Win The Customer Service Race

Get Ready to Lap The Competition

Image: longquattro / Adobe Stock

The first rule of customer service in today’s world? Hire nice people and, if possible, make sure they’re not all stale, pale and male. You can teach people the gun industry, but you can’t always teach bullet heads to be nice.

Every store needs a bullet head, just not many of them. Mine was a man named Robert; he was a walking encyclopedia on firearms. Robert could tell you Gaston Glock’s birthday and the stipple count on the version one model and more. 

Unfortunately, he would tell the customer all of this — and more. Even after the customer said they wanted to buy, Robert would continue to throw out information. While he may not have been the smoothest or best salesperson, Robert was an extremely valuable part of the staff, as certain customers wanted the in-depth knowledge he possessed, and the rest of our team members would go to him for answers to help solve their customers’ problems.

Build A Winning Team

Looking at your current staff, how well do you train them to be good at customer service and why does it matter so much?

Think of your store as Kyle Larson’s NASCAR racing team. Larson’s team won the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship. What does this have to do with your store? In order to win the championship, they built the highest horsepower motor, had the smoothest body to go through the wind the fastest and hired the best driver. All of this work would be for naught if they put whitewall tires on the race car. Whitewall tires won’t grip the track as well as racing tires: The speed difference would be so great Larson would get passed like an outhouse on the side of the track.

Similarly with your store, you can have a beautiful building fully stocked with the hottest guns and competitive pricing — yet just like those whitewall tires on a winning race car, your sales staff can ruin everything by how they treat your guests. 

Providing Great Customer Service Anytime

Retail isn’t fair; the deck is stacked against traditional brick-and-mortar retailers who try to provide good customer service — battling basement piranhas and internet sellers with low overhead to big-box retailers. It’s not easy.

After I sold my store/range, I worked for a weekend representing Weatherby and Leupold at a Cabela’s store. The difference in customer expectations was startling. At my store, if a customer waited five minutes for a salesperson they’d be upset, plus the salesperson better have answers about the product they wanted.

At Cabela’s, customers came in with the catalog opened to the page and said, “I want this.” No asking for advice, haggling over price or wanting an extra magazine for free — just “I only want one of these.” If it was a firearm they wanted to buy, I would inform them I wasn’t authorized to complete the paperwork and it would be 45 minutes before a qualified employee could ring it up. Instead of storming out, the customer would smile and say, “Okay, I’ll just look around until then.” Not fair.

As retailers, we’re supposed to have great customer service at a moment’s notice and be the cheapest — yet consumers don’t hold big-box stores to the same standard.

It’s hard to expect our sales team to provide information to our guests if we don’t provide information to our sales staff first.

Knowledge Is Power

How can we fight back? First, we have to ask our management teams and ourselves some tough questions. What tools are we providing to our sales teams? Have we provided instruction about the products we sell? It’s hard to expect our sales team to provide information to our guests if we don’t provide information to our sales staff first. 

One way to accomplish this is a short staff meeting every day (and be sure to film them for staff who aren’t working during this time). During the meeting, take one product and you or someone on staff explain why a customer would benefit from owning it. For example, if you stock standard 1911 magazines as well as high-performance versions like the ones manufactured by Wilson Combat, explain to your sales staff what makes the high-performance version different and how those differences would better serve customers. A staff meeting every morning will cover a lot of products in a year and lead to increased sales.

If you have a range, the high-performance magazines and accessories should be in/on your rental guns. Doing so can result in add-on sales. When a customer takes advantage of your try-before-you-buy program and decides they want one just like they rented, you have a great opportunity to sell the high-end magazine and accessories with the gun.

What’s Your Vibe?

Did you motivate your staff today by providing a boost of energy and excitement? I was onsite at The Armories (three locations in Florida) when GM Matt Brett was giving his morning staff meeting, interacting with the staff, letting them know how things have been going and what they were going to be doing to make it even better. He also covered the goals for the day/week and accomplishments so far. His enthusiasm was so infectious, I almost wanted to clock in and go to work for him.

Speaking of The Armories, does your store have a good vibe? Many times you can enter a store and just get a feeling after walking around for five minutes. Is the staff happy to be there? Is there some buzz? Go into any of The Armories locations and you feel happy: They have the buzz customers want to be around, starting with greeting every guest who comes through the door. Does your store?

Hank Yacek, the CEO of Point of Impact who offers a course in retail sales training specific to firearms retailing, says, “With employees, the more you use the reins, the less they use their brains.” Giving your top staff more power to make decisions without having to go to you for approval can really free up your time (and who couldn’t use more time?). Working with store owners and managers for years, I quickly learned the best ones are working on their business, not in it. It’s hard to be thinking about what categories to add to your product mix when you’re busy micromanaging every decision.

Actually Put Team Members In Customers’ Shoes

Another tip I picked up from taking Hank’s course involved making new shooters feel comfortable in your store. Have you ever thought about how a new shooter feels walking into a gun store for the first time? What can you do to make new shooters feel welcome? 

To gain an advantage in this growing market, the first step to making them comfortable is actually very inexpensive, and it will change your staff’s mindset to understand where this first-time buyer is coming from. Hank’s tip is sending your male employees to a Victoria’s Secret-type store alone with $20 to purchase three items and then later having them return it all. How did it make them feel? If they’re honest about it, they were probably a little nervous or uncomfortable.

Now they’ll know, firsthand, how many new gun purchasers feel walking into your store. Hopefully your sales team will now treat those new to our industry with some good hospitality and a little more patience.

Similarly with your store, you can have a beautiful building fully stocked with the hottest guns and competitive pricing — yet just like those whitewall tires on a winning race car, your sales staff can ruin everything by how they treat your guests.

Who Earns Their Paycheck?

vIn order to know where to spend the most of your limited sales training time and which team members you should be rewarding, you need to identify those salespeople who are earning their paycheck (i.e., actually selling versus being order-takers).

Are you tracking how many unique UPCs or total number of items there are per ticket? This is one of the best ways to determine how well your sales staff is selling versus order-taking. If a customer leaves with a firearm and a box of ammo, your sales staff just took an order — they didn’t actually sell anything.

When I owned my store, the software I used wasn’t sophisticated enough to give me a nice report to rank sales staff like some of the systems today. However, I could tell just by diving into my daily item sold report one of our staff members, Matt Borener (now a sales rep with H&G Outdoors) was working that day based on the number of speed loaders, grip extensions and holsters sold. He came from an office supply super store and had retail sales training and little gun knowledge before coming to my store. What Matt lacked in firearm knowledge he more than made up for by being approachable and oh-so-smooth with customers.

Think he was worth more to my bottom line than any other salesperson? I don’t know if all the credit goes to his previous sales training, but I worked hard to train other staff members to sell like Matt. If I had a whole team with his abilities, I could be on the beach by now.

Consider: How much time and money are you spending on sales staff training? Think of sales training as changing those whitewall tires on the race car analogy into super-fast racing tires and lapping your competition. 

Some will question, “What if they leave after I spent the time and money training them?” My reply: “What if you don’t train them, and they stay?” 

Click To Read More Shooting Industry January 2023 Issue Now!