By Tim Barker
Spend a little time watching YouTube videos posted by everyday carry advocates, and you’re likely to come away with a skewed view of what this market is all about. It’s not uncommon for some fellow to display a gun or two, spare mags, two or three knives, at least one flashlight and maybe even a small first-aid kit designed to treat gunshot wounds.
Reality is, of course, far different.
Most customers interested in everyday carry for self-defense aren’t looking to fill every available pocket with a weapon or gadget. Instead, they’re generally focused on a firearm, holster and ammo. This isn’t to say there aren’t a few of them also looking for flashlights, knives, pepper spray and other related items.
Aside from what’s on their shopping list, however, these folks may not have a lot in common. The everyday carry customer could be anyone, according to Scott Stirrat, owner of Idaho Guns in Boise, Idaho.
“You’ve got businessmen. You’ve got students. We get a lot of women these days. There’s really no one type over the other,” he observed.
The Starting Point
The gun, of course, represents the starting point for most everyday carry shoppers. Some of them may have just completed a concealed carry course. Or maybe it’s the customer who just turned 21 and is looking for a first handgun. It’s not unusual for the gun to be something carried for self-defense, Stirrat lends.
The vast majority of his concealed carry sales (they make up about half of his handgun sales) are in the 9mm market. Top sellers include the S&W Shield, GLOCK 43 and 19 and the Springfield Armory XD-S. The key, he said, is making sure the customer is getting the gun that fits his or her needs. If they plan to do a lot of shooting and target practice with it, they try to steer people away from smaller, snappier guns.
“If you’re going to go out and shoot cans while camping, they’re not the best option,” Stirrat affirmed.
There’s also an educational aspect to the market, suggests Keith Stewart, owner of Firearms Solutions in Duncan, Okla.
The former police officer got his start in the business more than a decade ago when he and a friend decided to open a business teaching concealed carry classes after retiring. It eventually morphed into his current gun shop.
After 10 years of running classes once or twice a month, he figures he’s taught at least 10,000 students.
“Every year, I think this is going to be the year where we run out of people — but they just keep coming and coming,” Stewart said.
When working with customers who want to carry a gun for self-defense, Stewart urges them not to worry about whether or not it’s going to feel comfortable.
“There’s nothing comfortable about carrying a gun,” he added. “It’s something you get used to.”
The experience can, certainly, be improved by the right combination of gun and holster. He tells new customers to expect a lot of trial and error in the search for the perfect holster — and not to be too surprised if they end up with a box of discarded holsters by the time the quest is over.
The top-selling holsters at his shop include a line of leather holsters (around $50 each) by 1791 Gunleather and a universal kydex holster (around $25) by Stealth Operator that fits a wide range of guns.
At Idaho Guns, the leading holsters include offerings from Galco, DeSantis, BLACKHAWK! and Allen. IWB holsters have been popular with most customers there, Stirrat shared.
Both shop owners are in agreement: Women represent a challenge in this arena.
“A good portion of our female customers isn’t wearing jeans and belts; yoga pants tend to be pretty popular these days,” Stirrat said.
One option proving popular is the belly band. Stirrat carries a line made by a local manufacturer, Miss Concealed.
Stewart also offers a belly band option made by Can Can Concealment.
“My wife loves it,” he added. “It’s what she sells to all of her ladies when they come in.”
And while he’s not a strong advocate of the option, Stewart also offers conceal carry purses, which have seen decent demand. He worries a woman’s purse is often going to be the first thing an attacker might grab during an assault.
Still, he asserts, “It’s a great concept. It’s better than throwing a gun in the bottom of your purse.”
Other Options: Flashlights, Pepper Spray
Among the other self-defense accessories seeing some movement are flashlights, with Streamlight a popular brand. Stewart’s advice to customers is to buy something rated at least 100 lumens — so it’s capable of disorienting an attacker, rather than just offering a way to see in the dark.
It’s a piece of gear he consistently urges EDC customers to consider: “If you don’t carry one on your person, you should at least have one by your bedside.”
Still, according to Stewart, it’s generally only the more experienced EDC customers who include flashlights in their carry gear.
“Some people would say it’s almost at the ‘paranoid prepper stage,’” he said. “But I don’t think so. You never know where you’ll be when the power goes out.”
In Idaho, Stirrat also sells a fair amount of pepper spray — carrying popular brands like Sabre RED. But these products tend to be purchased by people looking for a non-lethal alternative: “Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of carrying a gun. We point them to the pepper spray,” he lends.
At Firearms Solutions (Duncan, Okla.), Owner Keith Stewart focuses on the right holster/gun combination for concealed-carry customers. “There’s nothing comfortable about carrying a gun. It’s something you get used to,” he advises.
Getting The Word Out
For both shops, the key to reaching new customers has focused largely on social media and word of mouth. Facebook is key.
Stirrat shared they’ve taken a few shots with traditional media over the years with little success.
“We did it, but it didn’t really do much for us,” he said.
The experience has been pretty much the same at Firearms Solutions in Oklahoma. Stewart noted they’ve tried billboards, radio and television, but they still have people walking into the store claiming they’ve never heard of the place.
“I’ve tried everything possible in the past 10 years,” he added. “And I’ve wasted a lot of money.”
Facebook, however, has been a different story. The store’s page has more than 7,000 likes. Not bad, Stewart says, for a small shop in a town of 25,000 people.
His wife has taken charge of Firearms Solutions’ Facebook page, posting links that might be interesting or entertaining for customers. And she routinely posts images of guns and other items in the store’s inventory. They realized early on you can’t post prices in the text, but photos of guns with visible price tags seem to be okay.
They’re also active with in-store promotions. Last summer, for example, they hosted their first industry day with representatives of various gunmakers. This brought in more than 700 customers before the Firearms Solutions team stopped counting.
And then there are the smaller efforts designed to keep customers interested. Recently, they plopped a SIG P938 into an acrylic box secured with a padlock. With a purchase of $20 or more, each customer got to draw from a bucket of keys to see if they could open the box to win the gun.
Stewart also generates a fair amount of demand for self-defense gear through the classes he teaches. Along with the one or two concealed carry classes each month, he offers a rotation of practical pistol courses and recently opened a shoot house for use with simunition.
Students coming out of the courses are often eager to buy ammo and holsters. And it’s not unusual for someone to decide the gun they were planning to carry might not be the best option.
“There hasn’t been a concealed carry class where I don’t sell at least two or three guns,” he concluded.