7 Things I’ve Learned As A New Store Owner


Flanell has used her experience as an instructor interacting
with students to help communicate with employees as an owner.

With any successful business, you must constantly evolve to stay relevant, but even the most innovative strategies might not be enough to take your business to the next level. After nine years, my firearms training company eventually hit a roadblock. I needed to expand, but didn’t want to take on millions of dollars in debt to build a facility.

So in June 2022, I decided to join forces with DCF Guns, which has three locations in Colorado; one store in Castle Rock and two in Colorado Springs. Each location has a retail component — two are SIG Elite Dealers — and there are five indoor ranges total (including a 100-yard range). All locations offer training and gunsmithing services. I became a shareholder of the company, as well as a salaried employee to teach classes at the facilities.

Being on both sides, as a partner and an employee, has given me a unique perspective. I’ve realized more than anything how important employees are to the success of a business, especially when you continue to expand and become reliant on their help. The relationships between ownership, upper management and employees are also crucial for any company’s success, small or large.

Here are seven things I’ve concluded in the short six months of working with DCF Guns that can be applied to majority of stores in our industry. Keep in mind, I’ve made these conclusions based on what I’ve seen done well, or perhaps what I might have done differently. Either way, every company could benefit from these tips.

1. Be selective in what you ask for.

I’ve been in the firearms industry for about 10 years and know the Colorado Springs market better than most. So of course, I wanted to share everything I knew — what worked well and what resulted in failure. I quickly learned to take a step back. Everyone was already focused on a task, and I just continued to throw more ideas out there which caused confusion or added to their workload. 

When giving advice or wanting to make changes, pick a few priority items and go down the list. This won’t overwhelm employees, and it establishes realistic expectations on your part, instead of expecting everything to change overnight.

2. Communicate effectively.

Communication is a lost art, but it’s crucial to a healthy relationship — whether it is at home, work or even when you’re out and about living your life. First, you must be able to convey exactly what you want and expect. If you ask an employee to do something, be sure you explain it well enough you’re both on the same page. You might even go as far as to ask the employee to explain to you what you just asked them to confirm your mutual understanding.

Additionally, if any issues arise, be sure to tackle them immediately. It’s easier said than done and requires a lot more work on your part, but if an employee complains about something, it’s best to address it right away before it breeds negativity elsewhere. Negativity is like dominoes; it can take out your entire team.

3. Set expectations.

Next, you must have realistic expectations of your employees. Early on, I realized I couldn’t expect everyone to treat the company like it’s their own and be as passionate about the company or industry as I am. This is a harsh reality for business owners, but for many employees, this is “just a job” for them. When they walk out of the door at the end of the day, they don’t (and shouldn’t) have to take work home with them. It’s an upside to not owning your own business. 

In the end, the best we can hope for is they enjoy their job, take pride in their work and have our best interest in mind as they go about their day. If you have an employee who treats the company like it’s their own, don’t take it for granted and make sure you treat them well. Good help, more than ever, is hard to find. If an employee is managing to do the work of multiple people, give them a pay raise.

4. Be a respected, but well-liked leader.

I’ve struggled with the balance of being a friend, but also being a boss. I don’t have the authority to fire anyone and my percentage of the company is minuscule, but if I see something wrong, I need to speak up or correct it. This puts me in an awkward position. I want employees to feel comfortable around me and treat me like one of their own, but not so comfortable their performance lacks in my presence.

Being successful at managing others is a craft all its own. Many of us might think it’s an easy task, but finding that balance is difficult. I’m still navigating how to do this. What I’ve learned is if you want people to take you seriously and respect you, you also need to get to know your employees and build a solid relationship with them. This creates a bond so employees will be open about things going on in the workplace, they’ll look out for your best interest because they care about the person or people behind the company and it produces a less stressful work environment.

5. Encourage more and criticize less.

It’s easy to fixate on what someone didn’t do or the mistakes they make, but there needs to be a balance between constructive criticism and compliments to ensure employees remain productive. In our society, we get so caught up in negativity we forget to spread positivity. We also tend to compliment others more in our head than we do vocally. Let your employees know their hard work isn’t going unnoticed. Positive affirmations encourage employees to go the extra mile, especially when you throw in added benefits such as commission, bonuses or even a gift card.

 Being successful at managing others is a craft all its own. Many of us might think it’s an easy task.

6. Create a bond between the staff.

We’ve been raised to think work and pleasure shouldn’t mix, and while I stand by this to a degree, there’s something to be said about having employee appreciation events. Taking the staff out to enjoy something as simple as pizza and beer allows the staff to get to know each other better and bond, not in a work setting.

Encouraging friendships between the staff means they’ll help each other out when needed. If an employee can’t make it to work, another employee will be more inclined to have their back and fill the spot or pick up the slack at work with a smaller staff.

7. Make tough decisions.

Lastly, be willing to trim the fat. Sometimes you build a relationship with an employee so well you feel bad about letting them go. Understand we all have bad days or moments in our lives where we might be distracted and less productive, but if an employee continues to slack off, you need to fire them.

Having a solid team is a major component in what will set you apart from every other gun store or range. Just make sure you never burn bridges and you’re kind about letting them go when the time comes. 

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