By Ashley McGee
When it comes to increasing sales, there’s nothing wrong with going for the low-hanging fruit. For firearms dealers, this means existing and potential concealed carry customers.
As other firearms categories such as hunting have suffered a decline in recent years, self-defense remains one category continuing to rise.
Reviewing the statistics for NICS firearm background checks, the numbers appear relatively steady over the past 3 years. But looking at the big picture, the concealed carry weapon segment is more than stable, it’s thriving.
A study released August 2018 by the Crime Prevention Research Center showed a 275% increase in the number of concealed carry permits issued over a 10-year period, from 4.6 million permits in 2007 to over 17.25 million in 2018.1
Keep in mind, because a number of states have adopted constitutional carry, the growth in permits only paints a partial picture of the overall increase in concealed carry nationwide.
Know Your Audience
We talked to three dealers from different regions, and when asked to describe their core self-defense CCW customer, the answers were nearly identical — everyday citizens who want to protect their family and their loved ones.
Sounds simple, right? This means your prospective customer base could be just about anyone. While you want to target sales and marketing efforts, you should be careful of drilling down too far at the risk of alienating an entire segment of potential buyers.
Historically, concealed carry customers have been predominantly male. However, in his 25 years of experience working in the firearms industry, Daniel Jaeger of Magnum Shooting Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., said increased sales from both married and single women have helped balance the gender ratio.
Spencer Frink, head instructor for The Academy at The Arms Room in Dickinson, Texas, added another perspective: “Some of our customers are stay-at-home parents who are by themselves while their spouse is at work. Some are real estate agents who may need to work alone in high-crime areas.” He continued, “At the end of the day, they just want to feel comfortable and confident in their everyday life.”
The bottom line is when it comes to customers seeking self-defense solutions the most important thing you can do is to listen to their needs and understand their reason for wanting to carry in the first place.
A person’s desire for personal protection often stems from current events such as a mass shooting and reports of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“As today’s threats are ever-present on social media and news platforms, we’re seeing an increase in our range members and guests looking to develop defensive skills,” noted Christopher Harman, director of instruction at Blackstone Shooting Sports in Charlotte, N.C. “Some CCW/CCH permit holders already have the basic shooting fundamentals but are not experienced or knowledgeable in how to deploy their firearm accurately or negotiate terrain under duress in low light or confined conditions.”
In addition to concealed carry classes, Blackstone offers monthly group training classes and educational seminars. One of their most popular classes is a ballistics test workshop during which Harman identifies qualities in each popular ammunition brand then conducts live-fire testing to measure immediate and collateral effects of each by using ballistics gel, mock walls and clothing.
Another trend, which appears to be industry-wide, is the increased popularity of 9mm handguns over the .40 S&W. Some of this can be attributed to the FBI’s caliber change to the 9mm GLOCK Gen5 handgun as its service weapon.
“The technology used in 9mm has improved so much in recent years many customers find the .40 S&W simply unnecessary,” said Jaeger from Magnum Shooting Center. “By comparison, it’s more reliable and both easier and less expensive to shoot without sacrificing a significant amount of power.”
Though North American Arms has been quite successful in carving out a niche, sales of .22 Magnum hand-sized revolvers appear to be more varied depending on the region.
“In our market and with that price range, people look for concealed carry firearms with higher capacity and larger caliber,” relayed Sam Cuff, team lead at Blackstone.
The Arms Room agrees the .22 Magnum isn’t their strongest selling caliber but notes when they do sell the round, it tends to be a North American Arms firearm.
“They have a great selection of quality .22 Magnum revolvers for budget-minded customers,” Frink informed. “The Derringer-style pistols are our bestsellers from North American Arms.”
Key Selling Points
All three dealers we spoke to also agreed the average CCW customer is looking for two things — shootability and portability.
“Full-size, double-stack pistols are heavy on your belt when fully loaded and print very visibly when trying to conceal,” Frink noted. “Most concealed carriers now prefer to carry single-stack pistols with the option of a spare magazine on their person.”
the most important thing you can do is to
listen to their needs and understand their reason
for wanting to carry in the first place.
At Blackstone in Charlotte, two of its most popular handguns with concealed carry customers are the GLOCK 43X and SIG SAUER Micro-Compact P365. Harman attributes the P365’s rise in popularity to its low profile (or slim print), increased capacity, manufactured stippling and ergonomics of the grip. (In July, SIG introduced the P365 XL — delivering 12+1 and 15+1 capacity options.)
In Texas, The Arms Room has noticed an uptick in the manufacture and sales of pistols with optic-ready slides.
“Shooters of all disciplines are starting to see the benefits of red dot optics on their pistols,” Frink shared. “These customers are willing to spend good money on it, and pistol slides pre-milled/cut for red dot sights are starting to sell over their counterparts.”
Although the firearms themselves are certainly the bread-and-butter of the CCW segment, aftermarket accessories can be unexpected standouts to help you further increase sales. Interestingly, a product not normally associated with daily carry has surprised Frink.
“The general acceptance of pistol braces as a substitute for the customer’s demand for short barrel rifles has been most surprising to me,” he admitted. “Without much of a cheek rest to speak of and a generally unconventional look, I would have assumed the market might have died down as more of a novelty.”
Instead, he has been amazed by the number of customers who have accepted the aesthetics and feel of a pistol brace.
As previously mentioned, optics are a rising trend among CCW customers. Whereas optics on handguns were primarily used by those participating in competitive shooting, they are now becoming more popular for everyday carry guns.
Blackstone Shooting Sports wasn’t expecting mountable firearm lights to take off to the extent they have, but for concealed carriers, they offer an advantage in low and no light situations both at home and on the go.
At Magnum Shooting Center, their surprising standouts aren’t firearms or even firearm accessories.
“Whether purchased for personal protection or as a gift for someone else, knives are a consistent seller for us,” Jaeger said. “We also sell a fair amount of pepper spray for when it isn’t possible to carry other types of personal protection or for those who just don’t feel comfortable carrying anything else.”
Focus On Training
At the end of the day, if you want to increase CCW sales, your focus shouldn’t be on promoting products. Instead, position your store as an educational resource for the people in the community through the quality of your instruction and knowledge of best practices when it comes to carrying concealed.
“Depending on the time of year, we host anywhere from three to eight concealed carry classes each week,” Jaeger informed. “All of our classes include a shooting portion, which is not a requirement in Colorado, but we choose to include it because we believe it’s so important.”
When customers realize you genuinely care about their personal safety and not just the bottom line, they’ll be more apt to trust your product recommendations and recommend your dealership to their loved ones. This people-first approach is the key to attracting new concealed carry customers, as well as retaining the ones you already have.