Technology + Compliance


Image: Hilch / Adobe Stock

Any firearms retailer who’s been through an ATF inspection— which is almost everyone — can tell you how important it is to have every detail handled correctly. Whether it’s logging in firearms or reporting multiple handgun sales, tracking the details can make the difference between a clean inspection and a nightmare.

Today’s technology can make handling those details more efficient and reduce errors if you’re willing to learn how to use programs and systems that fit your business. Consider the tracking of multiple handgun sales, for instance.

“Many software programs will track multiple handgun sales and will catch them every time,” stated Wally Nelson, a retired ATF deputy assistant director and a compliance consultant with the NSSF. “Some of them will simply notify you of the need to file a report, and some of them actually print the report out for you to submit to ATF. Recently I’ve even seen some that automatically email the report to ATF.”

Simplifying Management

Shaun Phelan is VP of sales and marketing for Orchid Advisors, a point-of-sale and retail sales software company serving the firearms industry. Orchid offers a number of pieces of compliance software. Different clients have different needs, Phelan acknowledged, and Orchid Advisors tries to match every client’s need to the correct software.

“We started with a point-of-sale system purposely built for the firearms industry with a bound book inside it,” Phelan said.

The electronic bound book replaces the handwritten bound book, which means no sloppy handwriting and hard-to-read entries.

“Everything is completely legible, and you can’t skip anything,” he added. “The software will stop you if you forget to fill out anything and remind you what is needed. Then when the ATF Industry Operations Investigator (IOI) looks at your book, everything he wants to see is right there.”

Orchid Advisors continued to build on this system and make it more sophisticated with each passing year.

“Now, we’re tied into the FBI and the ATF eZ Check system,” Phelan informed. “We’re also tied into a document storage system. We have drop-down menus, so you don’t even have to type in a manufacturer’s name such as ‘Smith & Wesson’ anymore. You just start typing and the software tells you what it thinks you’re looking for so you can select it. This means less keyboarding time and less chance of errors.”

Today, the Orchid Advisors bound-book system is completely integrated with its point-of-sale system. When a retailer using this system receives a firearm, all he has to do is type in the serial number of the gun.

“This updates the point-of-sale inventory,” Phelan shared. “It also updates the bound book and the retailer’s website. With one transaction, you’re doing all three things at the same time. You’re also saving money, saving time and reducing keyboard time so you’re less likely to make a mistake.”

Of course, with everything barcoded now, once a firearm is in the system digitally, you’re just scanning barcodes; you don’t even have to key in serial numbers manually. A continuous process of upgrades ensures the latest in compliance technology; Orchid Advisors updates enhancements about every two weeks, according to Phelan.

“We’re trying to leverage technology to simplify work,” he said. “Our goal is to be the compliance experts/back-office support for our FFL retailers.”

To this end, Orchid Advisors tracks any bills in Congress related to the sale and transfer of firearms so they can make any necessary changes to their software right away. 

“ATF compliance within the software was one of the key decision points for our choice.”

Mitchell Tyler, Owner
SafeSide Tactical • Lynchburg, VA.

Single-Solution Software

Michele Salerno is the director of marketing and assistant VP at Celerant Technology. Celerant offers single-solution software for a firearms retailer’s entire business. 

“It manages everything for a brick-and-mortar store, their range and their online sales,” she said. “It includes point of sale, inventory management, CRM, loyalty rewards and range management with lane reservations.”

Celerant also designs and manages e-commerce sites for firearms retailers. 

“Our e-commerce sites are integrated with the dealer software at the store, so all the different channels can be managed by one centralized system,” Salerno noted. “This means their inventory is centralized, so when an item is pulled online it’s reflected in the store and vice versa. Retailers can do things like loyalty rewards and memberships both in-store and online.”

A number of retailers that use the Celerant system have created their own branded apps customers can download from the app store to their phones.

“If they have a range, they also can have all their range functionality on the app,” Salerno shared. “The customer can reserve a lane, book a class, renew a membership, buy a membership or make purchases on the app. Dealers can promote their firearms on the app.”

(Users can’t purchase a firearm through the app, but if they click on a firearm to buy it, the system will take them to the e-commerce site to complete the sale.)

Celerant also offers marketplace integration.

“A lot of our dealers sell on and other marketplaces,” Salerno said. “We have an integration with our software where the inventory is linked to GunBroker so when something is sold in the store, on the website or on the app, it’s reflected on GunBroker without having to manually make those changes.”

All of this connects to the electronic bound book.

“We offer our dealers options,” Salerno added. “We have a built-in A&D book in our software they can use. We also offer integration with third-party bound books they can use if they prefer, including FastBound and Gun StoreMaster.”

All of this information can be stored digitally in the cloud, reducing both paper usage and errors. Of course, this raises the question of whether information stored in the cloud can be hacked. Salerno shared Celerant has security in place to prevent this from happening.

“However, some dealers are more comfortable maintaining their records on site and not having them in the cloud,” she contended, “which is fine, and we offer this as well. Storage in the cloud is optional. We don’t want to force any of our dealers to do anything one way. We want to offer options, and we make all these integrations and features in the software so our dealers can see what works best for their business.”

Benefits In Real Time

Mitchell Tyler owns SafeSide Tactical, a two-location store in Roanoke and Lynchburg, Va. When he wanted a software system that would help him with both inventory management and compliance, he chose Celerant.

“We were growing fast, and expanding to a second location,” he relayed. “We were using multiple systems, which made it really difficult for us to aggregate data in real time. We knew we needed a technology partner that could connect all of the aspects of our business: CRM, e-commerce, range, retail, inventory and marketing, all using the same data.”

One reason Tyler chose Celerant was its ability to integrate multiple store locations.

“The other providers we assessed at the time we did this just didn’t have the depth of knowledge in the firearms space or were lacking multi-store, multi-channel support,” he said. 

Concerns about ATF compliance also weighed heavily on Tyler’s decision-making.

“ATF compliance within the software was one of the key decision points for our choice,” he noted. “Integrating and attaching serialized inventory throughout the process — from receipt to sale — gives us the ability to drill down into serial number movements between stores, manufacturers, our gunsmithing department and more.”

Tyler has chosen to use the Form 4473 tracking built into the Celerant system.

“This really helps to connect the digital records with the required ATF paper records,” he reasoned. “By tagging transactions with document and approval numbers, we are usually able to complete firearms traces in less than 10 minutes.”

Tyler also likes the way the Celerant system handles multiple handgun sales.

“Celerant’s systems notify the clerk at the point of sale immediately if it detects a multiple handgun scenario,” he said. “With this, front-line staff can get management involved in real time to ensure we’re meeting our same-day reporting requirement. Additionally, back-office compliance staff has a custom report that is run daily analyzing firearm dispositions, and groups sales by customer, so it’s easy for us to make sure any multiple reports needed get done.”

Whether you’re the sole proprietor of a local gun store or operate a regional chain, using the technology available to maintain compliance is going to be essential — especially as the White House continues to politicize the ATF.

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