Services For The First-Time Gun Owner

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Dealers have engaged in new efforts to welcome the millions of first-time gun owners.

According to the most recent estimate from NSSF, as many as 5 million first-time gun owners have joined our ranks through the first eight months of 2020. This doesn’t come as a surprise to those behind the counter at gun stores; many dealers have reported record sales since March, and have shared sales would have been even higher if they could get product in-store. Another measure: the run on NSSF-adjusted NICS background checks since March has been at a record-setting pace — with every month observed since then a record figure.

The flood of first-time gun owners shows no signs of abating, so we asked dealers about the services they’ve created to target and educate this diverse group.

Gun Ownership 101

Dealers with a class curriculum have smartly adjusted their course offerings to include first-time customer-specific options. Sharp Shooting Indoor Range & Gun Shop in Spokane, Wash., launched a new series of classes in August, according to General Manager Jeremy Ball.

“We’re calling it New Shooter Orientation. Think of it like NSSF’s First Shots, only with the customers being those who recently purchased a gun,” he lends.

At a cost of $40, the class runs between 60–90 minutes and includes instruction, targets and a range pass to allow students to stay and shoot at the range after instruction concludes.

With the obvious aim of educating these customers on gun ownership, Ball predicts these classes will have add-on benefits for Sharp Shooting.

“We get the contact information for a new gun owner (which helps with marketing) and potential sales opportunity for items they didn’t purchase with their gun — i.e., eye/ear protection, ammo, shooting bag/case, cleaning kit and other accessories,” he said. “We’ll attempt to move these students to the next level of instruction. It also gives us an opportunity to sell range memberships.”

Sharp Shooting has marketed this program through point-of-sale flyers with gun purchases, and online promotion via the store’s website and social media pages.

One method used to help promote its New Shooter Orientation class — which launched in August — the Sharp Shooting team printed point-of-sale flyers to accompany gun purchases.

Classes Completely Booked?

At Georgia Gun Club in Buford, Ga., General Manager Beth Martin shared classes developed for first-time customers include Basic Pistol, Woman’s Handgun Basics and one-on-one personal instruction. It’s created a welcoming headache for schedulers, she said.

“I can tell you this has been a dream for our training department as the first available class at this point is Nov. 8. Our one-on-one personal instruction for the past eight weeks has increased 700% over the same period in 2019 — and no, this isn’t a typo,” she added.

The way customers are finding out about Georgia Gun Club has changed, which has likewise influenced how people are signing up for classes today.

“In this environment, we’re having more people find us with Google than word of mouth. They’re searching for ‘gun range in my area’ and we’re listed as the first option. That said, we’re probably getting 80% of our students signing up on our website,” Martin said.

She noted a prominent factor behind the significant jump in one-on-one training.

“If we have a cancellation or move a student to another date the original date is now open and it gets filled right away. This has led to the huge increase in personal instruction. As the person who doesn’t want to wait for a class in the fall, they can choose to start with the instructor in a one-on-one format,” Martin confirmed.

Added Frequency, Fun In Focus

At VRA, with a location in Vandalia, Ohio and New Castle, Ind., has expanded its class frequency to keep up with explosive demand.

“We’ve accommodated first-time gun owners by doubling the amount of beginner’s cources, and tripling the amount of CCH courses,” said Co-Owner Alex Hague. “We’ve also increased our staff to make sure customers are served properly and professionally.”

The importance of providing an exceptional experience isn’t lost on Hague’s team.

“Developing trust and personal relationships will make the gun buying experience more enjoyable, and hopefully encourage them to buy from VRA in the future,” he said. “This is a great time to capture new customers — and you want to make sure the customer experience at your facility is at its best.”

Highlighting the “fun” side of the shooting sports to capture interest at VRA is helped by Hague’s other venture: Evolve Range Systems.

“On the range side, we’re preparing for a future wave of customers by developing and installing our very own live-fire digital shooting lanes: the EV-R Target System. This live-fire digital shooting training experience brings a training, entertainment and top shooting experience to our customers. It helps merge our older and younger clientele with the traditional side of shooting mixed with new technology,” he added.

Alex Hague, co-owner of VRA and Evolve Range Systems, is looking to capitalize on this surge of interest by highlighting the fun side of the shooting sports. "It helps merge our older and younger clientele with the traditional side of shooting mixed with new technology," he said.

A Welcoming Environment

As noted by Hague above, a welcoming environment goes a long way to helping first-time gun owners become repeat customers.

“We’ve tried to make new gun owners welcome into our community by making sure they’re treated with respect and not talked down to,” lends David Loeffler, owner of Loeffler’s Guns, Etc. in Grants, N.M. “We’ve always felt an informed customer is a long-time customer and on the way to being a friend and a shooting companion. And we’re not going to change that, of course.”

With onsite training not an option, Loeffler encourages both first-time and seasoned customers to work with local instructors.

“We have local instructors who are very good and have guns for the student to use for familiarization with the different action types available. Both of them are licensed and insured ammunition manufacturers, so there’s little likelihood of not having enough ammunition for a class,” he said.

For students interested in higher levels of instruction, Loeffler will direct customers to Thunder Ranch, Gunsite and other schools.

Balancing Act

While getting first-time customers acquainted with firearms ownership and safe gun handling is important, dealers can’t forget who kept them in business in the first place: established customers.

Mitchell Tyler, co-owner of SafeSide Tactical’s two locations in Roanoke and Lynchburg, Va., details how his team has sought to serve both groups.

“Coming out of Virginia’s mandatory COVID-19 shutdown for indoor ranges, we’ve been trying to balance the backlog of students who needed to reschedule due to cancellations, with the influx of new gun owners who are seeking instruction,” he said. “Our training calendar has twice as many sessions on it now, with most selling out and people on the wait list.”

SafeSide has developed online-only courses to satisfy state requirements.

“In March, we spun up an online Concealed Handgun Permit course, which meets Virginia’s training requirements until Jan. 2021. We’ve had over 1,000 people take it in the last four months,” Tyler noted.

Pivot Points

As you can see here, there are a number of ways dealers have pivoted to respond to the wave of first-time gun owners — from adding new classes and developing online-only curriculum to creating one-on-one training programs.

How has your store or range responded to this surge of first-time buying? We want to hear from you! Send an email to [email protected]