Mentor — Are You One?

Mentorship Plays Crucial Role In Developing New Shooters
By Deb Ferns

Photo by SITKA Gear

The word “mentor” is a noun when indicating an “experienced and trusted adviser,” while also serving as a verb — “training or advising someone, especially a younger colleague.”

When I think of a mentor, I envision someone who is more of a leader versus a volunteer. (A volunteer being a secondary support role, more as a “body” to help out at an event.) There’s an increasing number of women entering the firearms market through the shooting sports, hunting, an interest in concealed carry and/or a gun for home protection. 

It probably doesn’t come as a huge shock along with the rising number of women purchasing guns there “might be” a rise in the number of women who own and operate a gun store. For this piece, two female gun store owners — one in Wyoming and another in Texas — lend their helpful experiences. Each has a different type of gun store and a different way to mentor women getting involved with firearms. They verified their mentoring programs, both started in 2017, have created sales for their gun stores over the past few years.

Overcoming A Slow Start
To say Kathy Lundberg, co-owner of the Big Horn Trading Company in Sheridan Wyo., was a total firearms novice when she and her husband John started the business five years ago is an understatement. 

“I was terrified and anxious about guns even though it was a big part of running the business. While I didn’t mind ringing sales up on the register I’d go out of my way to not actually handle a gun,” she confessed. 

Eventually, Lundberg did go to a gun range to overcome her reluctance about firearms. She shared, “It seemed the guys were only interested in talking about their skills and their guns. No one seemed interested in helping me develop mine.”

Kathy’s husband tried to help her overcome her concerns relating to guns as her hesitation to handle a firearm or discuss a purchase had a direct impact on their gun store sales.

In desperation to be a bigger part of the success of their store, she enrolled in a three-day Babes with Bullets handgun program in July 2016 offered in nearby Montana. Lundberg walked away from the event with a vision of how she, and another Sheridan attendee Sherri Johnson, director of women’s activities at the Sheridan County Sportsmen’s Association (SCSA), could mentor other women throughout their community with firearms training. 

Fast-forward to 2019: Kathy and Sherri are now certified in a variety of NRA programs including Women on Target, NRA rifle, NRA shotgun and NRA pistol. They also applied for an NRA grant, receiving $8,000 to purchase a variety of firearms so women could “try before they buy.” They offer programs several times a year at the Sheridan County Sportsmen’s Club, where they’re fortunate to be supported in their mission to increase women’s participation in firearms.

Last summer, Lundberg facilitated two Women On Target classes, one NRA rifle class and one NRA shotgun class.

“Over 60 women were introduced to firearms,” she lends. “These classes provided an opportunity for participants to try out various calibers and makes/models of firearms. As an NRA-Certified Instructor who owns a gun store, I’m able to encourage and educate beginners on fit and caliber to help them enjoy the shooting sports.”

With marketing done only through social media, their classes are always full and have a waiting list. Kathy noted many of their biggest cheerleaders include their friends from church plus an array of women coming through the store. 

“When we educate the women in our community, we educate the whole family,” she said. “The number of referrals we get from one class to another verifies women are eager to share knowledge with other members of their family.”

Emphasize Comfort
Lundberg shared a couple easy-to-implement techniques she uses with new lady customers.

For one, when Lundberg spots a new female face in her gun store her first question isn’t “What can I sell you today?” Rather, she asks, “How can I help you be comfortable with a new skill?”

Second, Lundberg is a big proponent of “try before you buy.” On many occasions, she’s convinced novice female shooters to try one of Big Horn’s inexpensive introductory classes prior to a purchase. She shared this is about creating a relationship with a new client — one that will last for many years, versus making a quick sale. Kathy takes the time to evaluate each woman’s needs for the type of gun they want (self-defense or another application) and weighs in her body size, hand size, etc., before she makes a recommendation on what they might want to consider for a firearm purchase.

JoAnna Wilson’s business specializes in custom rifle and handgun builds, while maintaining a storefront for local customers. Mentoring women to ensure they buy the product best suited for their need ranks high on her store’s priority list. Visit www.patriotdefense.com.

Fit The Gun To The Woman 
(Not The Other Way Around)
For the last three years JoAnna Wilson, co-owner of Patriot Defense in Kemah, Texas, and her husband Joe have specialized in building custom rifles and handguns — while also operating a storefront. About 25 percent of their business serves local customers, with the remaining 75 percent focused on customers throughout the U.S. Like Kathy, JoAnna also notes the number of women purchasing specialized rifles and handguns (especially for the shooting sports) has increased over the last few years. The fact she may never meet these customers doesn’t stop her from asking a variety of questions to help ensure they have the right gun. Questions like …

What age group does the client fall into? With older women especially, hand strength to manipulate the slide of a handgun is a primary concern. JoAnna advises dealers to confirm with customers whether or not they have the strength to rack the slide, clear a malfunction or manage a heavy trigger pull — and these things should be verified before a gun in purchased, not after.

• What is the firearm’s intended purpose? If it’s for self-defense, she recommends prior to a purchase the client at least visit a range offering programs like IDPA; a wide variety of self-defense handguns are used in this competition. She also noted the majority of indoor ranges offering matches are self-defense oriented, and they offer a free (and mandatory) safety briefing as well. 

Purchasing the right gun to fit the woman (not making the woman fit the gun) will help give her the confidence to practice with the firearm and become proficient with it. 

JoAnna remarked, “When I’m mentoring a woman on what firearm to purchase I rarely see her let ego get in the way of asking a lot of questions. I don’t like to put pressure on women to make a decision, rather, I give them some homework to do on their own so they have time to digest what will make the right gun for them.”

Often Wilson, who is a competitive multi-gun shooter, will hear from a female client, “I talked to an instructor who said I should buy this gun because it works for him.” She admits she cringes when hearing this bit of news, along with the question about what’s the cheapest gun someone can buy. JoAnna is quick to share with her clients the cheapest gun is rarely one the women will want to use long term, and they need to do a bit more research prior to purchasing a gun on what kind of reliability they want, along with warranties, etc.

Kathy Lundberg, co-owner of Big Horn Trading Company, works with a former student on some of the finer details of holding a S&W revolver. 

Final Thoughts
Wilson’s final recommendations are to treat each woman as a unique client, and not to start off with a gun you think you can sell her — but a gun she’ll continue to use. Then, hopefully, she’ll come back for repeat visits.

Kathy and JoAnna represent two very different gun store owners with unique ways of mentoring women on their purchase of a firearm. 

Give it some thought on how you and your store might be a mentor — both in the noun and verb sense — to the ladies crossing the threshold into your store. 

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Deb Ferns is the co-founder and camp director of Babes with Bullets, as well as the founder of the Women’s Outdoor Media Association. Ferns also serves as the director of the Ladies Adventure Camp Experience, a hunting mentorship program.

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