Build Relationships, Not Just A Customer Base


Customers, regardless of whether they’re a man or a woman, are people first. Stores
already doing this are the ones getting repeat business. (Photo: Courtesy of Bristlecone
Shooting, Training & Retail Center)

Aman and a woman walk into a sporting goods store. The man behind the gun counter looks past her and asks the man, “Are you looking for anything in particular today?”

No, this isn’t the start of some dirty joke. It’s the unfortunate reality women across the country experience in gun stores every day.

“Probably the number-one comment we get is a lot of women feel talked over or around when they go to purchase a firearm elsewhere. This is especially true, it seems, when a husband, brother, father, whatever, accompanies them,” said Kathy Pitcock, co-owner of Red Hill Trading Post in Scottsville, Ky.

Pitcock can relate because she’s had similar experiences on countless occasions.

“If [my partner] Mark and I walk into another store, they’ll talk to him and ignore me,” she said. “It’s pretty clear a lot of gun stores, and even manufacturers, don’t value their female customers because they underestimate women’s buying power.”

The reality is women are now accountable for $39.6 trillion of the world’s wealth, and Boston Consulting Group forecasts that by 2028, women will control 75% of discretionary spending.

In 2019, Cecilie Westh, the managing director of consumer insight company Nielsen, noted not only are women responsible for over 70% of basic household expenses, but their spending on luxury items is also increasing at a faster rate than the male consumer.

Research from The Brookings Institution shows most of the increase in U.S. household income since 1970 has come from women’s labor force participation.1 Perhaps more importantly, their influence has grown along with their spending power.
Women are great drivers of word-of-mouth publicity and social sharing online, so respecting them as purchasers will definitely increase a company’s top line.

“Customers” Are “People” First

However, what sets Red Hill Trading Post apart is women (and men) aren’t just viewed as purchasers when they walk in the door. They’re acknowledged as people first.

In a letter submitted to SI Editor Jade Moldae, Pitcock wrote, “We talk directly to the female buyer, asking questions.
Based on her answers, we’ll show a variety of options, clear the firearm, hand it to her, ask how it feels, demonstrate racking the slide if they seem a novice, hand it back and ask if she can rack it. If not, we’ll offer other choices. We spend time showing different tricks and tips we’ve used ourselves. It can be time-consuming, and they may not make a decision on the spot, although roughly 90% do, but they’ll be more comfortable and better informed when they leave.”

Longtime Red Hill customer Shannon Hautala said, “When you come in, they remember your name, what you like and don’t like and what guns and gear you already have. Kathy will even send me a Facebook message from time to time inviting me to come check out something new they got in and think I would like. That’s how I got into the S&W M&P 380 Shield EZ.

There’s a level of personalization, patience and respect you don’t typically get at gun stores, especially the big-box ones.”

Hautala shared a story about the time she purchased a Colt 1911 from a pawn shop.

“The man tried to talk me out of it and into something else even after I specifically said it’s what I wanted,” she recalled. “I don’t get any of that at Red Hill. Instead of asking, ‘Are you sure that’s what you want?’ or ‘I think you should get this instead’ it’s more, ‘What ammo do you want with that?’”

On other occasions, she said presumptive salesmen from other retailers have asked, “Where’s your husband?” or “Who are you buying this for?” after she’s already had to hunt someone down to get help in the first place.

“Sometimes they try to push something cheaper on me, which is always baffling,” Hautala said. “It’s pretty obvious they’re thinking to themselves, ‘I don’t want her spending all her husband’s money because if it were my wife, I wouldn’t want her getting the most expensive one.’”

“‘What they don’t realize is Shannon is actually the one who introduced her boyfriend and her kids to shooting,” Pitcock added.

“Even though he had been around guns before, he was intimidated and I had to talk him into trying it,” said Hautala. “Now he’s an addict, and I’m a gun hoarder.”

When asked about her shooting experience, Hautala said she remembers being a teenager and bringing her .22 rifle to school for firearms safety class. Having grown up in the country, guns were a normal way of life, but it wasn’t until six or seven years ago she started getting more into shooting recreationally. She’s since built a shooting bench and range on her property and amassed an impressive firearms collection.

“A lot of women don’t want to ask what they’re afraid may be a ‘dumb’ or ‘silly’ question. They don’t realize we were all there once.”

Kathy Pitcock, Co-Owner Red Hill Trading Post Scottsville, Ky.

“She’s wanting to get a bunch of friends, and friends of friends, together at her place — she’s got an awesome setup — just for a fun day of shooting and fellowship,” Pitcock shared. “We talked about sponsoring lunch because she wants to promote our store. How’s that for customer loyalty?”

“We Were All There Once.”

Beyond how they prioritize building relationships, not just a customer base, another factor working in Red Hill Trading Post’s favor is three out of the four staff members are women, which not only adds to the welcoming factor, but also allows them to relate from personal experience.

“We didn’t really set out to capture the female buyer, but the fact we have — by default — a major female presence has worked to make us stand out among the competition,” Pitcock noted. “Our diverse inventory also helps.”

In addition to a variety of gun choices, Red Hill keeps several styles of conceal carry options, shirts, leggings and purses and offers tips, points for thought and opinions (personal insights) into the advantages/disadvantages of each.

“In talking with Shannon, one of the things she said that really stuck out to me was a lot of women don’t want to ask what they’re afraid may be a ‘dumb’ or ‘silly’ question,” Pitcock noted. “They don’t realize we were all there once. My prior work experience was as an over-the-road truck driver and in the construction industry. When Mark and I first applied for our license to sell firearms, I didn’t know how to tell a pump shotgun from a semi-auto.”

The Customer’s Choice

Ultimately, it’s important for dealers to both recognize and embrace the fact that feminine culture is vastly different than it was 20 to 30 years ago. Women from all walks of life are seeking opportunities to educate and empower themselves when it comes to their personal safety and their family’s.

If your store isn’t welcoming and accommodating, women have no problem driving a little farther or potentially even paying slightly higher prices at a business where they feel acknowledged and respected. And you better believe they’re going to tell all of their friends!


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