Pandemic, Unrest,
Election — Oh, My!

0

When it’s all said and done, 2020 will be known as the “perfect storm” of uncertainty that fueled an unprecedented run on firearms and related accessory sales. Between the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread social unrest and subsequent calls for defunding law enforcement and the brutal, divisive election (as I write this, Joe Biden has been declared “President-elect” and the balance of the U.S. Senate hinges on each of Georgia’s runoffs) — this year truly “wins the day,” as noted by Stefanie Zanders earlier in this issue.

It’s difficult to envision how things will play out days or weeks from now, but the heightened tension and divide (an understatement) we’re experiencing now isn’t going to go away quickly.

Enough uncertainty and negativity has been forcefully thrust on our newsfeeds, social media pages and on the 24/7 news networks, so we wanted to close out a fatiguing year by focusing on some positive developments brought on by the Category 5 trio of the pandemic, social unrest and, yes, 2020 election cycle.

Record Interest

Quite simply, widespread uncertainty has resulted in remarkable interest in firearms ownership today — giving the industry a golden opportunity to welcome new customer groups.

“It’s opened a lot of people’s eyes to the idea owning a gun isn’t such a bad thing. If you were on the fence, you jumped onto our side,” reported Ben Romanoff, owner of Ace Sporting Goods in Washington, Pa., earlier this year.

“This is a great time to capture new customers — and you want to make sure the customer experience at your facility is at its best,” added Alex Hague, co-owner of VRA, with locations in Vandalia, Ohio and New Castle, Ind.

Ava Flanell, founder of Elite Firearms & Training in Colorado Springs, Colo., shared what we, as an industry, should strive to do during this time of welcoming new buyers.

“Right now we have their attention and they’re willing to learn. Make their experience a great one. Show them the stereotypes of gun owners aren’t true and neither are the lies anti-gun organizations and politicians are pushing,” she stated.

A significant source of this growth, oddly enough, is from those who were previously anti-gunners. Jeff Wait, owner of Okeechobee Shooting Sports in Okeechobee, Fla., recounted his surprise to SI’s Carolee Anita Boyles in a feature appearing in next month’s issue.

“People who were anti-gun in February and actually wanted the government to forcibly remove guns from gun owners’ homes are now becoming gun owners themselves,” he said. “The demographics have been changing rapidly.”

Training/Education Focus

Speaking of training: Heightened interest in firearms ownership has likewise generated the need for training. (Dealers/ranges have roundly reported a dramatic uptick, with some sharing even in July they were already booked through the end of the year.)

Hague noted they’ve significantly expanded class frequency to keep up with explosive demand.

“We’ve accommodated first-time gun owners by doubling the amount of beginner’s courses, and tripling the amount of CCH courses,” he said. “We’ve also increased our staff to make sure customers are served properly and professionally.”

Flannel provided a surprising reason for a surge in private classes.

“I’ve given a record number of private lessons to individuals or families. Not because of COVID-19, but because they didn’t want to be recognized in class or at the range,” she said.

Earlier in this issue, Tim Van Leiden of The Gun Guys (Ottawa, Kan.) pointed out many of his store’s new shooters weren’t involved in one-and-done transactions.

“Two-thirds of the people we consider to be first-time buyers are asking about training. They’re not just buying the guns and taking them home,” he observed.

Getting Online

It might sound counterintuitive, but this crisis is necessitating the need for storefront dealers to expand online and be a virtual resource for customers.

Beth Martin, general manager at Georgia Gun Club, has noticed a striking shift in how customers are finding out about her facility post-COVID.

“In this environment, we’re having more people find us with Google than word of mouth. They’re searching for ‘gun range in my area’ and we’re listed as the first option,” she said.

This trend has influenced how people are signing up for classes.

“We’re probably getting 80% of our students signing up on our website,” Martin added.

After its two Virginia locations were closed at the onset of the pandemic, SafeSide Tactical reopened and developed online-only safety courses to satisfy state requirements.

“We had over 1,000 people take it in the first four months,” said Mitchell Tyler, co-owner.

Previewing The New Business Year

In 2021, Shooting Industry’s coverage will continue to address how the pandemic, unrest and results of the disputed election have reshaped the playing field for storefront dealers and range operators. And it starts in the Jan. 2021 issue.

Loaded with 10 features — plus Part 2 of the 2021 New Product Showcase — the issue will include the debut of a new column, Range Works, which will highlight best practices for ranges.

In “20 On ’20,” Carolee Anita Boyles embarks on an ambitious effort to poll 20 dealers on how the events of a chaotic 2020 impacted their businesses and their prospects for 2021 — which will be a must-read. Though the challenges have been almost unnavigable at times, there are some silver linings — such as smarter business practices to serve customers efficiently.

“We figured out how long particular transactions take, calculated about how many people we could serve for each different kind of transaction and then we went by appointment only,” said Sarah Natalie, general manager of Maxon Shooter’s Supply and Indoor Range in Des Plaines, Ill. “We’ve had some very positive feedback from our customers they would like us to continue the appointment procedure post-COVID.”

Rob Southwick and Nancy Bacon provide their annual new year prediction, and while a lot depends on the results of the presidential and Senate races, one thing is certain: The onus is on the industry to welcome and encourage first-time buyers to become active participants.

Regardless of the myriad of challenges facing us today, Shooting Industry stands ready to partner with your business in 2021. We’re thankful for your support as readers and look forward to navigating this latest iteration of the “new normal” together.

Have a comment on something you read in this issue or on how 2020’s events are impacting your 2021 planning? Contact me directly, anytime: [email protected].

Click To Read More Shooting Industry December 2020 Issue Now!