Risks In Getting
Too Political?

1

A sales associate serves a customer at Parro’s Gun Shop. When it comes to
mixing politics and sales, Owner Henry Parro explained his “no politics” strategy:
“Why would I want to alienate [first-time customers] and turn them away?”

During a recent trip into the mountains of northern Georgia, I came across a small gun shop perched on the side of a busy street. What stood out the most was an enormous Trump-Pence sign by the front entrance: It dwarfed the name of the business.

It called to mind a famous comment made more than 30 years ago by professional basketball player Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. He’d been asked to endorse a Democratic candidate in his home state of North Carolina. In defending his decision to stay out of politics (at least publicly) he said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

It’s sound reasoning, considering Jordan makes a lot of money putting his name on shoes. There’s something we can take away from it: Democrats buy guns, too.

Since March 2020, this has never been more obvious. The industry has been selling guns to millions of first-time buyers. It’s impossible to lump them all into one political basket, but it’s clear many of them are coming from the left. If you were to look, you might even find a few Joe Biden bumper stickers in your parking lot.

Evaluate Your “Welcome Mat”

Unless you already have all the customers you need, ask yourself if you’re doing everything you can to welcome these “outsiders.” Undoubtedly, some of these new faces hold political views different from your own. But does it mean you don’t want their money?

If your “welcome mat” includes a large Trump sign and employees wearing MAGA hats, you might want to reconsider the approach. Start by dropping the signs and instituting a basic dress code to keep politics (and other controversial subjects) out of the shop. And it wouldn’t hurt to encourage employees to keep the political debates and commentary under wraps.

“It’s just bad for business,” asserted Larry Hyatt of Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C. “We may never get an opportunity like this again.”

Hyatt’s father started the shop in 1959. Over time, the store has shifted its focus from hunters to customers interested in self-defense, drawing from a politically diverse population. What he’s learned over the years is people from all political affiliations walk through his door concerned about safety, for one reason or another.

“They’ve had bad things happen that made them feel unsafe,” he shared. “It’s why we’re here — not the politics part.”

For years, “no politics” was the official — though loosely enforced — policy at Parro’s Gun Shop in Waterbury, Vt.

Then all those first-time gun buyers came along, bringing with them the potential to help the business grow.

“That hammered it home,” said Owner Henry Parro. “Why would I want to alienate them and turn them away?”

The Social Media Battlefield

It’s not just the signage and employee apparel that comes into play. Take some time to look over your inventory, particularly the gimmicky accessories with a political edge. Are you selling targets or other items that might make some of your customers laugh — at the expense of other customers?

Last year, Dave Larsen with Doug’s Shoot’n Sports near Salt Lake City, Utah, started offering a small “Antifa hunting permit” vinyl decal. It was popular, but it was only on display for a couple days before his son was confronted by an angry customer — prompting its removal from the shop inventory.

“I’m a middle-aged white guy who is college educated and a gun-shop owner. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out I’m a conservative,” Larsen noted.

While there’s much he sees on the left he dislikes, he doesn’t want his shop to be a battlefield for political ideology. “I don’t want to rub somebody the wrong way,” he added.

In this era of social media, it’s particularly important. Go back even 10 years and an offended customer was just that. Today, the same customer is likely to take out his or her frustrations online. In a worst-case scenario, they’ll enlist the help of friends to savage your online reputation.

And whether we like it or not, there are people out there who look at reviews posted on Google and other sites before choosing where to shop. You don’t need to give potential customers a reason to shop with a competitor. You also don’t want to spend years cultivating a positive reputation, only to have it trashed over political differences with customers.

Those disgruntled folks aren’t the only threat from the social media landscape. Things posted by store employees could come back to haunt your business. Keep an eye on what’s being posted on Facebook and other social media platforms. Simply linking to articles bashing a particular political figure sends a message — regardless of whether you offer commentary or not. The postings of your employees, even on their own time, also could be trouble.

“Social media is a necessary evil in the world,” said Parro in Vermont. “It can help you, but it can also hurt you if you post the wrong thing.”

Focus On What’s Controllable

Of course, there are only so many things you can control. You can set dress codes and rules on what you and your employees talk about, but there’s not a lot you can do about the behavior of your customers.
There’s always the chance of what Hyatt calls “collateral damage.”

Given the current divisive political climate, it’s easy to believe fiery arguments could break out in your store if the right mix of customers start talking politics. All it takes is one loud, opinionated customer to get the ball rolling.

“It’s why our guys are trained to change subjects quickly,” Hyatt informed.

This isn’t meant to suggest you surrender the right to be political when you open a gun store. The key is finding a way to express yourself politically, without damaging the business that is your livelihood.

Do it by acting in a less public

This isn’t meant to suggest you surrender the right to be political when you open a gun store. The key is finding a way to express yourself politically, without damaging the business that is your livelihood.

manner. You don’t need to plaster the outside of your building with candidate signs to make an impact. If you prefer a particular candidate or issue, offer financial support, suggests Hyatt, who never shies away from getting involved in state and local politics.

“There’s nothing like writing a check to the right people to help the cause,” Hyatt confirmed.

There’s also a difference between getting involved in politics versus supporting the Second Amendment.

It’s highly unlikely any of your customers — regardless of which side of the political spectrum they might fall — will be surprised to learn a gun store supports gun rights. Tasteful clothes or signs along those lines won’t be out of place.

As Parro observed: “That’s not political. It’s a given right.”

Dealers, what protocols do you have in place when it comes to politics in the store? Have a success or horror story to share? Let us know: [email protected]

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