By Mark Kakkuri
You know it when customers new to firearms and shooting walk into your store. They usually come through the door and stop and look around, taking it all in.
They’re probably looking for helpful signage to direct them to the right place in the store, but it’s clear they’re not familiar with the place. And they’re not against talking to friendly (but visibly armed) salespeople; they just don’t want to appear dumb. After all, this whole “gun thing” is quite new to them and it is somewhat intimidating. Remember when you were a newbie? What kept you coming back to your local gun store? Maybe it was the only resource you had. Hopefully the staff welcomed you, answered your many questions and got you pointed in the right direction.
As with many areas of life, learning something new just takes time and occasion. For new shooters, visiting a local gun store can be a great experience for them (and you) as long as you create an inviting experience for them. Sure it helps if a newbie shows up with a teachable attitude. Even if they don’t, here are five ways you can make your store as friendly to new shooters as possible.
Immediately create a safe and helpful atmosphere. Remember the perspective of someone new to shooting — they may be overwhelmed at all there is to learn but desperately want to get it right. As such, make an effort to greet all your customers with a friendly smile and an offer to help. Talk to new shooters in a way that assures them they’re in a safe place not just physically, by psychologically. Review basic gun safety rules with them right out of the gate; you’ll get an idea of how familiar a customer is with safety but also establish a precedent that all gun handling will be guided by accepted safety standards. While all the “safety talk” may seem a bit like a lecture, it will likely go a long way in creating a good foundation for ongoing conversation.
Distribute a handout with helpful resources. Possible topics include safety, training, gear and even terminology and firearms history. Remember how long it took for you to master gun safety, let alone to have a command of all the lingo associated with guns and shooting? Simplify the learning experience for a new shooter by capturing several key resources such as helpful websites on a single handout. It’s great if you have information like this on your website, but it will have more staying power if it’s provided on a physical print-out. Put your store’s contact information on the handout and coach all your employees to be aware new customers may be reaching out to them with questions. Know the resources you’re providing well, especially if you are pointing to resources online. Make sure you are only giving your customers excellent, helpful information.
A smile, friendly demeanor and inviting storefront go a long way in welcoming new
customers. Get creative to simplify the learning experience and become a trusted
source of information!
Create a “new shooter” area of your store. Provide handouts, show training videos and distribute product literature from that area. While you’re at it, staff the area with a knowledgeable and friendly employee who has a knack for clear and winsome communication. Encourage your regular customers to check out the new shooter area and recommend it to their friends. Make it the best kind of “safe space” where there are no dumb questions.
Offer a free, 10-minute safety training session or quiz. Hand a new shooter a blue gun and ask them to demonstrate how they would handle it in a variety of circumstances. Ask them to identify basic gun parts and functionality. Make sure the session or quiz is conducted in a friendly, engaging way while demonstrating the importance of safe handling practices and knowing the ins and outs of how a firearm works.
Then, show a training video from a reputable firearms organization to demonstrate best practices in these areas.
Once a customer proves mastery of the content, give them a certificate of completion that doubles as a 10 percent off coupon in your store. You’ll have provided written and visual content, tested their own manipulation of a safe gun, interacted with them on the topics at hand and rewarded their participation. Also, you’ll now know a bit more about how your customer thinks about guns and what type of training and gear may be best for them.
Offer a free “advice checking” service. Ever hear “My uncle told me I should buy a .38 revolver” or “I read the .45 ACP is the best cartridge” from a customer? Or “I read on the Interwebs that I should carry two MAC-10s for personal protection.” Maybe the advice is sound. But maybe it’s not. How is a customer to know? While you’re there to generate sales in your store, one of the best ways to do this is build trust. And one of the best ways to build trust is to provide excellent resources to your customer to allow them to make a good decision. While this is similar to No. 2, you’re actually offering to put your own advice to the customer on the line and ask them to be the judge.
So, gladly point out the pros and cons of some of the advice out there regarding guns. Build rapport and trust with a customer by being willing to tell them what they aren’t expecting to hear, such as, “You don’t really need this more expensive gun when this less expensive one will do.”
Worth The Extra Effort?
Yes, all of these methods will require dedicated resources, meaning time and money. But they’re all reasonable investments that will provide a helpful and encouraging atmosphere for new and experienced shooters alike. Moreover, if your gun store is seen by customers not only as a place to buy guns and gear but also to gain valuable knowledge, you’ll likely see an increase in traffic and sales as the community warms up to sincere efforts to help customers go from being a new shooter to being a safe and responsible one.