By Josh Lantz
My friends had guitars. I had guns. Things were different in 1990, the year I purchased my first gun safe from a sporting goods dealer in East Central Indiana. Firearms security wasn’t widely talked about, and guns were openly displayed in racks and cabinets in the home and in the back windows of pickup trucks.
Still, I knew I couldn’t risk simply shoving my hunting rifles and shotguns beneath my bed in the home I shared with six other college students. Was I more worried about my guns getting messed with and damaged during a house party than someone actually getting hurt with them? Perhaps. But I still knew I needed to plunk down my hard-earned money for the peace of mind a safe would deliver.
Fast-forward 30 years and our society has a very different view on firearms storage. Whether someone owns one firearm or 50, today’s gun owner understands the numerous liabilities an unsecured firearm can present. Gun dealers understand these liabilities, too, and can boost revenues by doing their best to make sure customers protect themselves — and others — by storing their guns responsibly.
Focus On Outstanding Customer Service
Rebecca Bartol opened Femme Fatale on the south side of South Bend, Ind., five years ago. As the name implies, the small firearms store caters to women and stocks several unique items designed specifically for women or to appeal to women. They offer many products online via a Gearfire storefront, but mostly sell pistols for in-store pickup. Their overall sales strategy is based on providing outstanding customer service. The store sees good walk-in traffic, and advertising is largely word-of-mouth. Sales at Femme Fatale are steadily increasing.
Femme Fatale Manager Tim Stickel said pistol rugs and the small, keyed boxes by SnapSafe are their bestselling gun-storage products.
“It’s something more than the plastic box most guns come with,” he noted. “They’re portable, versatile and are TSA-approved, so customers can use them at home or while traveling. They have a lock and a cable so security is decent, but it’s their modest price that makes them such good sellers. We do carry several of the biometric safes, but many of our customers won’t pay $250 or more for one of those when they see it sitting on the shelf next to a $29 keyed vault.”
Bartol said her team regularly speaks with customers about safety and security and shows anyone who purchases a gun a variety of storage products.
“For our customers, pistol rugs are an easy sell at $7–$12,” she informed. “If they don’t buy a lockbox or a vault initially, it’s pretty common for them to come back and get one later. For our female customers, the same is true of our Bulldog concealed carry purses and handbags.”
Bartol and Stickel have had conversations about offering full-sized safes and bigger pistol vaults, but those larger, heavier items are a challenge to stock in Femme Fatale’s limited space.
“It’s hard for a store our size to compete with big-box stores … on safes and even on cheaper items like plastic ammo boxes,” Bartol noted. “We’ve tried bundling, but there isn’t enough margin. People know where to find these items at a lower cost, so our best option is always to listen and advise. In our store, customer trust is our best sales tool.”
From Luxury To Necessity
Rocky Mountain Shooter’s Supply in Fort Collins, Colo., started as a gun-safe store over 20 years ago and has since expanded to serve customers with a full-service retail pro shop and gunsmith, indoor shooting range and a variety of regular shooting classes.
“Our customers are pretty diverse,” offered Store Manager, Tony Dudda, who said the store’s range and classes are critical to bringing in a steady flow of new customers. Women comprise about 40% of Rocky Mountain’s customer base. Dudda attributes this to the store’s training resources and facilities. “We operate three classes per month, including regular female-instructed women’s only classes,” he added.
Rocky Mountain Shooter’s Supply is known for stocking a large inventory of gun safes, including models from Liberty, National Security, Summit, Browning and Graffunder.
“When I started in the industry, safes were treated as a luxury item,” Dudda recalled. “But it has changed for a lot of reasons. People come to us because of our selection. Our safes take up about a third of our total floor space and we also have offsite and onsite warehouses to meet demand.”
Dudda shared Liberty models 25 cubic feet and up are their best sellers. “Liberty has great dealer support. They do a lot of national advertising and offer a co-op, which we take advantage of. Liberty is a household name, so customers come looking for them,” he said.
Slow But Steady
Dudda described overall sales at Rocky Mountain Shooter’s Supply as slow but steady. “We seem to be back to the norm of the early 2000s. Pistol sales are consistent, but the other types of products are changing. We’re back to selling more safes than we are AR-15s, and accessories are moving faster than firearms,” he said. “Pistol vaults and plastic long-gun cases are always staple sellers for us. We sell a lot of Pelican Storm cases to our premium, traveling customers and the more affordable Plano molded cases to everyone else.”
With pistol sales remaining consistent, Dudda said the SnapSafe and Liberty pistol vaults are very popular add-on sales.
“First-time purchasers gravitate toward inexpensive locked storage options like those provided by SnapSafe in the $20–$40 range,” he observed. “At $60–$100, Liberty models are still quite affordable and also sell well. We also make it a point to stock items for our female customers they can’t see, touch and feel anywhere else. The CanCan holsters and the concealed carry purses do very well for us.”
Dudda said they sometimes advertise discount coupons in local and regional mailers for certain safe models. They also conduct periodic promotions in which they bundle a SnapSafe with the purchase of certain pistol models.
“Firearms manufacturers like Smith & Wesson also occasionally offer us access to promotions allowing customers to obtain a free pistol vault or gun case with purchase,” he noted. “We use all these incentives and tools, but most add-on sales happen organically as a result of the customer experience. Our customers trust our expertise, so when we talk about security and storage at the point of sale, they tend to listen.”
Know Thy Customer
Dealers and customers are both interested in firearms safety, so firearms storage products should always be a relatively easy add-on to any firearms purchase. Fears of children accessing guns and theft are the two primary factors driving firearms-storage-product sales, but dealers should remain aware of changing trends that can move the needle further.
Dealers who listen to their customers already know what these specific trends are. Dudda, for example, hears from people in his area growing increasingly concerned about wildfires. Some customers have already lost firearms and other valuables that would have survived inside a safe. So, he now discusses these threats with anyone kicking tires. There are differences in male and female customers as well. While still a relatively small percentage of the overall firearms market, women are by far the fastest growing segment.
“Female customers often have more of a family perspective, so they’re interested in safety or at least ask more questions,” Bartol relayed. “For us, it’s critical to have the right mix of products they’re specifically interested in.”
This may be the best advice any dealer could heed: Listen to each customer’s unique needs and concerns, always talk safety at the point of sale and stock the right mix of firearms storage products your customers are willing to buy.
Do this and you might even sell a gun safe to a poor college student.