Women & the Competitive Connection

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Photo by O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc.

The NASCAR concept in advertising made its way into the firearms industry in the 1980s and ’90s. As a result, the shooting sports received unprecedented attention. Gun magazines covered major competitions, advertisements featured shooting athletes and even ESPN tapped into the allure of competitive shooters racing with firearms with competition-specific programming.

Growing up in this era, I shot my first national championship as a junior competitor in 1994. As a young girl, I was excited to have female heroes to look up to. That season Kippi Boykin (now Leatham) claimed the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) Ladies National Title. I still remember the subsequent ad with Kippi standing on an apple box to see eye-to-eye with champion shooter Rob Leatham. The tagline read, “On a good day, Rob Leatham shoots like a girl.”

A New Race

As the shooting sports evolved so, too, did the equipment race to be competitive in them. The sport of practical shooting and other action-based competitive shooting programs became anything but “practical” when it came to the guns and gear. The research and development bubble burst and major manufacturers took a step back from more extreme handgun designs.

Taking a sharp turn from the specialized sports-specific firearms, ammunition and gear, they honed in on a larger market. The everyday gun owner, the “target shooter,” “plinker” and those who own guns for self-reliance and protection became the focus. Retailers rejoiced at increased resources and the opportunity to sell more products to existing customers. At the same time, shooting sports equipment found a home on the internet. Sport-specific online shops became the go-to resource for this very specific consumer.

“Female competitors have become some of
the biggest champions, both in the standings and
as ambassadors for shooting as a sport.”

The shooting sports began to take note. Gradually, the successful ones began to add divisions for the firearms and gear aspiring competitors could purchase right from their local dealer. With the rise in the popularity of production and now carry optics divisions — both featuring double-action, double/single action and striker-fired handguns — today these and other stock-gun divisions in the shooting sports are popular and continue to grow, even outpacing more specialized and expensive divisions.

With this success, female competitors have become some of the biggest champions, both in the standings and as ambassadors for shooting as a sport.

Changes In The Women’s Market

The women’s market in the firearms industry is a topic that comes up often in both sales and marketing. If you ask many women who love to shoot, it isn’t as complicated as some will make it out to be. Women aren’t only making names for themselves on the range, but they also showcase it with training — anyone (male or female) can level up.

When it comes to sport, the average woman doesn’t have to shoot five steel plates in under two seconds like Jessie Harrison in Steel Challenge; travel overseas to Sweden to win an International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) Rifle World Championship like Ashley Rheuark or stand in front of a huge crowd for a demo day like Lena Miculek to feel there’s a place for women in shooting. Competent women have been proving their capability with more than just small, pink guns for decades. Successful female shooters are also able to connect with experienced male gun owners while they encourage women who are interested to “take the plunge.”

Julie recommends partnering with a manufacturer to host a top shooter for a
weekend event. For the launch of the S&W M&P 9mm Shield EZ (not pictured),
she attended an event late last year at Guns & Gear in Idaho Falls, Idaho. “Despite
being held after Black Friday, the shop/range had a great turnout and high sales,”
she relayed. Once COVID-19 concerns are reduced, events will be a key mechanism
to ecourage the recent wave of first-time gun owners to come back.

How This Can Impact Your Store

Many firearms and ammunition companies have already realized the value of working with female shooting athletes, and now is an ideal time for retailers to explore how women and sport can help their business as well.

It all begins by establishing your retail space as a resource hub. If you’re a standalone retailer, this can be done by connecting with local outdoor ranges to learn about the sports they offer so when customers have questions, you can point them in the right direction. Create simple handouts with website links for shooting sports and addresses for clubs in the area for a quick reference guide to offer anyone who is interested.

Tap into local women’s groups that may already host events and classes. From certified women instructors to groups like A Girl & A Gun and The Well Armed Woman, connecting with women active in the firearms community could create winning relationships and a way to bring a more feminine perspective to your store. If there are no women’s groups in your area, consider starting one. Create online challenges, participation leagues and punch-card initiatives for women to enter in giveaways for trying out shooting sports-style experiences. Take it a step further and start a private Facebook group for local female customers and offer not only fun shooting tests, but a way to connect online in a welcoming, encouraging environment as well.

Learn From Observing

Truly the best way to foster growth through local shooting sports programs is by going to a match. Attending a competition can be an eye-opening venture even for those who are knowledgeable about firearms. Keep in mind, it doesn’t mean you have to compete. You can learn much just from watching a competition. While there, make a note of any women who are competing and introduce yourself. This connection may pave the way to a productive relationship for both a local sport and your store. It’s also worth inquiring about local female shooters who may be state or club champions as well.

Take the time to ask about women who are certified range officers who may be interested in working with you to promote their sport in your store. Their knowledge of safety and experience working with a variety of skill levels can be invaluable.

You may already have an employee who competes or is knowledgeable about a variety of shooting sports. Designate them as an “on-the-spot mentor.” In addition to directing customers to your store’s sports mentor, you can encourage other employees to ask them questions as well. Knowing about the sports and, more importantly, how customers can use the products you sell in them, is a valuable service and one that helps build trust. Most importantly, connect your mentor to newfound competitive shooting friends to foster an even better resource for customers.

Now is a perfect time for retailers to explore how women and sport can
help their businesses. Here, Julie introduces three women to the AR platform
for a taping of NRA’s “Love at First Shot” — which ran for five seasons.

If your space can host them, consider “how to get started” mini-seminars. Instead of sifting through online content or feeling too overwhelmed to go to a match, introductory courses will help you facilitate the learning experience with a local range and shooting sport in a way that also fosters customer loyalty. Utilize your employee mentors and local competitors to present helpful information, then promote courses and the safe, welcoming environment you offer on social media and locally to further create interest.

Finally, consider hosting a female competitor for an event. If you’re a registered dealer for a major manufacturer, make a formal request with their sales team to host a top shooter for a weekend. I’ve participated in a number of these for Smith & Wesson dealers throughout the country over the years and if you’re willing to work around the competition schedule and coordinate with a special sales event it can be a win/win/win for you, the competitive shooter and manufacturers.

If your retail space has a range see if the athlete is open to offering live demos. If not, you can still host meet-and-greet sessions or dry-fire demos. Be prepared to promote the event to your customers and at local ranges to make the most of the opportunity.

Also, if you run into logistic issues or are unable to schedule a top competitor for a full weekend, don’t despair. You can still put on an exclusive event for customers. With just a bit of tech support, host a Q&A session through messaging apps or even a virtual live event online for your private Facebook group. Don’t be afraid to ask or to get creative with technology to bring value to your store and customers.

Women in shooting sports represent an opportunity worth exploring. From experienced range officers to local competitors to well-known names in the firearms industry, confident women showcasing skill through competition can help attract new customers and grow your business.

Julie Golob is a multi-time world and national shooting champion, instructor, U.S. Army veteran, author, spokesperson for NSSF’s Project ChildSafe program and serves in other ambassadorial roles.

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