Be A “One-Stop” Shop For Your
Customers’ Defensive Needs
By Tim Barker
It’s just before noon when James Beach walks into Central Florida’s East Orange Shooting Sports. With the look of a man who’s been here before, he heads for a display of compact handguns. Beach wants a closer look at a Walther PPS, his current leading contender for a new concealed-carry piece.
Like most customers who make their way into the shop, located in a suburb of Orlando, Fla., Beach has already spent some time online researching his next purchase. “It’s good to come in and be an educated consumer,” he said.
For the next 20 minutes or so, he chats with the shop’s owner, John Ritz, over a variety of options and possible alternatives to the Walther. Ritz pulls several guns — Rugers, Kahrs, Smith & Wessons — from the display case, offering Beach a chance to see how each feels in his hands. They discuss Beach’s plans for the gun.
And so it is the customer finds himself holding a Smith & Wesson revolver.
He’s not ready to buy yet, but as he heads for the door he admits the exchange with Ritz has opened his mind to new possibilities. “I don’t even look at the revolvers normally. But now it’s posed another option for me,” Beach said. “I’m going to go home and do some more research.”
This was, in many ways, the ideal encounter for Ritz, who bought the store in 2006. During the past 10 years, he’s pushed a transformation of the business, aiming to be the kind of place where customers find a welcoming atmosphere, low-pressure sales and solid advice on self-defense products.
“The goal is to make the industry seem less threatening — more inviting to people,” he said. “Even the restrooms are set up to be restaurant-grade. Everyone should feel comfortable.”
Like other stores with a heavy emphasis on handguns and accessories, East Orange is a logical stop for shoppers considering personal defense purchases.
The key to those sales, Ritz believes, is an approach that’s tailored to each customer. Collectors and more experienced shooters like Beach need less handholding. But newer shooters, particularly those looking for their first self-defense purchase, need realistic, and honest, advice.
N82 Tactical Pro Tandem Series IWB Holster
Sig Sauer ROMEO4
The Starting Point
East Orange has a simple approach for those customers making an initial foray into self-defense firearms. First question: What have you shot before? “Most people have had some kind of experience, even if it’s just a BB gun,” Ritz noted.
Second question: What’s it going to be used for? Will it be carried, kept at home or in the car? Concealed-carry customers are a significant market in Florida. And part of the store’s job is helping people understand what the law means. It’s not unusual, for example, for a customer to think a permit is required to even own a gun, Ritz said.
While the store offers concealed-carry classes several times a month, it’s not something they push on new gun owners. They’d prefer to see novice shooters gain some comfort with their guns before trying to carry them.
“Training with concealed firearms should be a few steps down the road,” said Michael Munro, the store’s manager.
Once the sales associate knows a little more about the customer, they’ll start exploring gun options that best fit the person’s needs and desires. Some people insist on a frame-mounted safety, others refuse to consider revolvers.
“Normally if I pull out three or four guns, their eyes will be drawn to something,” Ritz said. “We shop for cars by how they look, so that’s okay.”
At least as a starting point.
From there, they’ll discuss the pros and cons of various guns, with the aim of selecting the one that’s right for each customer. And with many first-time shoppers expecting to buy only one gun, they often end up with a midsize option: “The GLOCK 19 is the best seller in this store,” Ritz said.
The experience is similar across town at Oak Ridge Gun Range, located south of Downtown Orlando and about 10 miles east of the region’s popular tourist corridor.
Owner John Harvey said it’s common for customers to come in with at least some idea of what they want. Often it’s because of a review they read in one of the gun magazines.
The store tends to push novice self-defense shoppers toward revolvers, for the simplicity: “It doesn’t jam. And if you haven’t touched the gun in five years, you squeeze the trigger and it goes off,” Harvey observed.
But not everyone is open to the advice, however.
“Semi-autos are sexy,” Harvey said. “And a lot of times, customers will still want a semi-auto.”
So they seek out GLOCKs, Springfields, Smith & Wessons and SIGs, he added.
Smith & Wesson M&P45 Shield
SureFire XC1 & PIG Full Dexterity Tactical-Alpha Glove
Expand The Sale With Accessories
While the gun may be the thing that draws most customers into stores, it’s really just the beginning in terms of sales opportunities. Once the gun has been selected, talk at East Orange generally turns to holsters. Associates will pull various models off the wall so the customer can get a feel for different options.
Galco is the top seller, with a wide range of styles, though IWB is the most popular, according to Munro. “They’ve got a good product offering that will fit most of what anybody is looking for,” the store manager said.
East Orange offers a range of knives, including a strong selection by Benchmade, but they’re generally sold more as tools. Ritz prefers not to push knives as a personal-defense option.
While he isn’t a fan of lasers for self-defense, Ritz is an avid proponent of weapon-mounted lights. “It’s nice to be able to see and make sure it’s something you want to have your gun pointed at,” he said.
And there are, of course, customers looking for something less lethal than a gun — either as an extra defensive alternative, or because they don’t like the idea of shooting someone.
East Orange sees modest sales of Tasers — in part, because they cost as much as some guns. But they also offer stun guns and pepper spray, an inexpensive defense alternative at $10–$15 a can. They come with the added benefit of being allowed in places where guns might be forbidden.
The urge to have a non-lethal option is something to which Ritz can relate: He keeps a can of pepper spray in his own car. “Being in the industry, the last thing I ever want to do is pull my firearm,” he said. “If I can avoid doing that in my life, I’d really like to.”
Oak Ridge also offers a range of options in the non-lethal department; one of the popular sellers is bear mace. “It’s nasty, hideous stuff,” Harvey said. “I know people who’ve accidentally hit themselves with it. They just curl up on the floor and moan.”
After walking a customer through a SIG 938 purchase, East Orange Shooting Sports
Associate Michael Bonnick presents some additional concealed-carry holster options.
Are you taking advantage of add-on accessory sales like this?
Promote A “Judgment-Free Zone”
Both stores offer range facilities — a major draw, for a few reasons, including the ability to offer customers an opportunity to try out different types of guns before making a purchase.
East Orange also sees its range as a way to offer instruction and advice. And it’s something of a community-building tool that helps create a comfortable atmosphere for new shooters who may worry how their guns will fit into their lives.
“It’s a judgment-free zone,” Ritz said. “It gives them a reason to come back. So they’re more likely to be repeat customers — and to become dedicated enthusiasts.”
At Oak Ridge, Harvey looks to the range to generate extra sales beyond the gun. That’s why each gun purchase comes with a month’s worth of free instruction and range time. The average buyer, he said, will return four times after making a firearm purchase.
“This means ammo sales, holsters, cleaning supplies, gun oil etc.,” said Harvey, who has been in the business for three decades.
Both stores offer classes; with Oak Ridge putting a heavy emphasis on concealed-carry instruction. Classes are offered several times a week. They have five NRA-certified range instructors, two of which are women. It’s a strong draw, according to Harvey, for women who are interested in buying guns for self-defense purposes.
In addition to concealed-carry classes, East Orange offers two different types of short courses aimed at newer shooters. The first is a one-hour introductory course, for one to three people. It costs $40–$50 per person, and includes range time and ammo. They also offer a short class that covers basic fieldstripping and maintenance. The cost is $25, which includes a cleaning kit.
For both shops, the goal is to offer a sort of one-stop shop for customers interested in personal defense. Guns are clearly the top draw. But, according to Harvey, “Some people don’t want a gun. We give them a whole range of alternatives.”