Woman-Owned Stores:

Different Backgrounds, Same Result

Dawn Westendorf (far right) went from operating an online-only business to
a storefront in the span of a few months — all during a historic pandemic!

As our industry has become more welcoming to women, the number of woman-owned gun stores has increased. Women still face many barriers to owning gun shops, in part because many of them don’t have early life experience that predisposes them to enter the industry. And then there are those who have it in their genes.

Born To Own A Gun Store

Beth Miller Bason, owner of Miller’s Gun Shop in Mill Hall, Pa., was born to own a gun store. Both of her parents were teachers, who together also ran a dairy farm and worked on Massey Ferguson equipment and then decided they wanted to open a gun shop. All of this was on one piece of property her father grew up on while his parents were farming.

At a very young age, Bason would get home from school and go to work either on the farm or in the gun shop, wherever she was needed.

“I just was a natural fold-in to the businesses. It’s what I grew up doing, and what I wanted to do as I got older,” she said.
Bason’s husband works in an entirely different business.

“He’s an environmental consultant,” Bason shared. “We’ve been married 30 years, and he is the most tolerant, loving man of an over-working woman and son, because we both feel we need to be in this business working it and growing it, even though it’s 56 years old this year. Mom and Dad are still here, and we still all work side by side.”

Bason’s husband works from home, so now he, too, helps out at the store when things are busy.

“We do this as a family,” Bason confirmed. “Although my title says ‘president,’ I can’t do this without my family.”

A new generation of the family is taking up the business. Bason’s son Bryce majored in business and came back to help run the store.

“We’re working together now, and I’ll be here to help him,” she said. “The plan is for him to take it to the next level when he’s ready. He’s already giving me suggestions on additional things he’d like to sell as a sporting goods store.”

A Very Different Start

Robin Ball, owner of Sharp Shooting Indoor Range & Gunshop in Spokane, Wash., never expected to be involved in the shooting sports industry. Ball’s husband was a commercial pilot, and she also worked in the airline industry when they had two small children. They decided one of them needed to change jobs, so she went back to school to finish her degree in international business.

One night, Ball’s husband saw an article in the newspaper and yelled through the house, “Hey, someone bought the armory building! Maybe they’ll reopen the small-bore rifle range.”

The article sparked the idea, but it took the Balls more than a year to finish their research and find the right building.

“That was December 1994,” Ball recalled. “We signed the lease April 1 — April Fool’s Day no less — 1995. We got the business open in July 1995.”

At that point, Ball was almost clueless about the gun industry.

“I had fired a gun twice prior to our opening,” she said. “I had never fired one indoors. So, it was a whole new experience. I’d never run a business; I knew nothing about firearms.”

She had a steep learning curve, but she also had great people who helped her.

When the store first opened, a woman-owned gun store was a rarity — and many customers didn’t know quite what to think.

“The most common phone call I got during that time was, ‘Can I talk to one of the men in the gun shop?’” Ball said. “I would think ‘Yeah, I have other things to do!’ But now, because I’m the owner and I’m known, I have customers who will only deal with me.”

Like Bason, Ball has a son, Jeremy, who is involved in the business. After he graduated from high school he joined the military and became an MP. When he came back to the U.S., he moved around and had a number of different jobs. He then decided to work in the gun store and range 12 years ago, and is the general manager today.

“Now, I help him run the business,” Ball stated.

Opening During A Pandemic? No Problem.

Dawn Westendorf, owner of We Kick Brass in Jupiter, Fla., is new to firearms retail. Although her path to store ownership is completely different from Ball’s, she never expected to own a gun store, either.

Westendorf’s story begins with COVID-19. She has five young children (and one who arrived in early May) and one of those children was being treated for cancer. Because of his compromised immune status, the family went into complete isolation when Florida shut down mid-March 2020.

“We couldn’t really do anything, so my children and I started a business,” Westendorf said. “We originally started with the idea of a T-shirt shop, but as things progressed, we said, ‘We really don’t love doing this; this isn’t fun for us.’”

Westendorf and her husband Mike Perez are frequent visitors to the local shooting range, and they often take their kids along to shoot. So, she and the kids had the idea to start a mail-order business for ammunition and shooting accessories.

“My husband and I are both NRA-certified instructors, and our kids love to shoot as well,” she said. “We love going out to the range together and shooting, and of course spending a lot of money on ammo!”

“We come to work together, we pack boxes together and we go to the range together. It’s something we all truly enjoy and love; it doesn’t feel like work.”

Dawn Westendorf, Owner We Kick Brass Jupiter, Fla.

At that point, Westendorf was working entirely online and from home. She found out very quickly it wasn’t enough and started looking for a retail space. Despite the shutdown, and many challenges related to both the pandemic and dealing with the ATF, she found a location and opened her doors May 17, 2020. She went from a small mail-order company to a fully operational storefront in less than two months. Because of the state of Florida’s COVID protocols, Westendorf was able to open while still protecting her son’s compromised immune status.

Although Westendorf’s husband helps her with the store, he has his own life insurance business.

“He really enjoys teaching concealed carry classes, which he has been doing for 10 years,” Westendorf noted. “He typically teaches some classes and helps with the kids.”

The store started with just ammunition and accessories.

“It took us a while to get our FFL,” Westendorf informed. “We didn’t get it until early 2021. We have grown unbelievably fast, to the point we can’t keep up. Most of our presence is online, and we’re able to get our hands on ammunition. When we were small, we might have packed 20 boxes a day, but we have more than $200,000 worth of orders going out a month now.”

The number of boxes they send out each day can be as high as 200 or even higher, depending on what shipments come in.

Early Lessons

Westendorf figured out early on her best sources of ammunition would be overseas manufacturers. She started very quickly developing relationships with other retailers in southeastern Florida and became a part of what amounts to a small, informal buying group.

“We order in bulk with other gun stores,” she said. “We order tons of pallets, not just one. So, we’re able to get pallets here and sell ammunition faster than we would if we weren’t doing that. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes it takes a long time to get things. But we have really good connections in the gun community now, and it helps us.”

When she gets in a big order of ammunition, Westendorf said, it’s all hands on deck.

“Some days we’re here packing thousands of boxes because people order one box of ammo,” she shared. “We’re projected to do very well by the end of this year.”

Despite her recent entry into the industry, Westendorf expects the business to flourish.

“We got into this industry and we all love it,” she said. “We come to work together, we pack boxes together and we go to the range together. It’s something we all truly enjoy and love; it doesn’t feel like work.”

Is yours a woman-owned store? Share your story with SI’s readers. editor@shootingindustry.com

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