By Carolee Anita Boyles
Just 20 years ago, a woman-owned gun shop was still a rarity. But as more women have developed an interest in the shooting sports, the number of gun stores owned by women has grown. These women are smart, savvy and tuned into what customers want; if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be succeeding in what is still by and large a man’s world.
Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center
Jacquelyn Clark owns Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center in Lakewood, Colo. She came to the industry as a recreational shooter before she became a storeowner.
“My husband and I were living in Atlanta and had a home invasion scare,” she shared. “The Atlanta police took 20 minutes to get there, and if something was going to happen it would have been over by then. It made us rethink our home-defense strategy because we felt so vulnerable.”
Like many other young couples who have had a similar experience, the Clarks researched self-defense firearms, purchased a pistol and learned to shoot on a local range.
“Both of us fell in love with the recreational side of shooting, and it became something we did on date night,” Clark said. “ We enjoyed the activity together, we took more classes and bought more firearms.”
Then they joined a range in Atlanta, which was owned by two sisters.
“Fifteen years ago it was an anomaly, and a total departure from what we were used to,” Clark recalled. “They were focused on customer service, and were friendly and welcoming even if you weren’t an expert.”
When the couple moved to Columbus, Ohio, they found a similar range and continued training. Another move took them to Denver.
“The first thing we did was look for a nice indoor place to shoot,” Clark noted. “We were very surprised Denver at the time didn’t have more upscale facilities.”
This made the Clarks say, “Hmmm.”
“I have a background in business and my husband Bryan was a corporate real estate attorney,” Clark added. “So we understood the business side of things. It started as a dinner table conversation about not being able to find a place to shoot and Denver being a growing city.” They looked into what it would take to open a place of their own, went to an NRA range development conference, and ultimately hired a range development consultant to guide them into opening a gun shop and range.
The Clarks opened their doors in Jan. 2015. They both work full time at the store, where their two different skill sets complement each other well. Bryan oversees the operations portion of the business — including the range and maintenance — and retail buying, and Jacquelyn takes care of marketing, ATF compliance, HR and range membership.
“Our goal was to open an upscale, family-friendly place where folks from all different walks of life could find something they loved, whether it was classes, the range, expertise of staff or the right retail mix,” Clark contended. “We wanted a welcoming place, especially for women.”
Two-and-a-half years later, the Clarks have the facility they were striving for.
“Our customer base is really well rounded,” Clark shared. “We have traditional range patrons, and we have a very healthy ladies’ night and two women-only shooting leagues we’re the chapter host for: A Girl & A Gun and The Well Armed Woman. And we have a lot of youth; we’re a charter facility for a Boy Scout venturing troop that focuses on the shooting sports. We also host a local 4-H club. We have a fun environment and a good community.”
Looking to the future, the Clarks are thinking about the best way to grow their business.
“As a business in our third year of operation, we’re still focused on dialing-in our own procedures and operations before we can grow,” Clark said. “We just got our 5-Star rating from NSSF, and we feel like we’re on the right track with the way we’ve built and operate this facility.”
Iron Goat Guns
At the other end of the country, in Fountain, Fla., Marci Norman owns Iron Goat Guns. Both her business and its unique name came about because of a goat ranch.
“We owned a goat ranch outside of Dallas, called the ‘Happy Goat Ranch,’” Norman shared. She needed a job, but she didn’t want to be away from the ranch all day every day.
“I’ve always been around guns, and I’ve always liked shooting,” Norman said. “Back in 2008, we had 69 acres, and we thought about what I could do that would let me stay at home and take care of the animals, and we came up with a gun range and a gun store.” Norman and her husband had purchased an iron goat to put on their front gate, which led to the name of the store.
Seven years later, the Normans moved to Quanah, Texas, and opened a gun store there. Another move brought them to Florida, where they now have a retail store and range.
“Although the range is members only, we host special events to get the public involved,” Norman stated. “My main reason for getting into guns was to help people see shooting is fun and something the whole family can do. I’ve noticed since 2009 more and more women are wanting to carry a gun — and to be more knowledgeable and safe.”
One of the things she enjoys most about owning a gun store, is helping a woman find the right gun for her.
“When a woman comes in and tells me her husband says she needs a little gun because she’s a woman, it irks me more than anything,” Norman noted. “I ask her what kind of gun she’s shot before, and if there’s any particular style she wants. If she says she wants a semi-auto, I always have her rack the slide, because it’s a big deal with a lot of women.”
Although the store is hers, Norman considers her husband her “guru.”
“Anyone who has any questions on guns whatsoever, he either knows the answer or we look it up,” she said. “He’s good at what he does, and he helps both men and women with flinching and other problems.”
Norman loves getting families involved in the shooting sports.
“Selling a gun is not our purpose in this,” she maintained. “It’s to teach people to be responsible and knowledgeable and to have fun. It’s for the whole family.”
Five years from now, Norman would like to see her store offering more self-defense training.
“We have a pistol range and a rifle range and an IDPA-style pit,” she said. “But I’d like to see us kick off more self-defense training, with even more women and families joining in on it.”
Jacquelyn Clark and her husband Bryan launched Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center (Lakewood, Colo.)
in 2015. The facility was recently recognized as an NSSF 5-Star Range.
Melissa Torres owns Scoot’s Place in Albemarle, N.C. She named the store after her 2-year-old son, whose nickname is “Scoot.”
“It was a family decision,” she remarked. “Scoot’s just kind of stuck when we were talking about names.”
Torres came to owning a gun store from working at a general sporting goods store.
“The place I worked sold anything outdoor,” she said. “Fishing, hunting, kayaking.”
After Torres had worked for the store as a manager for more than four years, it closed its doors in 2013.
“At the time, my desire was to continue learning about the shooting industry,” Torres shared. “Then I met my husband in late 2013. He’s a local police officer, firearms instructor for his department and an avid shooter.”
Torres started shooting more and learning more, which led to her becoming an instructor.
“I went to the NRA instructor course for pistols, passed it and then decided to go into the instructor course for North Carolina concealed carry,” she relayed. “About the same time, we started discussing starting a firearms store. But because we’re in a very small town, I knew we had to do more than just guns.”
Torres kept doing research and looking at numbers, and last November the couple settled on a location for the store. In February of this year, she quit her job as a financial accountant and opened the store. Although her husband Adam remains a full-time police officer, he helps her in the store on his days off.
“For our little area, we’ve done very well,” she noted. “We’ve had some really good opportunities. We’ve done a “Friends of the NRA” banquet for a neighboring county, which really opened a lot of doors for us. We also have a big law enforcement presence here at the store, so people sometimes joke about what’s going on in here!”
One of Torres’ personal goals is to make women feel at home in the store.
“For me, going out firearms shopping was intimidating,” she recalled. “I always felt like I was being talked down to. I’m smart enough to listen to recommendations, but don’t tell me what I need: I can figure it out. When I opened this store I said I want women to come in and feel comfortable enough to ask questions, get their hands on a firearm, see how it feels and not feel intimidated.”
The store is developing exactly this kind of a reputation.
“A lot of women come in and say ‘So-and-so recommended you, and I’m so glad,’” Torres said. “I offer concealed carry purses, and other products directed toward women. As far as I’m aware, there’s nowhere else in our county we can get those things.”
More woman-owned gun stores are populating the landscape than ever before, and their concentrated efforts to make female customers feel welcome, confident and encouraged while making the decision to become firearm owners is proving successful on several levels.
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