By Massad Ayoob
Training is a reliable revenue stream for a number of retail stores and ranges across the country. Not only does it generate profits and additional exposure for your store, it also creates the potential for repeat customers.
Camera stores often host photography seminars. Hardware stores offer DIY courses for people who like to do their own home improvement, sponsored by master carpenters and contractors. It’s only natural some gun shops follow the same idea — which can be a profitable outlet in today’s market.
A question to consider: Why do people come to their local gun store to buy a gun they could purchase cheaper at a big-box location (or online)?
The answer is knowledge, coupled with personalized service. Smart customers don’t just want to have the product — they want to know how to use it to their best advantage and to its maximum capability, and to make sure they have the product best suited to their needs.
Training goes hand in hand with this concept. Every person who wants to be a Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia knows they need an Obi-Wan Kenobi- or Yoda-like figure to get them there. It’s why they come to your gun shop instead of the Monster Mart to buy the gun and your good advice that comes with it.
Once the gun has been sold, more of your good advice is a logical follow-up “product” for the next “sale” to the same customer.
Impact On Relatability
You’re probably not the only firearms retailer in your market area. Why does someone go to Shop A instead of Shop B? There are many reasons, but if product lines and pricing are the same or similar it’s human nature for the customer to go to the dealer he or she knows better and relates to more.
When most customers come in to buy a product, your time with them is measured in minutes. But if you have been in a training environment together — with you as the instructor or host — your time together spans hours (and in some classes, even days). A bond develops. The customer has gotten to know you better. And, sometimes, the customer will realize you have come to know him or her better. This is a very good and logical reason for said customer to spend more time, and more money, with you instead of the competition.
One local gun store I spend a lot of time (and money) at is John Strayer’s Pro Arms Gun Shop in Live Oak, Fla. Husband and wife Owners John and Terri Strayer are champion pistol shooters — they’re well-known in the community, as the local newspaper publishes their frequent state and regional wins in the sports section. Serious competitors in the area gravitate to Pro Arms because they know the shop and its staff “speak their language.” In fact, the entire sales staff is made up of competitive shooters. But, more to the point, Pro Arms offers monthly concealed carry classes for those who wish to join the legion of Florida concealed carry permit holders.
In both classroom and outdoor range segments — entirely staff-taught — it’s reinforced to the students and customers “these folks know their stuff!” New shooters who don’t have guns of their own can rent one and buy ammo from Pro Arms for the class. The store also makes a point of having suitable guns available for “newbies,” all the way down to .22-caliber revolvers.
Pro Arms General Manager Allen Davis lends, “Thirty-five to 40 percent of our concealed carry students end up buying guns from us. Sometimes it’s because they liked the one we rented to them — based on what we thought would work best for the individual. And sometimes it’s because their crappy Lorcin or Jennings went ‘jam-amatic’ on them in the class, or Grandpa’s rusty old pistol they inherited didn’t work. So, they wanted something reliable like what we let them use instead.”
Bring In New Customers — And Instructors
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, area has a lot of competition in firearms sales. One smaller shop that has flourished amidst this heated competition is Ernie Traugh’s Cedar Valley Outfitters. One reason is training has been a significant component of the business nearly since its inception.
An ace instructor himself, Traugh has many instructor certifications — including Rob Pincus’ Threat Focused Shooting system. Traugh teaches basic and advanced courses, and also brings in outside instructors with national reputations. He rents local gun club outdoor ranges for live fire, and when he has large classroom programs, rents the local Legion Hall. Traugh shared an advantage of training — as a component to his well-stocked gun shop — is it brings in new customers. It also reinforces his reputation as an expert. In the same sense a “teaching hospital” has more credibility than an ordinary one or how a “teaching department” L.E. agency ranks among its peers, a “teaching gun shop” simply seems to be a better place to learn how to use something … and to buy the best things to use.
There are lots of topics suitable for gun shop class sponsorship. You or someone on your staff could probably teach classes in handloading, for example. TacMed — tactical emergency medical solutions — is a hot topic right now. At the Hangtown Range (Placerville, Calif.), Owner Dick Rood does a brisk business serving both shooters and archers. He recently branched into training there. (Look for a profile of this emerging shop in a future issue of Shooting Industry.)
“We’re getting very active with training here. Josh Slater, our general manager, is very active on CCW renewals and handgun safety training, and is looking at more first-aid training — with emphasis on tactical medicine and first responder treatment of life-threatening wounds. It’s going very well right now,” Rood relayed. (Incidentally, Slater happens to be a Krav Maga practitioner, accomplished combat shooter and a veteran combat medic with substantial experience treating gunshot wounds.)
The teaching side of the house isn’t a paradigm change, just a logical extension. Start slow and work up, based on customer response. Training might become only 5 percent of your income stream, but how many of us would turn down a 5 percent increase in salary or life expectancy? Many gun dealers have shown adding a training component not only makes more customers safer with their newfound knowledge, but also adds to their bottom line.