By Callie Wolverton
Given the explosive growth of female shooters within the last decade, does your retail environment reflect the shifting demographics? If not, hiring (and equipping) women will go a long way in combating the masculine stigma surrounding the industry today.
“A retailer can market all day and night to women, but when a woman walks into your facility and is greeted by a bunch of ‘Tactical Tommies’ in their BDUs with a firearm, six magazines and a big knife on their belt, you tend to lose a lot of faith or interest by those you’re trying to attract. Shock and awe is not a selling point in trying to win women over in our industry,” lends John Phillips, president and founder of Poway Weapons & Gear (PWG) Range in Poway, Calif.
As retailers, you’ve likely experienced the rapid increase in female customers over the past several years — from those looking to purchase their first firearm to others looking to increase their shooting and self-defense skills through range-based training. Unfortunately, many of them have similar stories of being belittled or ignored by sales associates in gun and sporting goods stores, and we can all agree it’s probably the last thing we want potential new customers to experience when they walk through the door.
One of the easiest ways your store’s brand image and customer service can be improved in the eyes of female customers is to give them someone to relate to in the form of a female sales associate — which requires hiring more women in retail and marketing positions. Dennis Rohman, general manager of P2K Range (El Cajon, Calif.), has been in the industry for over 30 years, and he has a hard time understanding why any retailer wouldn’t want to hire more women.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to hire more women? They’re easy to train and they’re warm and engaging with everyone who walks in the door,” he said. “It’s the kind of customer service that tends to come naturally to women, and it’s the kind of customer service I want for my customers.”
Rohman acknowledges there’s no secret formula for success when it comes to hiring female employees (a 1:3 female-to-male ratio seems to work best for P2K). Although, he makes it a point not to hire former employees of other gun stores because he’s found it more difficult to train them in the P2K style. While this may not be the case for all retailers, it’s important to note if you’re new to hiring women there’s bound to be some trial and error, and it doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for them in your company, especially when you’re used to only working with men.
There are a few things you can do to help newly hired women succeed, and in turn will make your business thrive:
1. Train them well.
As with any new employee, choosing to hire someone who is willing to learn new things and set aside any preconceived notions that clash with your company policy is incredibly important. Many range instructors will confirm women tend to be easier students because they’re willing to look at each new lesson with fresh eyes and they’re less resistant to changing habits. Be sure to give your new female employees the proper training on everything from firearm specifications to retail merchandising and federal firearms regulations. Encourage continuous learning and development, and understand many women are “big picture” learners, so it may be beneficial to her training to understand company history, vendor relations and other aspects of your business that may not directly relate to her position.
“Coming from an industry where there was no real exposure to gun laws, then being thrust into gun industry, I had to be confident enough to know it was going to take time to really become a resource for my staff when it came to answering the challenging legal questions,” shared Danielle Rudolph, director of sales operations at PWG Range. “My solution was not to simply focus on memorizing and leaning on ‘book smarts,’ instead, it was to ensure I knew where to go to find the answers. It has been a tremendous tool for myself and our staff.”
2. Establish credibility with customers (it’s crucial).
It’s one thing to hire a woman and train her on everything she may need to know, but it’s equally, if not more, important to give her credibility on the sales floor. Encourage your customers (both men and women) to interact with your female associate, and invite her to join in on an established conversation with a customer and another sales associate so she can get real-world, customer-specific experience. With a title of “owner” or “manager,” your role comes with instant respect — use this to lend credibility to your associate’s skills and abilities by recommending her to customers.
Rohman has a creative way of giving credibility to the women he works with: He has each of his employees take a photo holding a firearm (safely and correctly) and includes it on their business cards placed in front of the register. This way, all of Rohman’s employees are visible to his customers and they can see the staff is comfortable and familiar with firearms, lending to increased credibility.
(Side note: While working the Girls with Guns Clothing booth at SHOT Show, I was taken aback by the number of men who approached the booth and asked if the women pictured in promotional materials had actually shot the firearm they were pictured carrying or the animal they were pictured with after the hunt. Once we confirmed, yes, those women did in fact own, shoot, and/or hunt exactly the way they were portrayed in the photos, the men visibly relaxed and their respect was apparent. Many saleswomen in our industry can relate to this when a male customer approaches them for the first time, it’s why front-loaded credibility is so important.)
3. Be open to new ideas.
Women tend to have a unique perspective. More times than not, this will manifest into many other positive attributes, like compassion, empathy and creativity. While change can be difficult (especially if processes are “the way they’ve always been done” and have been profitable for you and your company) it’s important to be open to any new ideas your female employees may bring to the table. They’re immersed in the growing demographic of women shooters, and they are excellent listeners who can tap into existing customers wants and needs and translate them into actionable items.
“Our director of sales is a woman who came on board three years ago as our retail manager,” Phillips said. “The first thing she did was re-merchandise our entire retail store. The merchandising prior had always been taught and promoted by men within the industry — thus the ugly hanging price tags, and the firearm cabinets with stickers and tags all over the place. Now, PWG has retailers from all over come to see our retail store just for the merchandising ideas and how we take a lot of the intimidation out of how firearms and accessories are showcased.”
If you’re on the fence as to whether or not your company could benefit from hiring more women, this quote from P2K’s Rohman sums it up succinctly: “We’re not playing ‘Fortnite’ in here, we’re selling real-life firearms and accessories. Let’s make it as realistic as possible, and let’s include women.”
Callie Wolverton is the COO for Girls With Guns Clothing.