Jackson — Don’t look now, but camouflage is “in” this holiday season. Growing numbers of people are buying camouflage-print products not to blend in, but rather to stand out. And a growing number of people are finding that the Mean Mallard is a great place to find these products as well as practically anything else a hunter could ever need, camouflaged or not.
“One of our hot items is camo desk clocks from Clear Game, which are $20,” said Mean Mallard owner and president Chris Bates. “We also have camo coffee mugs that make another great inexpensive gift, about $8. On the higher end, we carry a complete camo bedding set, that includes shams and everything, that is $200.
“We are extremely specialty-oriented in every department. We carry a lot of specialty items, including products made in Mississippi, that you can’t find in most hunting stores.”
Other items that Mean Mallard shoppers are finding attractive include Kersha and Swiss Army knives, which start at $25 and $20, respectively, specialty socks and the Streamlight Stylus, which Bates said was like a very powerful penlight, that is $19.
On the higher end, Mean Mallard carries specialty camp décor products, such as ironwork furniture, gun cabinets and safes. The store offers a wide assortment of new-age waders, with LaCrosse as the biggest brand name, that run from $150-$250. High-tech hunting apparel from such manufacturers as Browning and Mississippi’s own Mossy Oak are shopper-pleasers, and run in the $180 range. The 8,000-square-foot store is also one of the largest Hoyt Archery dealers in the area, with Hoyt bows ranging from $299-$700.
Customer service is one of the pillars upon which Mean Mallard was built. A new point-of-sale system is a good example. Hunters often would run in and grab something, only to find after reaching the field that it wasn’t what they were looking for. Unfortunately, that too often led to hunters looking for something else — the receipt. With the new system, Mean Mallard can electronically track their customers’ purchases, thus shoppers are not required to produce a receipt for an exchange.
This customer service-focus is also important for serving a significant portion of Mean Mallard’s customer base — women. Bates, a native Jacksonian, said approximately 35% of the company’s shoppers are women, many of whom are looking for a gift for their husband or boss and have little knowledge of hunting or hunting products.
“We meet them at the door and walk them into the store,” Bates said. “I can’t tell you how many compliments we have gotten from women who appreciated how they were served.
“Our business formula is to carry high-quality products at a competitive price while offering outstanding customer service. We are the kind of store that guys want to see their gift come from. And our staff makes it fun for shoppers to buy.”
Bates said he is expecting a good holiday shopping season ahead. So far this fall, when traffic really picks up at Mean Mallard’s cash registers, sales are up from the comparable period last year. And a more positive national economic picture is another reason for optimism.
“My business is for the most part expendable income,” Bates said. “Our sector of the retail industry does follow the economy. As positive things happen in the economy, people have more money and want to enjoy their hobbies and outdoor activities. So yes, I’m expecting a good holiday shopping season.”
Bates is used to his expectations for Mean Mallard to be not just met, but exceeded. The hunting store goes back to the early part of the decade, then under previous ownership. Bates, who had spent approximately 12 years working for non-profit organizations and who is a lifelong hunting and outdoors enthusiast, purchased the company in June 2003.
Prior ownership had moved Mean Mallard, named to signal that it carries an extensive array of waterfowl hunting equipment, to its present locale on I-55 North near Northside Drive before Bates bought it. Housed in a former restaurant, the previous owners had done no renovation, simply moving the store into the building as it was.
Upon buying the store, Bates completely gutted the facility and carefully planned the look and layout of each department. Today, Mean Mallard offers the ambiance and feel of a hunting lodge, with merchandise offered in an attractive and easy-to-find fashion.
Bates was just as choosy when it came to staffing. Mean Mallard employs six full-time workers, all experienced and enthusiastic hunters. And Bates and staff encourage hunters just to drop in and swap stories, talk about where the ducks are or if the deer are moving. Added to the ambiance, the friendly staff gives Mean Mallard a familiar, homey-type feel.
Mean Mallard’s customer base is ever widening. Bates said the store’s primary base comes from North Jackson and the Ridgeland/Madison area. But it draws shoppers from as far away as Vicksburg and the Delta, which Bates attributes to an excellent reputation among its customers.
Certainly Mean Mallard’s latest addition is catching hold and fast. On October 1, the company opened its own deer processing facility, located adjacent to the store. Created purely from customer demand, the operation now employs 11 part-time butchers.
Bates said, “Before, most all of the deer processors were located in South Jackson or Brandon. It’s not very convenient. We’re seeing people come from as far away as Yazoo City to use our processing facility. And I’ve had to hire more butchers. It’s been wildly successful.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.