Women-Owned Stores Thriving Today
By Carolee Anita Boyles
Every woman comes to firearms ownership in a different way. Women’s paths to the ownership of a gun store are even more diverse. The three woman-owned stores outlined here are thriving in today’s environment: Each was built on a foundation stemming from a profound personal experience coupled with the goal of educating and empowering women who have an interest in firearms.
Bullet & Barrel
Melanie Hammer Murray, president of Bullet & Barrel in Huntsville, Ala., always planned to work in retail. After she graduated from the University of Alabama in 1986 with a degree in retail management, marketing and studio art, she worked for Rich’s department stores and then Goldsmith’s department stores in the Birmingham, Ala., to Memphis, Tenn., area.
“When I left in 1992, I was the youngest senior manager in the company at the time to my knowledge,” she informed. “I was managing seven stores and writing training programs.”
Murray’s husband, who is a physician, finished his residency about the same time she had their first baby and the family moved to Huntsville.
“I didn’t want to go work at the one or two department store chains we had because they weren’t anything like where I’d been,” she said. “And I didn’t want to open a dress shop because I knew I wouldn’t make any money. So, I stayed home and did every volunteer job on the planet.”
Her kids grew up, as kids do, and her middle child (son, Davis) decided to attend the United States Military Academy West Point. He wanted to learn to shoot a handgun before he arrived on campus.
“He and my husband did it together, and I went with them once or twice and shot the revolver we had,” she recalled.
Then four years ago, the Murrays had a break-in at their home. The burglar didn’t get much, and the police caught him. But she couldn’t shake the feeling it could happen again.
“Six weeks later we were out of town, and Davis came home from West Point,” Murray shared. “He had friends over, they went to a party and he didn’t turn on the burglar alarm when he left. The security cameras were rolling, but the alarm wasn’t on. Burglars came in through an unlocked window.”
While the burglars were still in the house, Davis came home.
“Fortunately, he’d had a lot of fun at the party and he was not totally with it,” Murray said. “He fumbled around at the back door and went in as the burglars were climbing out the window.” They stole the family pickup truck and took off.
“That was the day I said, ‘No more. I will never be afraid again,’” she asserted. “Then a friend of a friend came to us and asked, ‘Hey, I really want to do this indoor shooting range. I’ve done a lot of research on it. Would you be interested?’”
Murray jumped in and Bullet & Barrel opened its doors in 2016.
The 30,000-square-foot facility offers eight, 15-yard lanes and eight, 25-yard lanes, with state-of-the-art digital target retrieval systems — as well as three, 100-yard rifle tunnels. The lighting and target carrier technology lends itself to serious training, but many customers come to shoot for fun. Members can make online lane reservations and have access to members-only sales and social events, as well as discounts on range ammunition and classes. Discounts are available for active and retired military and first responders.
Bullet & Barrel also has a gun shop where customers can purchase new and collectible firearms, ammunition and shooting accessories. Many of the firearms are available as rental guns, to try before purchasing at the indoor range.
“I refused to be afraid in my own home,” Murray shared. “I took action. So here I am in the second half of my life with a new career and a new mission that is twofold — encouraging new and inexperienced firearms owners, while also providing a world-class training facility where it’s safe to work, shop and shoot.”
Femme Fatale Arms & Training
Palm Bay, Fla.
Maria Dockery, owner of Femme Fatale Arms & Training in Palm Bay, Fla., also came to firearms retailing as a result of neighborhood home invasions.
“My husband is employed full time and travels for business frequently,” she noted. “We’re in a low-crime area of Melbourne, but about 5 years ago there were some home invasions in the area — even when a homeowner was home and watching TV.”
Dockery told her husband she wanted to have a gun for her own protection.
“He told me, ‘Go get a gun,’” she relayed. “So, being the independent woman I am, I went out and started shopping for a handgun. I was really shocked at the way I was treated at several different gun stores and ended up walking out each time frustrated and a little angry.”
Dockery decided to open a gun store and cater to women first.
“I started off at a gun show with just a table,” she said. “They wouldn’t let me inside the gun show because they didn’t think it was important, so I was on the outside with my little bit of girly stuff.”
It didn’t take her long to have had enough; Dockery opened a little store in a local flea market with several other small, air-conditioned businesses.
“We were there about 3 years and every year the business grew,” she shared. “People would line up outside the shop waiting for a turn to come in and check out the ‘Ladies’ Gun Store.’ My tagline is, ‘We’re the other feminine protection.’ A lot of people didn’t take us seriously because we were in a flea market, but a number of them did and we had the greatest customer base and customer following.
