Make The Right Impression

Sales staff dress codes vary within all retail businesses, usually reflecting the main theme of products, and of course, the shop’s primary clientele. Different gun shops have different dress codes.

A friend of mine, whom I consider among the wisest of firearms industry insiders, tells me, “In recent chats with dealers, I’ve learned many of them are changing how they permit their sales personnel to dress. Many are forbidding cargo pants or tactical-looking shirts. The reason? It doesn’t present the right image to ‘today’s mainstream’ personal-defense consumer. The dealers believe they don’t have to appeal to the ‘tactical-minded’ customer anymore, because he’s already ‘sold’ on all things personal defense — and the ninja/tactical look turns off those who are buying into firearms, including personal-defense guns, for the first time.”

This is a most subjective topic. My friend’s comments made me think of a couple of other folks whose brains I’ve picked in the firearms industry, who take  a completely opposite approach to this topic.

Different Approaches To Dressing For Your Clientele

The man I’ll call “Dealer A” owns an upscale gun shop in the Midwest. He services the carriage trade: shotguns from the Perazzi level of the pricing stratosphere, fine custom rifles and his personal love, superbly crafted bespoke handguns. His shop is all dark-polished hardwood and deep, lush carpet. He draws the modern equivalent of the clientele Abercrombie & Fitch attracted in their pre-WWII heyday: Roosevelts, movie stars, writers of the Hemingway class. This dealer figures that when people are buying guns from him at prices that would purchase decent starter homes, they want to know they’re being taken seriously. That is reflected in the way he and his staff are dressed.

He knows his customers. And apparently, his approach works, because when last I heard from him, he was running a very profitable retail gun store.

“Dealer B” takes a different approach. His shop is rurally located, in Mid-South farm country. Part of his operation is a top-of-the-line custom bullet production facility, serving discriminating handloaders all over the nation. Part of it is selling fine, collectible firearms such as rare Smith & Wessons. His dress code at work is a pair of overalls. In fact, a picture of him so attired is his avatar on the Internet.

And it doesn’t seem to have hurt business at all. His next customer might be a working stiff on a budget, or might be a gazillionaire who, in the Sam Walton mode, wears jeans and a T-shirt and drives a Chevy pickup because he has nothing to prove and doesn’t need status symbols. This dealer comes across as an honest, hardworking man selling honest, top-function products — and his clientele seems to be just fine with that.

As my industry insider friend noted, trends change. Over time, suburbia may encroach on the rural gun shop, bringing with it a change in customer profile. When the customer demographics and profiles morph, the shape and the face of the business may have to change with it.

An example of this is in West Virginia, where a local gun shop that has been in the same family for decades has gone from Model 12 Winchesters and such — staple firearms when the store was young — to AR-15s and black pistols as their current primary stock in trade. As in any business, dynamics change.
By Massad Ayoob

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