provides the equipment and apparel issued to those in the service.
After the success of its first store in Radcliff, Ky., across from Fort Knox, US Cavalry Store developed its first catalogue. Jim Leonard, president of the company, says it was the first in the industry to have glossy pages, high-quality paper and product images.
For the first decade-and-a-half, the catalogue was distributed to millions in the military and law enforcement and supported the branding of the US Cavalry name. During times of war, the catalogue was a staple in most military posts and around the world. As time went on and e-commerce became a more popular way to reach consumers, US Cavalry evolved the purpose of its catalogue to keep the pace.
“The catalogue is now used to drive people to the web,” Leonard says. “The catalogues we send out, their style and their scope, is based upon the changing needs of our consumers, and we realized we needed to change our approach.”
To start, US Cavalry pared down the catalogue and went to what Howell refers to as a “Slim Jim” format in 2009. He says before the economy took a downturn, printing prices skyrocketed, so with the new approach, the company continues to see an equal and even better ROI than before the redesign. “The mail order and e-commerce pieces of our business are symbiotic,” he notes.
US Cavalry’s e-commerce and catalogue sales make up for 40 percent of its revenues, about 10 percent more than they did prior to the catalogue redesign but also due to the company’s revamped website.
When it first launched, the site had rudimentary navigational elements and not much else. In the past few years, to compete with e-com giants such as Amazon, the company added new elements to keep up with industry trends. “We put a lot of emphasis on video, product-360s, and putting additional content on the site so it’s not just bulleted text,” Howell says.
Whether online or off, both Howell and Leonard believe US Cavalry’s competitive advantage stems from its ability to bring the products its customers want to them efficiently.
“We try to be a one-stop shop to anyone who needs our equipment, no matter what it may be or where they might be,” Leonard says.
Over the past few years, the company has taken on large government contracts and now caters to their needs as well as to those of its individual customers. US Cavalry expanded quickly with the addition of these large contracts, so to keep up and maintain its reputation of fast turnaround for its customers, the company built a large distribution center that holds greater amounts of inventory and an IT infrastructure to process orders quickly.
Opened in 2007, the distribution center is located in Radcliff, three miles from US Cavalry’s headquarters. The company’s prior distribution center and warehouse was located in a compact area that didn’t allow for expansion to match US Cavalry’s burgeoning growth. The new location is built on a larger plot of land – enough to allow continued expansion for some time to come.
In addition, the company spent a tremendous amount of time and money on upgrading its computer system. It now has a virtual environment that keeps its stores, warehouse and headquarters on the same page.
Working with larger groups such as GSA (General Services Administration) contracts has given US Cavalry an advantage in addition to a reason to invest in upgrades. The company’s presence on the websites for those contracts illustrates that it’s a trusted government resource, which makes it easier for government, state and local agencies to make their purchases.
In 2006, US Cavalry incorporated its own body armor manufacturing facility, which now gives it a three-pronged competitive advantage. As a retailer, it gives on-the-ground access to the best goods at great prices. Online, it acts as both a distributor and retailer and can service its customers large and small no matter where they are. As a manufacturer, it can skip the middle layer of distribution, providing products that can compete in quality and in price.
“Because of our multichannel presence, when any one area is not doing well, the other areas pick up the slack,” Leonard says. “Growth is great, but what we’re truly focused on is our presence in the service industry.”
US Cavalry’s motto is “We Serve Those Who Serve.” It’s on its letterhead, catalogues and website. “The better we get at serving our customers and making sure they have what they need when they need it, the better we’re doing at our jobs.”