Lean In, Listen & Learn

By C. Ainsley Beeman

Maggie Heumann (left), retail buyer at JD High Country Outfitters, reviews some of the selling points
of Sitka’s big-game collection for women with employee Mindy Cooley. With more women participating in the
sport, Heumann relayed her store prioritizes approachability. Having a well-informed woman on the sales
floor is “necessary” for growth in this segment, she shared.

Lean in and Listen — sound advice I’ve found to be most beneficial in life, but especially as a woman adept in the great outdoors. If I could have your ear for a moment, this is what I’m encouraging you — as an influential dealer in your locale — to do.

Allow me to make this direct statement: Your business needs to incorporate women into your staff. And I don’t just mean as your behind-the-scenes secretary, accountant or cashier. Although these positions are integral assets in any business, I’m referring to hiring women who are well versed in firearms, archery, fishing, waterfowl, turkey, whitetail, upland birds, big game, etc. These women exist, and they’re instrumental in building your female customer base and increasing potential revenue streams.

As a young girl, I spent many a day in a deer stand with my dad. Countless life lessons were learned peering over the window ledge. One has really stuck with me: the importance of “vision.” My favorite stand to hunt had a handful of spots I knew to keep a close eye on when it came shooting time. Depending on wind direction, I could almost guarantee where the deer were going to appear. My dad has often recalled my excitement during those times. Little did I know what was really taking place just beyond my main focal points. “Keep your peepers open Prin … kinda look through the trees,” he’d say. I’ll never forget when his statement came to life for me. Just beyond those noted points of fixation, whitetail activity often abounded. In fact, I harvested my largest whitetail from that property when my perspective changed.

Fortunately, I was no longer gripped by the obvious or concentrating on the known; my vision had expanded, which allowed me to see things I had missed before. This is what I’m encouraging you to do — expand your vision and reap the benefits.

Think Outside Of The Box

For centuries, men have been known as the hunters and gatherers. Camo-clad men and boys fill coffee shops and little breakfast spots in the wee hours of the morning’s duck hunt. Convenience store doors rotate with men filling up with gas and goodies before they set out to climb a tree or motor out to the duck blind. I know this because for years I was often the only one gracing those doors sporting a long blonde ponytail. This is no longer the case nowadays.

Women everywhere are becoming more comfortable with not only taking their place on the shooting bench, but also taking the role as the lead caller and bagging their own limit of birds. They’re unafraid to climb a tree, shoot with precision and confidently locate, field dress and pack out game. They, too, have preferences concerning outboards versus surface drives, and compacts versus standard-size handguns.

Adjust the analogy to fit your niche in the marketplace, but I’m here to tell you these are the facts and, if recognized, can be game changers in your business. I’ll go a step further and say if you’re not employing women competent in the great outdoors, your store is missing out.

Tom Rainey, marketing director of Browning Trail Cameras noted, “It definitely makes sense for retailers to take a serious look at hiring qualified women, which brings a diversity of opinions. This will not only improve your ability to serve your current customers, but also positions your company to better serve the rapidly growing female customer base.”
Rainey informed this outlook will make your store relatable.

“If you have employees with similar experiences — like being the only woman in camp, struggling to find the right clothes to fit properly or just not being sure what gun to purchase — it makes your store more relatable and gives your company a better chance to earn that customer’s loyalty,” he said.

(As an aside: I know Tom exemplifies this perspective firsthand, as he was my first employer and respected the business perspective I brought to the table as an outdoorswoman.)

With more women “leaning in” than ever before, it’ll benefit you if your store is known as a
place that welcomes them.

You’ll Attract What You Solicit

Manufacturers prefer distributors and sales representatives to be well versed in their product lines and are effective at relating to an increasingly diverse customer base. In order for this to happen, women have to be involved. I’ve been a part of these conversations over the years and have learned leaning in and listening teaches me more than carrying the conversation in some instances. More and more women are leaning in, listening and wanting to learn about your marketplace. As a business owner, it would behoove you to do likewise and hire accordingly.

Why you may ask? Because just as deer love persimmons, ducks love rice and largemouth love shad — women love to converse with other women. In short, you’ll attract what you solicit. The upward growth trend of women participants should prompt business owners to implement several policies conducive to attracting female clientele — beginning with staff.

Maggie Heumann, who serves as the retail buyer for JD High Country Outfitters (Jackson, Wyo.), concurred stating, “As a woman who hunts and has a sister in NPS law enforcement, I understand the importance of making an outdoor store — especially a hunting department — an approachable place for a female. More women than ever are engaging in the outdoors; the number of sportswomen is rising rapidly.”

Prior to her stint at JD High Country Outfitters, Heumann worked on the sales floor at a male-run fly shop for a few years. Heumann shared it was “amazing” to see how many more women would come in knowing she was there.

“It’s not always an intimidation factor (although lots of times it is), but women have a way of presenting information and asking questions differently. My colleagues there were perfectly capable of answering the questions, but I could just speak to the way women’s waders fit a little differently than they could, among other things,” she lends. “Knowing this and as a outdoors person myself, I’m always happy to talk to female customers about the fit and performance of their products. The benefit of having a well-informed woman working the floor in an outdoor store is necessary to anyone trying to grow their female customer base.”

There’s much to be learned from listening to a woman’s perspective — just as I encourage women to listen to a man’s perspective. The good Lord made us all unique and it’s my belief engaging women — welcoming them to be a part of your business and allowing them to share their knowledge — will not only provide you with unique insight specific to enhancing your business, it will also prove a crucial factor in positive customer growth.

I’ll close this column with one of my favorites, “Without vision, the people perish,” (Proverbs 29:18). I encourage you all to expand your current vision beyond the obvious, begin actively seeking and employing women who enjoy the great outdoors and watch your customer base flourish!

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