About a year-and-a-half ago Dockery opened her retail store in Palm Bay. “We have customers from 3 years ago still looking for and finding us,” she noted.
Establishing her current location was not without challenges.
“A lot of landlords aren’t interested in renting to a gun store,” she stated. “One person — even after a 2-hour interview — decided not to allow us to open our store because we attracted ‘unsavory characters and gun nuts.’ He didn’t see the Lexuses and the Mercedes and the Range Rovers these women are showing up to my store in.”
Although Dockery has a diverse clientele of both male and female customers, she gives special attention to women in crisis.
“Women walk into my store and burst into tears the first couple of minutes of talking to me. They tell their story about how they have a restraining order,” she relayed. “They’ll show me a video where a man has her pinned against the wall by the throat. Then she’ll say, ‘I don’t know anything about guns. I’ve never been interested in guns. I need help.’”
Those women are Dockery’s priority.
“If our next class is full, we still make room for her and we put her on the fast track to learning how to handle a firearm,” she said. “In the state of Florida, she can have a firearm in her home without a concealed carry permit. So, we get her set up so she at least has a firearm in the home to protect herself and her children while she waits for the response from the State to get her concealed carry license so she can take it outside the home.”
The path Cheryle Rebholz followed to become the owner of Bear Arms in Mequon, Wis., began with a burglary.
“I’ve been in the beauty industry for 40 years,” she shared. “I’m an esthetician. It’s a specialty license. I’m really a makeup artist by trade. We do a lot of waxing, eyelash extension and eyelash and brow tinting.”
After three burglaries at her place of business and an attempted invasion at her home, Rebholz decided she needed a firearm to protect herself.
“I told my husband, ‘You’re coming with me,’ because he’s a hunter and has firearms in the house,” she said.
They went to class and got their concealed weapons permits. Then, Rebholz started looking for a place to shoot. After two bad experiences at two different ranges, she was frustrated, so she tried a third range.
“This place was brand new, the decor was very institutional and it was brightly lit,” Rebholz detailed. “I felt like everyone was watching my every move. I felt super uncomfortable. I was new and embarrassed. I felt intimidated because I was standing next to somebody with a semi-automatic who was probably ex-military or law enforcement and I was a beginner virgin.”
From there, Rebholz’s experience got even worse. She and her husband went to a gun show so she could look for a gun of her own.
“I was going up and down the rows and the men thought I was the wife to the husband who was really shopping,” she recalled. “They ignored me. I decided the first man who asked me, ‘Can I help you?’ would get my sale and my money.” She ended up buying a pistol she hated and wouldn’t shoot.
Rebholz knew there must be other women like her and decided she had to do something about their experience.
“I wanted to cater to women because those places [gun shops] are still a man’s world,” she said. “Women are the new soft targets and I want us to turn hard, but I also want us to stay feminine and be able to be independent, proficient and experienced.”
It took Rebholz two years to find a location, go through public hearings and get all the permits and permission necessary to build a shooting range. Then, she built a facility combining beauty and bullets.
“I have a pro shop on one side, and on the other side I have hand cream and lash serum,” she said. “I have a men’s grooming section because I know men are also my customers. I’ve got hand cream, face moisturizer and beard oils for my men, because a lot of them grow out their beards in the winter. I also have a massage chair with a hand paraffin treatment in there because in my world, as soon as the massage therapist touches you, your heart rate and your stress level reduces by double digits.”
Rebholz’s range is small, but it’s state of the art.
“I have eight lanes (25 yards), up to .50-caliber, and I have blackout in between the lanes,” she said. “When you go inside the range, my logo is across the floor. I have extra soundproofing. I have dimmer switches for day and night practice and then, in my pro shop — or my boutique — a female color and a male color and a neutral color. So, it’s not too feminine for the men or too masculine for the women. It feels comfortable when you walk in. I’m also the only range in Wisconsin with an HD 180-degree three screen smart laser theater.”
Rebholz wanted more than just a range.
“I want entertainment, recreation and education reinforcement from it,” she stated. “I wanted kids from 8 and up to have another destination, something else to do besides the movie theaters when it’s cold because they can come in as young 8 years old and play 800 different scenarios of games. It’s like a big Xbox on steroids for them. Law enforcement can use scenarios for training.”
The only thing Rebholz doesn’t do is sell firearms, because she couldn’t get a license for it in Mequon; instead, she has guns for customers to rent.
Rebholz’s combination of beauty and bullets has been so successful her husband retired from his business as a home remodeler and general contractor to work on the range. Not bad for a woman who just wanted to learn to shoot a gun.
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