By Massad Ayoob
In recent years and even decades, one thing that sold state legislatures on going the route of “shall issue” instead of “may issue” for concealed carry permits was testimony from women who understood their (and their children’s) vulnerability to criminal violence, and logically wanted “equalizers” when faced with a superior physical threat.
Another development fueling growth for the industry is more women (and young men, too) are getting into hunting — namely, organic meat. This has revitalized the attraction of wild meat untainted by growth hormones, or by any perceived guilt from eating what some today view as victims of animal concentration camps. Make no mistake, however: defense of self and family is the single strongest driver of sales of firearms to women in the U.S.
With this being Shooting Industry’s first-ever Woman’s Issue, we thought it prudent to reach out to a couple of women in the retail firearms industry who are established leaders in the field.
Self-Defense, Competition & Training Growth
In the Gainesville, Fla., area the Pickett family has become something of a dynasty in firearms sales — owning Pickett Weaponry in Newberry and the famous old Harry Beckwith’s Gun Shop & Range in picturesque Micanopy. Lead Firearms Instructor and Events Coordinator Michelle Pickett divides her time between the two shops. Beckwith’s has become the driving force in the civilian training element with its strongest focus on female customers.
“The female component of our retail customer base is at least 30 percent, definitely up of late,” she shared. “The majority of our female customers are driven by self-defense; in our part of the country, we see little increase in women who are motivated primarily by hunting.”
Like many retail shops around the U.S., semi-auto handguns lead the way in self-defense sales.
“Right now our best-selling firearms among women are subcompact 9mm autoloaders: the SIG P365 and GLOCK 43. We sell a lot more semi-autos than revolvers, but we still have women who love compact short-barrel revolvers like the Ruger SP101 and LCR series, and Smith & Wesson Airweights. We find the majority of women going to autos, there’s more 9mm than .380.”
When asked why she thought that was, Pickett answered: “More women are getting training and finding out they shoot better with larger frames, and 9mm autos recoil a lot less than other options.”
Pickett has noticed a trend: Once a woman gets comfortable on a system, she tends to stick with it.
“We’re seeing a lot more women buying a larger training/home-defense gun to go with their small concealed carry pistol. They’ll normally buy the same format, for instance, a GLOCK 19 to go with the GLOCK 43 they bought to carry,” she noted.
There are some focused women’s shooting groups nearby, and the Picketts have been tremendously successful in partnering with them.
“We have about 120 women in our group [A Girl & A Gun, Gainesville Chapter]. We’re a unique group of women because we all want to learn more about firearms,” Pickett reported. “Many are taking more advanced classes, traveling all over Florida and even out of state. It’s part of a broader move to more advanced training; we give them a basic foundation at our group. We’re like a hub where they can find referrals to the best instructors.”
A Girl & A Gun has its own competitions, Pickett reports, with a few ladies branching out into regular matches in the area.
“One of our members is a phenomenal competition shooter, Janelle Weathers,” she shared.
At the store, several new programs for inexperienced shooters have been added. (As Pickett says: “A woman brand-spanking new gets a good start!”)
On the “ladies’ guns trend,” Pickett observed, “We’re not really seeing many sales in pink guns; they’ve really slowed down. We trend toward standard black guns because we’re dealing with more serious shooters. The pastel guns tend to go mostly to those new to the sport, those who see the colors as fun.”
Women’s Interest Rising
Based in the the outskirts of Chicago in Lyons, Ill., Midwest Guns & Range has long been a center for armed citizens in what is, shall we say, a “less than friendly” locale for the firearms industry. Since the passage of “shall issue” concealed carry throughout Illinois, firearms in the hands of people — formerly known as victims — have saved many lives.
Though Midwest Guns & Range offers training, it has not yet hosted a female-specific gun group, according to Manager Marsha Rath.
“Female buyers constitute 30 to 40 percent of our overall sales.”
Rath finds self-defense and assorted forms of sport shooting drive sales among women the most, and is not seeing a significant increase of female customers interested in hunting in her metropolitan area.
GLOCKs and Smith & Wesson M&P pistols are the most popular choices now among female customers at Midwest Guns.
“Our clientele often buy both full-size pistols and, for concealment, subcompacts,” Rath noted. “I’ll ask if they want home protection, target or concealed carry. I point out the smaller they are, the harder they are to shoot. Some will get a larger model for their first gun, then think more seriously about carry, and come back for something smaller in the same style and caliber. The most popular gun choices are pretty similar between the genders. Women around here just don’t buy as many 10mms or .45s.”
Similar to Pickett’s operation, sales of feminine-colored handguns aren’t significant at Rath’s store.
“We sell a few, but they’re not really big here. Not all women want them. They think, ‘They’re cute, but do I really want that?’ Sometimes a husband or boyfriend wants to buy it for them. Other times it’s ‘I don’t want to be flashy about it, I’ll just get the black one,’” she said.
Women interest and participation is on the rise at Midwest Guns, Rath reports.
“A lot more women are buying guns here now, and not just because of CCW; I’m seeing more women interested in shooting — sometimes for general self-defense, and other times because ‘the nephew’s girlfriend just wants to learn to shoot.’”
Gender role models used to imply the world of firearms was a male province. That’s over now. If you’re not marketing and selling correctly to women, you’re missing a huge percentage of your potential market. Pickett and Rath provided their “final tips” for selling to and expanding customers in this segment. Interestingly, both underlined the importance of having women on staff.
“A knowledgeable female behind the counter definitely helps,” Pickett said, “so do ladies’ shooting groups, hosted by your shop, meeting for real information. It has been very beneficial to us. Counter personnel need to listen to the female customer. Have the sales staff trained to ask them what they seek and help them find what they really need.”
“What about a special day for women at your shop or range?” Rath queried. “Certain guns like the S&W M&P .380 EZ have gotten real popular. We steer women toward it if they have trouble racking the slide. And definitely have some female sales staff these customers can identify with.”
More than 1,000 miles apart, these two gun shops are seeing much of the same and are enjoying similar success in their approach to the female market.